September 2010

Torn between pinstripes and birds?

bio_ken_275.jpg

Ken is in “commute” mode this weekend, able to zip down I-83 to Camden Yards from our home in Baltimore County, instead of hopping a plane or train to meet up with the Yankees and the YES Network crew. Since he wore an Orioles uniform for 10 seasons (1975-1984), yet announces games for the pinstripes, fans generally think he must be “torn” between his allegiances. Mrs. Singy sat down with hubby to get the real score.

Mrs. Singy: What’s it like for you to announce a Yankees/Orioles game?
Ken Singleton: Much like all of the others, that’s the way I look at it. I approach it the same way. I think other people may look at it differently because I used to play for the Orioles and I’ve been with the Yankees so long. Maybe they think, “He must be torn.” I’m not really. I just do the games. And my job is easier when the Yankees win. I’ve been fortunate to see them win quite a bit.

Mrs. Singy: Would you prefer to announce a Yankees/Orioles game in Baltimore or New York?
Ken Singleton: Well I like doing Yankees games in Baltimore because I don’t have to travel far. I’ve lived here for about 35 years. But I really love the new Yankee Stadium. I don’t think there is a more exciting stadium in the Major Leagues in terms of the crowd, how they get into the team, and their knowledge of the game. Plus, New York is where I grew up [Mount Vernon]. I’ll always love New York.

Mrs. Singy: The Orioles network MASN usually show you on TV during an Orioles game in the YES Network booth – what do you think of that?
Ken Singleton: They do, so I heard, but I’m not aware of it during the game. Someone usually tells me that I was on. Hopefully, the guys are saying nice things about me. :-)

Mrs. Singy: How do you think fans react to that at home – you working for the Yankees?
Ken Singleton: When I was announcing games for the Montreal Expos, fans in Baltimore didn’t seem to mind. Now that I do games for New York, at first they would ask, “How can you do that?” [Mrs. Singy hears this constantly!]. But I think now they understand better … I hope. The Yankees are good. They are a good team to work for.

Mrs. Singy: Does it bring back memories as a player when you announce in Baltimore, or not as much since you didn’t play at Camden Yards?
Ken Singleton: Not so much; only when I’m reminded by people who I might see around the stadium whom I’ve known over the years, like Jim Palmer, Mike Flanagan, and some of the ushers who have carried over from Memorial Stadium to Camden Yards. But that was a long time ago. Times change. Camden Yards has a different atmosphere than Memorial Stadium. A lot of that has to do with the fact that the Orioles were big winners in those days.

Mrs. Singy: What do you say when fans consistently ask why you don’t announce for your “home” team?
Ken Singleton: I consider myself a Yankees broadcaster; I work in New York. I’m very happy where I am. Who wouldn’t be happy working for a team that I have witnessed win the World Series four times? I’ve seen them in the playoffs 13 times in 14 years.
 
Mrs. Singy: What did you think of the NY Yankees when you were an Oriole?
Ken Singleton: Good question. I had a lot of respect for the Yankees. They were the team that we always tried to beat. As Orioles, we went to the World Series twice and I can recall in 10 years in Baltimore, we finished second, six times – some of those to the Yankees. They had great players: Thurman Munson, Reggie Jackson, Willie Randolph, Ron Guidry, Catfish Hunter and Lou Piniella. George Steinbrenner was still the boss back then. I had a lot of respect for their organization.

Mrs. Singy: What are some of your standard responses to fans when they allude to the same questions like: “Do you still have orange and black running through your blood?” … “We need you back here” … “Why don’t you live in NY?” … “Do you miss playing?”
Ken Singleton: When they comment that they need me back, I say, “There was a time.” But those days are over. It’s very nice for people to remember, but the game goes on and the players change. About living in New York … that’s easy. All I have to do is get on a train and I’m there – it’s a simple commute. My kids grew up here in Baltimore, you [Mrs. Singy] are from here. I don’t miss playing, no. Like I said, those days are over. When you start as a player, you know you can’t play forever. I was blessed to have played for 15 years – 12 on winning teams. Fifteen years in the Majors is a good run. I earned a good living – still earn a good living. I’ve been in the Majors for over 40 years now.

Mrs. Singy: What do you think about the Orioles now?
Ken Singleton: I would like to see them play better, but not against the Yankees. They are showing signs of improvement with new manager Buck Showalter and it will make the division even more competitive next year.
 

Friendly foursomes

golf_320.jpg

Strangers’ grins peer out from a collection of photos scattered around Ken’s office: some buried under paper piles, some stuck in drawers, others graduated to frames, sitting on a crowded credenza among baseball memorabilia.

