CONEY ISLAND, N.Y. -- Curtis Granderson picked some perfect company on Monday, when he celebrated the anniversary of one iconic moment at a place that memorialized another great American.
Granderson came to Abraham Lincoln High School on Monday to celebrate Jackie Robinson Day, the 66th anniversary of the day the iconic hero of sports and civil rights made his Major League debut.
And in this place, named after the president known as the Great Emancipator, Granderson saw all the strands of society come together. His charity, the Grand Kids Foundation, is dedicated to helping inner-city students, and here he got to do it in the very borough where Robinson got his start.
Granderson's foundation -- together with New Balance, the Department of Education and the film production company that developed "42" -- helped refurbish the high school's athletic fields in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and he came out on Monday to witness the work they had done.
"It's great to get a chance to see that, 'Hey, for a split second, things were gone, but they're not lost.'" said Granderson. "Sure enough, we were able to do that, and I'm glad the Grand Kids Foundation was able to help out with this today. I'm excited to see the kids' faces out there. I'd love to get a chance to see them play, go out there and represent their school out there on their home field."
Granderson got to see everything but that on Monday, when he arrived early enough to help out with the morning announcements and the Pledge of Allegiance. The veteran, currently recovering from a fractured right forearm, later met with the members of the school's baseball and softball teams.
Two other members of the Yankees -- general manager Brian Cashman and catcher Francisco Cervelli -- came out to support Granderson on Monday. They both briefly addressed the students out on their new baseball field, and Granderson later went with a group of kids to a screening of "42."
Granderson, who flew in from Tampa, Fla., earlier in the weekend and was scheduled to fly back Monday night, also announced a project called the Grand Kids Challenge. That endeavor, designed to fight obesity, enlists the students in being active and in encouraging each other to stay fit.
"As we know, the obesity epidemic is climbing drastically throughout the United States, partly because kids aren't active," he said. "So what we want to do is take all the ones that are playing these athletic sports here and have them be ambassadors. Get some of their peers and say, 'It doesn't matter what we do. We can ride a bike. We can jump rope. We can play basketball, football, baseball or kickball.' All these different things get you out there moving, get that heart rate up, keep you in shape."
Granderson spoke frankly to the students on Monday, telling them that he had first learned of Jackie Robinson as a grade school student and that his proudest accomplishment was graduating college. Granderson told the assembled kids that both his parents worked in the educational system and stressed the value of school his entire life, a mantra he tries to repeat as often as possible.
Cashman also spoke to the students on Monday, and he urged them to try to make a difference in people's lives. Cashman spoke glowingly of Granderson and said that he truly embodied the spirit and the message of Jackie Robinson Day in trying to give back to the local community.
"When we traded for Curtis Granderson from Detroit, his reputation was one of perfection," Cashman said. "He's one of the best players that takes the field, but he's one of the best people in the game. We're not surprised whatsoever when he came over here at the positive impact he's had in the New York area off the field. We know what he does on the field. He's one of the game's best and we miss him."
Granderson said that his rehab as been strenuous but not overwhelming, and he also said that he's probably weeks away from returning to the field. The outfielder had a brace removed from his wrist over the weekend and will know more about his recovery as soon as he's able to start hitting.
Lincoln High has produced four big league players -- Lee Mazzilli, Saul Rogovin, Nelson Figueroa and Dallas Williams -- and famed writers Arthur Miller and Joseph Heller among other graduates, but perhaps most importantly, it remains a vibrant institution because the community helps support it.
Jumaane D. Williams, a member of the city council from District 45, was on hand for the Jackie Robinson Day celebration on Monday, and he said the icon's memory is still alive in Brooklyn.
Williams said that he's trying to get the house that Robinson used to live in named as a monument, and he also said that it's important for everyone to do their own part in their own way.
"I'm very very excited to be standing here celebrating Jackie Robinson Day with you," said Williams. "I want to thank Curtis Granderson for all the work he's done for this field and with the foundation in general. I want to thank the Yankees for coming out and the Cyclones. It's just a great mark of history and a great day to celebrate, and it's something that I hope everyone remembers here."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com.