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TORONTO -- When theBlue Jays signed 37-year-old Curtis Granderson this offseason, the primary intent was to improve outfield offensive production. Though it is still very early in the season, the plan has been a success: Granderson is currently slashing .317/.423/.567 with an OPS of .989 and a wRC+ of 168 in 71 plate appearances over 23 games.

“He’s off to a tremendous start, no doubt,” acknowledged Jays manager John Gibbons. “We picked him up for a reason. We were going to run a platoon with him and Steve Pearce because we thought he could still hit, you know, he could hit some home runs and it would be a nice tandem with those two. And, he’s off to a great start. He’s got some big, big hits for us and that’s whathe’s here for.”

However, the Blue Jays acquired more than a productive left-handed bat when they picked up the free agent on a one-year, $5-million contract. Granderson is well-known throughout baseball as one of the best teammates and clubhouse leaders in the game.

Exactly what that means, however, can be difficult to describe.

“I’m not sure if there’s any way to truly define it”,the 15-year MLB veteran told Sporting News. “I think it’s a combination of a bunch of different things. There are already leaders in [the clubhouse], and it doesn’t matter if you have one day of service time or if you’ve got a lot of service time like myself, everyone has the ability to lead in their own special way. Obviously, you have to lead by example. Be a vocal leader. Going out there and diving and running through walls can be considered a form of leadership.”

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Of course, that type of run-and-gun style of play is what gets noticed by fans. Great players on the field are often viewed as de facto leaders because they provide something tangible, something that other players can admire. That type of play may inspire teammates to work harder or to ask questions, but that creates a very one-sided dynamic.

“Then there’s also I think the one thing that gets kind of missed and that’s the ability to listen”, explained Granderson. “So, no matter if you have one day or ten years in the big leagues, I need to be able to listen to guys and be approachable and also be receptive to positive things and negative things they’re going to say. And that gives you the ability to be able to lead.”

Granderson accomplished much over his career, both on and off the field. A three-time All-Star and Silver Slugger award winner in 2011, who that same year was voted one of the friendliest players in the game according to a Sports Illustrated poll, Granderson has also been involved in the MLB Players’ Association leadership group since 2009 and was awarded the union’s Marvin Miller Man of the Year award in 2009 for his charity work. In 2016 he received the Roberto Clemente award as the player who "best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team.”

Naturally, that reputation preceded him into the Blue Jays clubhouse.

“I had always heard great things about him,” said Gibbons. “I’m pretty good friends with Jimmy Leyland and everywhere (Granderson) goes, he’s got the reputation of just a uniter and unifier and a good player, the most important thing. You always hear those things, but now he’s on our team, you could see it from day one of spring training. He’s a very intelligent guy. He’s got a lot of class. Probably worries more about other people than he does himself.”

The season did not even begin before Granderson made a positive impression on his new manager.

“Kind of a funny story. We were in a spring training game and I was sitting next to him in the dugout and he was playing that day and I said to him ‘How many at-bats you want today?’ and he goes ‘You tell me. Whatever you want me to have.’ It almost floored me because I’ve never heard that around here. Usually it’s ‘Well, I’ll take two.’ And that kind of revealed a lot to me. Something that small and simple. I think he’s rubbed off on a lot of guys around here, especially the young guys. He gets some respect automatically for what he’s accomplished in the game.”

One such example is right fielder Randal Grichuk, who came over from the St. Louis Cardinals in a trade for reliever Dominic Leone and pitching prospect Conner Greene over the winter. The 26-year-old struggled greatly at the plate and is batting just .106/.208/.227 in 77 plate appearances. Granderson and Grichuk have been sitting next to one another in the dugout, and as one might expect, Grichuk welcomed the opportunity to learn from the veteran.

“What he’s done in this game is incredible,” offered Grichuk. “Things that he’s gone through in this game are things that I hope to go through. Obviously, he’s played years and he’s been through everything and he just has a lot of knowledge not only in baseball, but just in life, and he goes about it the right way.

“Arguably the best teammate I’ve played with, so it’s been good to be able to keep an ear open and be able to pick his brain when it comes to anything.”

