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11/29/11 8:17 AM EST

Granderson helps open Bronx schoolyard

Yanks center fielder puts on Wiffle ball display at fundraiser

NEW YORK -- Curtis Granderson's sweet stroke powered a career-high 41 home runs this season, and the Yankees center fielder put his talents to use on Monday to help open a renovated schoolyard in the Bronx.

With students chanting his name, Granderson slugged seven Wiffle ball homers in a home-run derby contest, raising $1,500 for the school in partnership with the American Dairy Association.

"It's amazing. I thought they were going to bring the fences in," Granderson joked. "[The students] were excited, they wanted to see it done; a lot of pressure -- just like playing in the Bronx, but good pressure."

Granderson's public appearance, his first since returning from a Major League tour of Taiwan, provided him an opportunity to offer response to the results of the American League Most Valuable Player award -- issued to the Tigers' Justin Verlander last week.

There had been talk late in the season that Granderson might receive consideration for the award. He ultimately finished fourth in balloting conducted by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, but had no issue with the honors going to Verlander, his former Detroit teammate.

"You look at a lot of different reasons why the person should be voted in that, and Verlander did anything and everything to help his team win as many ballgames as possible," Granderson said.

"Being a former teammate of his, a friend of his, I just have to give congratulations to him -- not only for that, but for the Cy Young Award [as well]. It couldn't have gone to a better guy."

Granderson hit .262 with 136 runs scored, 26 doubles, 41 homers, 119 RBIs and 85 walks in 156 games, setting career highs in runs, home runs and RBIs.

He led the Majors in runs scored, ranked second in home runs and tied Cano for second in extra-base hits (81), and said his biggest achievement might have been staying on the field after a strained groin shortened his first season in pinstripes.

"You don't want to be injured, but to miss a month of the season is always hard to come back from," Granderson said. "You always want to be on that field, helping any way you can. ... I want to be in there every day I can, no matter where it happens to be, and help this team."

Even with the Hot Stove season under way, the Yankees' roster is one that Granderson largely expects to have many of the same faces from the squad that won 97 games and secured the American League East this year, falling to the Tigers in the first round of the playoffs.

"We have a team that won the division. That's what you want; we've got to get to the playoffs," Granderson said. "And now with this new playoff format, you definitely want to win the division. You don't want to go ahead and have everything riding on one game toward the end of the season when you've fought so hard for 162 games.

"If we can be in that same situation again, win the division like we did, and put ourselves in a situation to have home-field advantage for the first round of the playoffs, I think we've got another great shot to make a run."

The Yankees and the American Dairy Association sponsored the renovation of PS 19X's schoolyard, hoping to promote healthy lifestyles, including nutritious food choices and increased exercise among today's youth.

"They see us out there doing it every day and wonder how they can be like us," Granderson said. "It starts here at places like these schools, these cities and these communities, with great nutrition and great diets.

"It only takes 30 minutes to an hour each day to go out there and be active and have fun with your friends."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.