These are the standard four-golfer poses … a typical souvenir from the bazillion golf tournaments in which Ken has been invited to play by charitable organizations trying to raise a buck.

The other three golfers in each pose took home an identical photo. I would wager to say they would be able to name Ken in the picture for a long while. But if Ken had to name them, most likely he could not. With no offense to anyone (I can guarantee my husband most certainly enjoyed each tournament), Ken has greeted thousands upon thousands of fans over two baseball careers. If he still remembered each of their names, we would change his name to Einstein.

Hopefully, their memory of a day on the links with a baseball celebrity is a great one. Maybe they bragged to their golf buddies that Ken Singleton played in their foursome. Maybe they proudly showed the souvenir photo to a spouse or displayed it on a desk.

And just because Ken may not remember names and faces of the myriad of golfers with whom he shared 18 holes, doesn’t mean he wasn’t congenial and polite while interacting with them. Ken is a very friendly guy.

If the one thing he prefers fans “take away” from him, is that he looked them in the eye, gave them his time, and tried his best to provide a pleasant experience. Many fans approach or e-mail me – or share on this blog – with wonderful comments about the “great guy” I’m married to. He has been described as personable, genuine, hospitable, and gracious. And it’s true. I have never seen my husband act none other than gracious to baseball fans. When we are out and about with friends, some have commented about this, as they observe him in “celebrity mode.”

Lesson here for all of us is that we cannot control another person’s experience, memory, or judgment about another human being. Yet if we are involved in the interaction, what we can control is ourselves. We can do our best to ensure that another person takes away the best pieces of ourselves that we have to offer.

When it’s Ken they really want

People are funny without realizing it – and just a little transparent.

If you were married to a doctor, would you be expected to answer medical questions? If you lived with a singer, would people expect you to break out in song?

I don’t think so.

So why do people expect me to talk baseball? I’m a writer, not a baseball analyst. Sure, I can write about fluffy baseball topics, like spitting or a 101-year-old Yankee fans named Frank, but the stats, strategy and who’s returning to the lineup from the disabled list? That’s Ken’s department.

When he’s on the road and I’m home in Baltimore, say like at the supermarket or church, people see “Suzanne” but I know they’re thinking “Ken” because the baseball ramblin’ begins.

It’s Ken they really want when an Orioles fan approaches me with a comment that they want Ken back as a player. It’s Ken they want when they ask me if I think he will some day broadcast for his “home” team. It’s Ken they want when they ask what he thinks of a current hot baseball topic or if the Yankees will win the pennant (again); and it’s Ken they want when someone e-mails to say she has been thinking about me, yet her next sentence includes the word baseball. (Guess she didn’t want to admit she was thinking about my husband all along.)

Do I look like I’m 6-foot-4 with short black hair and a YES Network microphone in my hand?

It’s Ken they really want when I walk into a friend’s house for a cookout and her husband is looking behind me with the immediate question on his beer-stained lips – “Where’s Ken?” – like I’m hiding him in my handbag or something. (Takes me a minute to get the cities straight on any given day, but eventually I utter the Yankees’ locale.)

Now around the end of summer every baseball season, I get a little cranky. (Jeepers, can you tell?) Don’t get me wrong – I want the Yankees to keep winning and see the inside of their dugout in October, but I also want my husband to come home. I become weary of kissing him bye-bye as he boards a plane or hops a train. I grow tired of checking his schedule every time I need a date for a cookout or to see if he’s available for back-to-school night.

Yet mostly, I’m feeling a tad drained with people talking baseball – to me – when it’s Ken they really want.
 
Yes, people are funny. They can’t quite get the hang of baseball schedules either. In December someone will ask if Ken is on the road. My cousin has asked if he returns home on weekends. On a summer holiday they seem astonished that he isn’t around. “Oh, Ken didn’t get off for Labor Day?”

My standard answer is “Baseball knows no holiday or weekend.” (Or kids’ birthdays, friend’s wedding or move-in day for our kid’s college.)

Sometimes a kind baseball soul will ask if I’m ready for the season to be over. Thank you and yes I am.

But in general, I don’t wanna talk baseball. Especially in September. It makes me cranky.

 

Anatomy of a broadcaster’s briefcase

Fans may be surprised to learn that a baseball broadcaster doesn’t show up 15 minutes before a game to go on-air. “That’s not the way it works,” said my husband Ken Singleton, who devotes hours to his “homework” before picking up a YES Network microphone.
 
Like the average American, a workday for him is 8-hours-plus, except his is not 9-to-5 but the “second shift” — he leaves for the ballpark at 3 p.m. and returns to the hotel around 11:30 (barring extra innings or rain delays).
 
