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Dr. King a guiding light in Grissom's life

Civil rights leader's example inspires retired star to give back
MLB.com

This is the definitive weekend for Marquis Grissom. Not only was he born and raised in Atlanta -- the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. -- but he has done a bunch of things to enter the Hall of Fame of philanthropy before, during and after his 17-year Major League career.

Let's just say Grissom gave, and then gave some more. Even though he was just shy of a year old at the time of Dr. King's assassination on April 4, 1968, he knows a lot about the sacrifices of the iconic civil rights leader. His parents often discussed Dr. King's courage and convictions. He also met folks around town with firsthand knowledge of the man.

This is the definitive weekend for Marquis Grissom. Not only was he born and raised in Atlanta -- the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. -- but he has done a bunch of things to enter the Hall of Fame of philanthropy before, during and after his 17-year Major League career.

Let's just say Grissom gave, and then gave some more. Even though he was just shy of a year old at the time of Dr. King's assassination on April 4, 1968, he knows a lot about the sacrifices of the iconic civil rights leader. His parents often discussed Dr. King's courage and convictions. He also met folks around town with firsthand knowledge of the man.

"Maynard Jackson was huge," Grissom said, referring to Atlanta's first black mayor and a national political giant. Then he mentioned others among the "Who's who" of the civil rights movement around northern Georgia. "Hosea Williams was huge. Julian Bond was huge. I met Bernice King [Dr. King's daughter] about 15 or 20 years ago -- and I hope to have that opportunity again, because she's one of my favorite people in Atlanta to hear talk about the civil rights movement. We've had so many pioneers who paved the way and fought for justice, but Dr. King was everything."

Video: Grissom remembers growing up in Atlanta

Grissom arrived in Arizona from Georgia on Thursday evening, joining other former Major League players at Tempe Diablo Stadium in Tempe, to serve as coaches for the five-day Dream Series, operated by MLB and USA Baseball.

The event, which debuted last year, hosts nearly 80 black high school pitchers and catchers from around the nation. They've gathered at the Angels' Spring Training facility to learn more than just the advanced mechanics of hitting, fielding, throwing and running. Besides former players -- such as stalwart catcher Charles Johnson and the eternally effective reliever LaTroy Hawkins -- umpires, scouts, college administrators and others inform these youngsters about possible careers in every aspect of the game.

Nice. Very nice. Nothing more so than this: Since Grissom has always kept the combination of his hometown and social consciousness close to his 50-year-old heart, he's overjoyed that the Dream Series culminates on Monday, which is the national holiday commemorating Dr. King's birthday. This is why he has to resist the temptation to pinch himself every second these days while he fulfills the wishes of the late Coretta Scott King, who urged folks to celebrate her husband's life yearly during this weekend by serving.

Youth pitchers, catchers live the 'Dream'

You know, like Grissom.

"Yes, sir. YES, SIR," Grissom said, chuckling over the phone. "I actually was laughing with the guys ... and I was telling them just about that, and it's just about us doing what we should be doing, right now. We're down here serving on the King holiday weekend. Not only that, but we've got all of these black kids out here who want to play baseball. These are the elite guys from across the country, so we've got talent out here. We've got some first-round Draft picks -- and for us to do this on HIS day, there's nothing better.

"The other thing is, for baseball to do this, and for us to be here with all of these former players for the holiday, this means the world to me."

It really does. This isn't to say Grissom didn't enjoy the thrills he experienced during his Major League career as a talented center fielder. He has four Gold Gloves to prove it. He also sprinted his way to 429 career stolen bases, capturing a pair of National League stolen-base titles along the way. Other highlights included two trips to the All-Star Game, his 1997 American League Championship Series MVP Award with the Indians, and the World Series ring he earned with his hometown Braves -- he caught the final out to seal the 1995 Fall Classic.

The bigger joys for Grissom came off the field. They mostly involved others, with a lot of help from the man himself.

Video: Grissom on Elite Development event in Florida

After Grissom turned pro following his collegiate career at Florida A&M, he bought houses for his parents and each of his 14 siblings. He also started college funds for the majority of his 42 nieces and nephews. Through it all, he kept moving toward building his own baseball academy in Atlanta to give black youngsters a chance to become the next Grissom and beyond. This is his academy's 11th year fielding teams, with about 120 kids from around the Atlanta area, ranging from ages 10-18. This past season, 11 players from the 18-year-old team received college scholarships -- with 10 of them heading to Division I schools.

Somewhere, Dr. King is applauding.

"Oh, man. He's had an impact on everything I'm doing -- and it goes back to the impact he had on my parents," said Grissom, referring to Marion and Julia Grissom, who grew up in Georgia picking cotton for 50 cents a day. While Julia died last year at 93, Marion is still around at 95. "He's hanging in there. He's a tough cat. You know my daddy was older than Dr. King, and the impact he had on both of my parents was transferred down to me to try to carry on his legacy. So that's why Dr. King is now everything to me -- especially since I was a kid growing up in Atlanta -- for what he stood for and what he represented.

"Most important [to me] was the character building. Everything I got from Dr. King was about character. I try to live my life that way, and I try to help and serve, and I try to do things that help the community and to help people."

Mission accomplished.

Actually, for Grissom, the mission never ends.

Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com

Washington Nationals, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves