“From Your Friend, Fu-chan”
Friends a half globe away share passion for baseball
In Japanese, Ken knows how to say happy birthday, thank you, good morning, good luck, “and that’s about it,” he laughed. “I couldn’t recite the Gettysburg Address or anything.”
On Ken’s first Major League trip to Japan in 1979 on an All-Star tour, he met Fumihiro “Fu-chan” Fujisawa, president of the Association of American Baseball Research.
“He was very helpful,” said Ken. “He could speak with us without a translator — his English was pretty good. He took us to his house, took us shopping, and made sure we didn’t get lost on the extensive train system.”
Ken and Fu-chan had the luck to meet again in 1984 when the then-World Champion Baltimore Orioles visited and played in Tokyo.
Through the years, Fu-chan and Ken have forged a long distance friendship via mail and e-mails, kept alive by their mutual love of baseball. Before each season, Fu-chan asks Ken for predictions of how American teams will finish in each division, who will be deemed an MVP, and who will win the Cy Young Award.
“Fu-chan has been a good friend over the years,” said Ken, touched that this “very nice and gentle man” closes every e-mail with the words, “Your Friend.”
Recalling Ken’s third trip to Japan in 2004, the black-haired petite Japanese sat in the YES Network booth between him and Michael Kay during a telecast when the Yankees played a Japanese team. Off-air, Fu-chan relayed stories and information via handwritten notes and between-inning-conversations which only a Japanese baseball insider would know.
When the Yankees landed on American soil again, George Steinbrenner was waiting at the St. Petersburg airport to greet the team despite it being 3 a.m. The owner called over Ken and Michael to compliment them.
“I didn’t know you knew so much about Japanese baseball,” said Mr. Steinbrenner, whereby Ken admitted their secret weapon had come in the form of a friend.
“The telecast would not have been the same without him,” said Ken. “He knew the details to make the game interesting.” (A detail like knowing one of the player’s names translated to “red star.” Director John Moore was then able to show a close-up of that center fielder wearing a red glove.)
“Fu-chan knows Japanese and American baseball,” said Ken. “Obviously he’s a big fan.” He has traveled to the United States to watch baseball around the country, and has met up with Ken in Baltimore and other cities, even staying overnight as a guest in the Singleton home.
In an e-mail to Mrs. Singy, Fu-chan remembered the time in 2003 he had taken a photo of one of his sons with Hideki Matsui in Baltimore. He had asked Ken to ask Hideki to sign in and mail it back.
“The picture flew to the USA over the Pacific Ocean,” said Fu-chan, “and came back to Japan! I think it is a very good story of showing Ken’s great personality and our friendship.”
Back when Ken visited Japan as an Oriole, there weren’t any Japanese players in the Major Leagues. MLB had sent not only All-Star teams on tour, but the World Champions periodically had traveled to Tokyo on goodwill trips to play Japanese teams.
“Each time it was tougher to beat them,” remembered Ken. “The Japanese were learning the game.”
Today more Japanese players are in the states, like the Yankees’ own Hideki Matsui. Most teams in both U.S. leagues have added Japanese players to their rosters.
“It’s a big deal when they get to come over here and play,” said Ken.
Some American teams with Japanese players telecast their games to Japan live, for example the Yankees, Seattle Mariners, and Boston Red Sox, which means fans a half globe away are watching today’s game tomorrow (there’s a 13-hour time difference).
“I bet fans DVR a lot of games,” said Ken.
When Hideki Irabu was a Yankee, Ken and I once met him for lunch at our favorite sushi restaurant here in Baltimore County (Edo Sushi in Cockeysville).
George the translator was necessary because remember, Ken only knows four Japanese phrases. I only know Italian, so I just ate my sushi.
Using a translator is quite an interesting method in which to converse with another human being. That’s trust, let me tell you.
As avid sushi lovers, it was the first time Ken and I had eaten eel; Hideki had suggested it. Who were we to argue? The man knew his fish.
The Association of American Baseball Research (AABR) was established in1977 in Tokyo, Japan. It releases, translates, and supervises books about American baseball, histories of teams, and MLB almanacs. AABR hosts monthly meetings, social gatherings, and publishes a bulletin called Dugout, and an annual report called Ballpark, with information collected by the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
I cannot envision the magnitude of fan mail and requests for autograph and auction items which must pour in for the extremely popular baseball players such as Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera – not only to the Yankees office, but to the players themselves.
Comparatively, Ken probably receives a hundredth of that as a former Major Leaguer, however, the requests do appear fast and furious. Not a week goes by that an auction item isn’t solicited by a group or individual via e-mail, letter, phone, or verbally. And not a day passes that our Maryland mailbox doesn’t contain fan letters mixed in with the junk mail. At least 3-5 envelopes arrive every day from all around the country requesting Ken’s autograph – and this after all these years – he retired from the field in 1984.
