On an off day in Spring Training, Ken took time to enjoy one of his favorite pleasures – to watch professional golf at a PGA Tournament in Palm Harbor, Fla., about 30 minutes from Steinbrenner Field.
If you have ever attended a pro golf tournament, you’re familiar with how quiet is the atmosphere – a courtesy extended by fans so golfers can focus and eventually sink miniature white balls into tiny cups in as few strokes as possible.
What amazes Ken is the difference between the hushed atmosphere of a golf tournament versus the deafening one of a baseball stadium.
“Quiet applause is accepted after a shot,” said Ken. “Very few fans shout comments, and if they do, it’s mostly encouraging. In baseball stadiums, some things that fans yell are not so encouraging and can include disparaging comments about your family members.”
In Minnesota on Mother’s Day some years back, Oriole Ken was in the on-deck circle warming up when a Twins fan shouted, “It’s Mother’s Day and even your mother doesn’t love you!” Ken went up to bat, hit a home run, and on his way back to the dugout, addressed the guy, “Now even your mother loves me.” That elicited a hearty laugh from the fan’s friends.
What people do not realize, Ken said, is that players use the discourteous comments as incentive to play well against the opposing team. “When you’re on the road and fans say bad things, you really want to do something to shut them up. Then they might learn to leave you alone.”
Ticket takers at pro golf tournaments take more than your entrance fee at the gate – they confiscate all cell phones, too. This is so phones do not ring during play and so people aren’t tempted to chat and make business calls.
So when it was time for Ken to receive a scheduled phone interview from a Montreal radio station, he was forced to step outside the gates where he could talk Yankees in a comfortable tone of voice without disturbing the quiet on the links (first having to retrieve his cell phone from the front gate staff).
Could you imagine if a Yankee Stadium PA announcer whispered, “Shhh, all quiet please … Derek Jeter’s up to bat.” Or if a vendor at a golf tournament screamed, “Get your beer here!”
The hype and rowdiness of attending a baseball game is half the fun – no – make that all the fun. And who cares if anyone’s yakking on a cell phone? We can’t hear them anyway over the roar of Yankees fans.
Two different sports, two different atmospheres. The notion supposedly, is that golfers would not be able to concentrate if fans were able to scream at will.
If a pro makes a good putt to take the lead in a tournament, then people get excited. But only after the fact. While a putter is in pendulum motion, no one’s clapping and shouting “C’mon! Sink the putt!”
I asked Ken what’s the difference with baseball and why doesn’t the noise bother Major Leaguers?
“You just have to concentrate and put all the sounds behind you,” he said. “You can hear the crowd but it’s almost like a buzz in the background because you’re so focused. Even years later, I can remember specific pitches, sequences, what it felt like to hit a baseball and how I swung … all because my concentration was so keen. Not to mention that if you don’t concentrate, you can get hurt while batting or playing the field.”
While comments from fans and the overall racket were challenging to a player, Ken said the noise and excitement is part of the game. “It’s easy to get pumped up in front of 50,000 excited fans.”
Quiet please. Ken is going to go hit golf balls now.