November 2009

Christmas tree lighting in the Bronx

Ken and I had hopped up to Manhattan for the day on Saturday and after a yummy Italian lunch at Lattanzi on W. 46th St., we strolled to Rockefeller Center to see the world-famous Christmas tree.

What? Not decorated yet? (I’m from Baltimore, what do I know.) Instead the enormous tree was hidden behind sky-high scaffolding and word on the street was that it would light up on the day after Thanksgiving … but hello New Yorkers! Those of you who told us incorrectly will be standing there waiting for five days — the ceremony is scheduled for Dec. 2.

It was perfect, then, that Ken had been invited to the annual tree lighting ceremony at The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, which was “a huge success,” said Robert Heinisch, Vice President for Site Operations. “It was a thrilling event for the [approximate] 1,000 people that were present to witness the annual lighting of our trees.”

treelighting_300.jpgCollaboratively lighting the tree at the NY Botanical Garden Saturday was (l to r) Ken Singleton, Assemblyman Carle Heastie, Senator Jeff Klein, Senator Jose Serrano Jr. and Congressman Jose Serrano.

Garden staff member Gayle Schmidt, Manager of Public Education, coordinated the show. After a few words from Assemblyman Heastie and Senator Klein (who also lit the menorah), Ken had the podium and was greeted enthusiastically by many Yankees fans on the promenade, some who are members of the Botanical Garden and had turned out on Members Day & Community Holiday Open House to tour the 18th Annual Holiday Train Show.

Mr. Heinisch treated us as well to an exploration of the model train garden in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory with Yankees staff members Gina Chindemi, Senior Manager of  Non-Baseball Events, and Tony Morante, Director of Stadium Tours and Team Historian. (Also on hand outside at the tree lighting was Robert Brown, Yankees Vice President and CFO, and Michael Margolis, Media Relations Manager.)

I sound like a commercial here, but if you have a chance between now and Jan. 10, skip over to the Bronx and see that illuminated lush train garden. Take the kids. Take the grandparents. It’s beautiful! Very well done. Who needs Rockefeller Center?

ken_300_112309.jpgInside a Victorian-style glasshouse, replicas of New York’s historic landmark buildings, including Yankee Stadium, were designed using all natural and plant materials such as grape leaves and orange peels. This year designer Paul Busse added Penn Station and the Brooks Brothers flagship store to the annual favorite displays such as St. Patrick’s Cathedral and some of New York’s most treasured Hudson River mansions. Trains of all shapes and sizes — even a ladybug train — wind their way through the buildings and foliage.

We loved it. What a splendid way to infuse the beginning magic of the holiday season into our hearts. As Senator Klein said in his brief speech before assisting Ken and the others with the lighting of the trees, “If you don’t believe in miracles, you’re not a realist.”

For more details on the train garden and other features of the beautiful NY Botanical Garden, visit them online.

That Perfect Spring

Bruce Fabricant, a Somers, N.Y. resident pens a book about what it was like to grow up and play baseball in Mount Vernon during the 1950’s

perfectspring_250.jpgKen often receives baseball-related books through the mail from publishers and individuals who hope he might plug the titles on-air.

“But I’m not a book critic,” he says, “I’m there to do the games.” And so he’s made it a policy not to mention any of the books (nor would he have time anyhow to scan them and the accompanying promo materials).

Because we cannot keep everything that makes its way into our house, when the baseball books pile up, I’ll make a basket of them and donate it to whoever was the last to ask us for a silent auction item.

I’m the paper pusher around the house – Ken, the kids and I create piles of it from the mail and two schools, and I’m the one who sorts and processes everything. (I’m liking the e-bill scene lately; sure cuts down on paperwork.) So while cleaning off the dresser, I picked up a slim book titled “That Perfect Spring” by Bruce Fabricant.

I’m not a book critic either, nor can I give Mr. Fabricant an on-air plug for his book since I’m not a TV announcer, but I can do so here.

The author is a Mount Vernon, N.Y. native – where Ken and his younger brother Fred grew up – which is almost certainly what prompted Mr. Fabricant to mail a copy of the book to Ken. Maybe he wasn’t soliciting a free TV promo; maybe he just wanted to share a nice baseball story, or in this case, stories of 15 men, then-boys, eager to reminisce “warm, vivid memories of playing Little League and high school baseball and of chasing a dream. Fifty years later, that championship season isn’t about each individual; it’s about the team, the friendships, and the glory of realizing that dream.”

Isn’t that nice? I like the concept.

Mr. Fabricant wrote that he had found himself “wondering where my teammates were and how life has treated them” since the boys had won the 1959 Westchester Interscholastic Athletic Association baseball championship for A.B. Davis High School. Then he went and found those connected to the team who were still living, listened to their stories, and learned much more about them than he knew before … “their hopes, triumphs and failures in a game learned at the hands of their fathers, brothers and even mothers.”

One of the players, Neil Arena, even told how his cobbler father repaired Lou Gehrig’s and Frank Crosetti’s shoes, Yankees players from the 1920s-1940s. In the Mount Vernon Pony League, John Fortier once threw the ball around with Ralph Branca when Branca played for the Dodgers.

“There aren’t many youngsters who get a chance to pitch to a Major League player,” wrote Mr. Fortier. “I did. It was a nice experience. I’ll never forget it.”

Branca had also attended A.B. Davis and lived in Mount Vernon in the same house as the Singletons before they bought it.

“Mount Vernon was a good place to grow up,” wrote Nick Giordano about the community where playing baseball was not just a sport but also a way of life. “I couldn’t ask for a better place what with all those ball fields around me.”

