It’s already one of the finer college ballparks in the Midwest, but the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) has bigger plans for Curtis Granderson Stadium: serving the needs of thousands of young baseball players in the city.
The new ballpark is named for UIC graduate Curtis Granderson, whose $5-million gift — thought to be the largest single gift from a pro athlete to their alma mater — provided half the funding for the $10-million facility upgrade. Granderson, currently with the New York Mets after stints with the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees, was on hand last Thursday for the opening-day ceremonies and spoke movingly about growing up in Chicago, playing ball for the Flames (earning his undergraduate degree in four years) and being able to change lives with the gift. Granderson still lives in the area and is a regular presence at UIC in the offseason.
“Without UIC, I wouldn’t be standing here today,” said Granderson. “When given the opportunity to give back and help those that have helped me, this was one of the first ways we thought about doing it. We had done a few things in previous years and this won’t be the last. We just want to continue to help out the next student-athlete that comes through UIC and also help spread to the community that UIC is here. This is going to be, hands down, one of the top facilities in all of baseball.”
Besides serving as the home of the Flames, Granderson Stadium will host high-school games (many have already been played) and be a venue for more than 38 youth-baseball organizations annually, providing for a safe and first-class experience. The plan is for events that also include academic and youth development as well as baseball.
Frank Brim, who heads the Garfield Park Little League, spoke of the ballpark’s impact on his program at the opening ceremonies. “We have 500 kids in our program, and we are grateful not only for the athletic programs, but the academic program as well,” he said. “It’s not all about baseball. It’s about developing our youth. We refuse to let the gangs outrecruit us.”
“I have been coaching for 30-plus years and I have dealt with a lot of kids and Curtis is the most unique young man that I have ever been around,” said UIC Head Coach Mike Dee. “From his Grand Kids Foundation to his donation, to this whole project, he is unbelievably committed to kids. I could not be more proud of him; he is a first class individual.”
Granderson, who began playing baseball at the age of six, says he sees the ballpark expanding interest in baseball among Chicago’s African-American youth, pointing out that the number of MLB African-American players had declined in recent years. “It’s appropriate that this ballpark was dedicated just a couple days after Jackie Robinson Day in Major League Baseball,” he said. “There’s been a decline of African Americans in baseball, and the way to stop the decline is working with youth. I hope this stadium can shine a light on where we were and where we can be.”
The site was already a Flames ballpark: Les Miller Field. The $10 million project, as overseen by Populous, added a two-story grandstand, new turf, almost 1,300 fixed seats, concessions and group spaces. Construction on the project isn’t quite finished: batting tunnels and pitching cages are slated for the right-field corner, and berm seating should be fully installed once the weather warms. It’s an open, spacious design that accentuates one of the best views in any college ballpark (or any Chicago ballpark, for that matter; you won’t find a great view of the downtown skyline from Wrigley Field or U.S. Cellular Field) and ties the ballpark to the up-and-coming neighborhood. That part of Chicago was once a pretty scary part of town; now, Halsted Street next to campus is filled with restaurants, bars and other neighborhood hangouts, and the school’s investments beyond its own physical campus are evident.
“To see it first hand has been amazing,” Granderson said when asked about his participation in the ballpark design. “It is neat to know my name will be on something for a very long time.
“My only input on the design was on the seat color,” he added. “It was down to red or blue seats, and someone told me red brings out anger, so we went for blue.”
Middle photo courtesy of University of Illinois at Chicago.
Capacity: 1,784, with 1,284 fixed seats and space for 500 in the seating berms beyond left and right field. A luxury suite can accommodate 40 (28 fixed seats, 12 drink-rail seats).
Dimensions: 320L, 370LC, 396C, 370RC, 324R
Surface: Synthetic turf
Conference: Horizon League
Contractor: Turner Construction
Address: 901 West Roosevelt Road, Chicago, IL
Directions: The ballpark and UIC campus is across the Dan Ryan Expressway from downtown Chicago and the Loop. From I-90 (the Ryan Expressway), take Exit 52 to Union Avenue and hang a right (south) onto W. Roosevelt Road. There are a few different ways to approach the ballpark. You can look for metered parking on Halsted Street or on a short street between the ballpark and dorms to the east. The ballpark now connects with Halsted Street via a walkway that replaced Maxwell Street. There are lots in the area with visitor parking as well.