We’ve given away autographed baseballs, bats, cleats, duffel bags, programs, scorebooks, baseball cards, postcards, lithographs, 8x10s, a stadium seat, posters, hats, personal photographs, and golf shirts … you name it, Ken has signed it and I’ve mailed it or dropped it off. We’ve doled out these donations to schools, nonprofit organizations, dances, bull roasts, libraries, golf tournaments, little leagues, churches, baseball programs, and friends and neighbors … for this cause, that cause, the best cause, the littlest cause, and for no cause at all.
Honestly, we’re running out of items for Ken to sign. It’s not like we stockpile an inventory of bats and balls in a sporting goods warehouse attached to our house. The only thing we keep on hand because they’re requested so often is 8×10 autographs of Ken in action in Orioles uniform. We still have a few old pieces of O’s memorabilia like programs and posters in the basement, but nothing to draw big money in a silent auction.
As the unofficial Ken Singleton secretary, at times I’ve had to get a bit creative when promising items to people. I’ve created photo albums from our personal stash, such as our 2007 trek up to Cooperstown for Cal Ripken Jr’s Hall of Fame induction. I snapped close-ups of Willie Mays, Yogi Berra, Brooks Robinson, and a bunch of other Hall of Famers. Add a little caption-writing and Ken’s autograph, and ta-da … the baseball decorated photo albums thrilled several bidders as they wrote checks at fundraisers.
Sometimes I stick under Ken’s nose used scorebooks to autograph which I extract from the pile in his home office and send them as auction items. They’re filled with Ken’s left-handed slant as he diligently keeps score during Yankees games. These have proved to be well-liked; we witnessed one earn $400 at a fundraiser.
And when I can’t locate any more big ticket items around the house, I give away Ken himself! When we belonged to a local golf course, I would create an attractive certificate on the computer for A Round of Golf and Lunch with Ken Singleton. These go over well also, as Ken remains a popular Baltimore sports celebrity.
So when the question is lobbed my way – “Does Ken have a baseball he could sign?” I suggest to autograph seekers if they supply the ball I’ll gladly get him to sign it. For the nonprofit organizations, I do my best to find an item to donate.
Notice I get the question rather than Ken; usually people are too chicken to approach him. Just like in public. A fan may spot Ken, but s/he approaches me instead, “Do you think your husband would autograph this?” I redirect the anxious person in hubby’s direction, “Ask him,” I say. “He’ll do it, and he doesn’t bite.”
Not to be discourteous, but I get no agent fee (wink), and if someone wants Ken’s autograph badly enough, I figure they should be bold enough to ask him for one.
But they better find a piece of paper or something, because sorry fans, the Singletons are fresh out of autograph items.
A comment posted here on Mrs. Singy by “jik2” asked if I would explain the meaning of our SUV’s license plate – 29ANGLS – which s/he once spotted in Syracuse, New York, as Ken exited from the car. (Ken had been attending a Chiefs Triple-A baseball game when our son Justin had played in the Toronto Blue Jays system.)
I never meant to confuse anyone with my vanity plate into thinking that the number 29 and the word angels corresponded to a baseball player on a Los Angeles team. It doesn’t of course; rather it’s a combination of Ken’s jersey number and my passion and belief in celestial beings. Angels decorate our lawn, our home, me, and The Angelmobile – the nickname with which I’ve christened our Nissan Armada.
It was also the name of a small business I began in 1997 when I self-published a theme gift-giving book (Clever Gift Giving) and merged our two passions to create Twenty-Nine Angels Publishing. Although I moved along after three books (also Clever Party Planning and Clever Costume Creating for Halloween), I kept the license plate because of its double and special significance.
Comical how people furrow their brows trying to figure it out – they almost never do. Even if they remember 29 was Ken’s number, they say, “Wait, he never played for the Angels.”
One guy pulled up to me at a traffic light and yelled over, “What’s 29 angles mean?” Sorry buddy, the word says angels. He drove off unaffected – or maybe not.
The clerk at Burger King the other morning as she handed me a large cup of coffee through the drive-in window asked the meaning of 29ANGLS. When I don’t wish to reveal the Singleton identity, I just explain the plate represents my favorite number and my belief in angels. This avoids a lengthy explanation – or a stalking fan. She smiled brightly and said it had made her day to think about angels.
Angels will do that to people.
Too bad Maryland’s Motor Vehicle Administration won’t allow eight letters on a vanity plate because then the word angels could be properly spelled out.
Oh well. Why take out all the fun of confusing people?
If I can infuse a little angel belief into humanity as I ride around in The Angelmobile adorned in angel wings and images on bumper stickers … terrific.
And if I can do this more than 29 times a day … then angel mission accomplished.