The two of them, according to Grichuk, have talked “just about everything.”

“Just about hitting, the mental side of it, the mechanical side of it. There’s been plenty of times after BP we’ve gone to hit in the cages and he’s just had me look at things a little differently in the aspect of making it a little simpler, simplifying things, so it’s been positive.”

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For a player fighting his way through a slump, it can be difficult to filter out the useful advice from the rest of the noise. That is where Granderson’s years of experience come into play.

“A lot goes into ‘Have you done it before? Do you really understand what the person is going through?’ Because a lot of people that try to give you advice on to do this or do that, but they don’t really understand what it’s like to get in the box and have the thoughts going through your head and just the pressure of performing,” Grichuk explained.

“So, that’s where it comes in handy. [Granderson’s] had all-star years. He’s had down years. So, he’s kinda been through it all and he’s able to kind of help me through with getting my mind right, also keeping it simple and just trust in your ability and not try to do too much.”

Assuming such a role with a teammate requires a delicate balance between knowing when to approach a player and when to let a player come to him for advice.

“I think each situation is going to be different,” explained Granderson. “Obviously if a guy is struggling you don’t want to add more information to what everybody is already adding to the individual, because they already have pressure on themselves. The game is a very pressure-filled game. If there’s a situation that happens and I know I can step in and say something at that moment in time then I will. Sometimes it may have to take a couple of days because you want to kind of let that digress and let them figure out their ways and let them think.”

As Granderson pointed out, one cannot lead unless one is willing to listen and learn from others. Early on, Dimitri Young and Magglio Ordóñez were two of the key players who helped shape Granderson. While Granderson says they didn’t provide him with any specific advice, what they did teach him is reminiscent of Gibbons’ spring training story: that the little things go a long way in baseball.

“A lot of little stuff like what time to be at the field, and where to go and position yourself and make sure you take some balls in right field even though you might not be starting in right field,” offered Granderson. “Little things like that that didn’t seem like much at the time. It’s like ‘oh, yeah. I can’t just be standing out here’. That’s basically what they were telling me to do. Little things like that that had some hidden messages to it that took me a little bit of time to realize what they were saying.”

There are many fans who scoff at the notion of clubhouse chemistry. Professional athletes who have worked their way up to the majors, they argue, are not in need of leadership. It should not matter what type of guy a player is in the clubhouse as long as he produces on the field because, they surmise, winning in and of itself breeds team chemistry. While winning is the bottom line and certainly makes a clubhouse a more pleasant place to be, Granderson explains why team chemistry that is not reliant on winning games is necessary.

“Let’s take a step back and look at it from a non-athletic side of things. You can take it into the corporate world and the school world. Whenever you see there’s incidents where employees don’t get along with other employees and there’s always bickering. There’s nothing they need to win. But obviously the environment of coming to work every day becomes a little bit more sensitive, you’re a little less likely to want to do it and maybe your performance may struggle because of that. You’re not trying to win anything. But if I know I have to come in here and sit next to you and I don’t like sitting next to you and everything that we talk about is always negative, that might affect my performance. So, those types of things are the chemistry that’s needed.”

MORE : Going Mental -- How MLB players have embraced psychology to manage high stress

From the manager’s perspective, having a player like Granderson means that issues are extinguished before they become problems.

“He’s a natural leader. He’s the guy that can put out fires”, Gibbons said. “I haven’t had to ask him to do anything, but I think he’s just one of those guys, he gets it. You know, ‘let’s clean this up’. Every team you have is different. Sometimes you have some loose cannons on the team. I’ve had a lot of that in the past and sometimes things can get out of control. But when you have guys like Curtis and a couple of the other guys involved a lot of times it never gets to that point.”

Intangibles aside, Gibbons is quite confident that Granderson will do exactly what he was brought to Toronto to do – help the team win.

“I know one thing. If we keep him healthy he’s got a chance to have a big, big year, and I think he still has more baseball left in him.”

The Grandyman definitely can! Welcome to our #BlueJays family! 🇨🇦 pic.twitter.com/NMaN42IoRn

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