The book also looks at forgotten places such as the annual high school band parade down Fourth Avenue … Ferrara’s Bakery on Sidney Avenue that made the best Italian bread this side of Italy … the bargains at the Five & Dime stores … a kid’s first baseball glove from Tom Godfrey’s … and Saturday afternoons at the Biltmore Theatre.

Mr. Fabricant’s glove was bought in a corner toy store near the Mount Vernon train station. It didn’t even have a pocket, it was just a flat piece of leather.

“The tattered and re-stitched glove remains one of my most prized possessions,” he said.

And now his book “That Perfect Spring,” which forever will hold Mr. Fabricant’s boyhood baseball memories inside the pages, is surely among those possessions as well.

“That Perfect Spring” is available for $14.49 on, or through Barnes and Noble.

Hanging on a fence watching the parade pass by

Everything in New York City seems to be done on a grander scale. The newspapers said an estimated two million people lined the streets to celebrate the Yankees’ World Series win. Two million!

We were just two people watching it on TV at home in Maryland, Ken and I.

“I enjoyed watching the city’s reaction to winning the championship,” said Ken, “because they haven’t had one in nine years. I also liked hearing what the players had to say, like CC Sabathia’s comment, ‘There’s nothing like winning in New York!'”

Ken is delighted for the players able to experience such a conquest in their first year with the Yankees, such as Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and A.J. Burnett.

oriolesparade_350.jpgNo doubt watching the festivities elicited his own happy memories as a Baltimore Oriole during a victorious time in 1983 after the Birds had clinched the World Series (also upsetting the Phillies). Ken sat not on a float in Baltimore’s World Series parade but on the back of a convertible Oldsmobile with his family.

On a much smaller scale than the parade in New York, Ken remembers, “People got very close to the convertibles carrying the players. They were able to touch us – that wouldn’t happen nowadays. My two young boys were in the car. Justin [then age 4] didn’t like it. He said the fans were too close – it made him uncomfortable.”

In the throng of that boisterous scenario on “Oriole Boulevard” near Fayette Street, there was only one place for me to go for a better view – up.

oriolesparade_250.jpgMy sister-in-law Susan and I braved the crowd in our Orioles caps and corporate clothes to watch the convoy (I’m on the right). Making sure no one could see under our skirts, we somehow climbed up onto a skinny piece of a wall and daringly hung on to a fence to afford us clearer glimpses of the titillating celebration over the hairy heads of the other million fans (or so it felt – I do not know the number).

Between us we held hand-to-hand with a small stuffed Oriole mascot while the ballplayers and their families shook hands, accepted pats on the backs, and grinned ear-to-ear in the hype of an overwhelming reception from the deafening massive crowd.

I was an average Orioles fan like the rest of the screaming people showing pride for our home team. Had someone told me that October day that one Mr. Ken Singleton passing by to the shouts of “Singy!” and “C’mon Ken hit it in the bullpen!” would one day be my husband, I would have laughed at the notion and probably fallen off the wall.

“It was fun,” said Ken, who remembers that people were hanging off street poles and out of office windows. At age 36 and ready to wrap up a long and productive baseball career, it had taken him 13 seasons before he had the opportunity to play on a World Championship team.

“Winning the Series was such a feeling of accomplishment,” he said. “For that particular season no team played better than us. We went down in history for champions of that year.”

Gleefully, the Orioles had returned to Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street by bus from Philly. Ken remembers that “the fans had been waiting for us – they were all over the place! In the parking lot and everywhere, in spite of it being close to midnight. There were so many people cheering us on, it was hard to drive through the streets.”

Since then, the Orioles have hosted several World Series Reunions at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, holding onto that precious era. Ken and many of his former teammates have been invited back to reminisce.

“I’m sure Cal Ripken thought he would be on many more championships teams,” said Ken. Cal was then in his second season as an Oriole. “But it never happened again. It’s been 26 years.”

Hubby wears his World Series ring proudly and often. “Winning was the culmination of a good year,” he said.

Wah! I wanna be in New York!

I don’t want to live in Baltimore this week. I want to wake up in the city that never sleeps … even though my beauty sleep has been compromised trying to squeeze in these Yankees games.

We’re asked all the time about why we live here in Maryland if Ken announces for the Yankees. If someone asked me that question this week, I’d say, “How I wish we did live in New York!”

It’s been tortuous for the kids and me unable to physically attend the thrilling playoffs and World Series games – bummer. But alas, school dictates our schedule whether we’re a baseball family or not, so we’re forced to stay home. (Who invented school anyhow?)

It’s been worse for the kids, ages 13 and 17, because they don’t get to watch the end of the games since I make them go to bed, so they’re not too tired to get up for school. In their shared bathroom, I tape a little “Yankee Report” to the mirror so they can learn the score and the outcome as soon as they awaken.

Like many of you Yankees fans who are parents and/or work full-time, we all still have to get up early and scoot the kids out the door whether baseball season thinks it’s still summer or not. (Can you believe it’s November 3 and baseball is still on and hubby is not home yet?)

Watching the games at home isn’t nearly as amusing as being in Yankee Stadium. There’s no cotton candy vendor. No fun graphics on the big screen. No cheering alongside at deafening tones with everyone else wearing assorted Yankees hats, giving high-fives to perfect strangers when the Yankees score.

Maybe at least if I had a few New York friends here in Baltimore, I could invite them over for the final game or venture out to a sports bar with 12 HD-TVs and cheer aloud in something other than my pajamas.

I told Ken I felt sorry for him, John Flaherty and Bob Lorenz reporting on the Yankees from the studio – they’re not allowed to watch the game in person either.

At least I have these little individual packs of salted peanuts in the pantry.

LET’S GO Y-A-N-K-E-E-S! I need a little sleep.