NEW ORLEANS -- Family ties are common in baseball. Every Draft, every year, features at least one or two -- or more -- young players who have a dad or brother or uncle or cousin who spent time in the big leagues.But at the Andre Dawson Classic, currently taking place
NEW ORLEANS -- Family ties are common in baseball. Every Draft, every year, features at least one or two -- or more -- young players who have a dad or brother or uncle or cousin who spent time in the big leagues.
But at the Andre Dawson Classic, currently taking place at the MLB New Orleans Youth Academy, genealogy is not why Calvin Rucker is standing out among his peers. The sheer size of the Prairie View A&M sophomore first baseman -- he's listed at 6-foot-4, 250 pounds -- ensures that he will make a statement every time he steps onto the field, regardless of who he's related to.
• Diversity showcased at Andre Dawson Classic
But it's notable that Rucker's second cousin is outfielder Curtis Granderson, a veteran of 15 Major League seasons who is, according to Rucker, "one of the best family members and friends I could have asked for."
"He's helped me out with baseball on the field, baseball aspects off the field, academics, life in general, and even the religious aspects of life," Rucker said. "He does a lot for me."
Many years separate the cousins, but they've always been close. Granderson, now 37, has memories of spending ample time with Rucker, dating back to his first Spring Training with the Tigers in 2003. Rucker's family lives in Riverview, Fla., outside Tampa, and Granderson, training in nearby Lakeland, would often be invited over for family dinners.
Rucker's dad, Calvin Sr., often extended the invitation to half the team, too.
"Calvin Sr. would say, 'Hey, bring some of the guys over. We'll get you a nice home-cooked meal,'" Granderson recalled. "So I rounded up 10 or 15 players -- even Gary Sheffield was there -- and we went over to his house, he barbecued for us, and everyone would start looking forward to that annual tradition."
As Rucker grew up, he spent more time around Granderson and his teammates at the field and remembers absorbing the conversations around the cage during batting practice and in general, growing comfortable being in that environment.
Beyond their athletic gifts, though, Rucker and Granderson have other things in common. Granderson, known as one of the brightest, most thoughtful players in the game, was an excellent student in his day, earning his degree in business management and marketing from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Rucker, too, has a flair for academics. In fact, he was earning college credit while still in high school. Two weeks before his graduation, he received an associate degree from Hillsborough Community College in Tampa.
"When we were talking about what high school he should go to out of eighth grade, it was all based on which one was going to have the best academics for him," Granderson said. "There were a couple schools that were going to give him an opportunity to get that Junior College associate degree early and put him on the fast track. That was part of his decision-making, and without any of us having to influence him."
Studying, Granderson said, was always "innate" to Rucker.
"His stepmom and dad were always talking about him doing homework on his way to and from practice, from this training session to that training session," Granderson said. "I always asked him about baseball -- 'Are you still having fun? You seem a little overwhelmed.' And he'd say, 'No, I'm still enjoying it, I'm having fun.'
"Once he responded with answers like that, I said, 'Just keep doing it, then.'"
That well-rounded perspective translated well to Rucker's college years.
"He's actually my tour guide when I have recruits in on campus," Prairie View A&M head coach Auntwan Riggins said. "We assigned every kid to him that's been a recruit. And every moment, he lets me know that.
"He's done everything I've asked him to do. He's a great kid, and a great student."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.