Let’s peek into Ken’s 15-pound briefcase (actually he uses a small black suitcase on wheels) to examine the tools that help him prepare for each game:

laptop300.jpg1.    Laptop – Ken visits specific websites daily to check game scores around the leagues and to find out who did what. He learns of players’ injuries, special streaks and to see what’s happening beyond Yankee Stadium. His preferred sites include:

a.    ussportspages.com
b.    baseballreference.com
c.    playerprofiles.com
d.    mlb.com

2.    Press Guides – Ken carries specific ones needed for a particular road trip and keeps a press guide in his home office for every American and National League team. He researches historical notes and a plethora of stats. “Press guides tell me everything I want to know about a particular player or team,” he said, “even a player’s birthday.” (Certainly, Ken always carries the Yankees press guide.)

3.    Scorebook – Designed by his former Montreal Expos broadcast partner, Dave Van Horne (42-year veteran broadcaster and current lead play-by-play radio announcer for the Florida Marlins), Ken’s scorebook includes room to write notes and track pitchers, game times, team records and next-game pitchers. Ken orders these specially designed scorebooks from a local printer, made thick enough to record an entire season of games.

4.    Elias Notes – Produced each game by Elias Sports Bureau Inc., a major informational source for all sports, these notes are waiting in the YES booth — a copy for each broadcaster and one for the statistician. “These are very important,” says Ken. “They give good information about that particular game.”

Things he looks for: players on hitting streaks and reaching special milestones; injured players and who’s back in the lineup after an injury; what currently makes a team good; why a club is playing better now than at the beginning of the season (or vice versa). “I look for interesting items I think fans may want to know,” said Ken. “What would someone at home ask about this player or team?”

5.    Calculator to figure batting averages

6.    Legal pads to take notes

7.    Hall’s honey lemon cough drops for after L-O-N-G games
 
The first day of a series, or rejoining the Yankees after he’s been off a week, will include the most preparation for Ken. Not every note he collects is used in one game. In a three-game series, for example, he may use some the following day.
 
“It’s better to be over-prepared,” said Ken, “because you never know when a game is going to go for 15 innings.”
 
Also, for every game he prepares a Scouting Report on the starting pitchers — one for each team. “I write three interesting notes about each pitcher and email it to a graphics guy at YES.”

cc275.jpgFor instance, as I questioned Ken for this story, he had made a note for tonight’s Sept. 7 game about CC Sabathia going for his 20th game win.
 
After Ken pours over all the information he has collected, “I’m basically ready to do the game,” he says.

After settling into the press box, he visits the clubhouse to obtain the starting lineup and chat with players on both teams. Sometimes he peeks into Joe Girardi’s press conference before the game (held near the clubhouse in a conference room) or if he doesn’t have time, he listens to it in the booth. For additional homework, Ken speaks with the visiting team broadcasters, many his friends.
 
“They see the teams every day,” said Ken. “I don’t. Although I think I know a lot about a team, they have a better insight to help me with my game.”
 
And if he didn’t spend time preparing?
 
“I would run out of things to talk about! I’d be reacting to the game itself but wouldn’t be able to fill in the blanks. There’s a lot of time in between pitchers and hitters. I have to fill it with interesting information for the fans.”

Let’s talk about spit

Spit grosses me out. Thankfully, I am not a spitter — not now nor as a softball player. I didn’t like it when the Catholic schoolboys made spitballs nor do I like it in public when someone “hocks a loogie.” (I am gagging while envisioning this spitting image.)

So the age-old question from us spit-haters is why? Why do baseball players have to spit?

Basketball players don’t spit. Football players might spit some, but they have to lie on the turf after they’re tackled, so they might be more careful about where they put their saliva. Ice hockey players don’t spit (they might but it freezes) and I don’t notice pro golfers spitting on the links.

Camels and alpacas spit. So do cobras. Babies spit up. But baseball players are none of those (well, some might argue …)

“Spit” is an appropriate word for a vulgar action and an absolute nasty habit. Maybe we could start an acronym for SPIT … Saliva Put In Turf.

Socially, spitting is one of the rudest and most disrespectful things you can do to another human and is considered a taboo in many parts of the world.

Ken says it’s out of nervous energy that baseball players spit. Some are spitting not saliva, but tobacco juice and sunflower seeds. Although he says he does, I have never seen Ken spit, though he must have plenty as a ballplayer.

By the way, Ken prefers the word expectorate.

Call it what you will sweetie – spittle, saliva, spit – I have to agree with John Payne from Simsbury, Connecticut, who wrote Ken a four-page letter about spitting. Yes, FOUR pages – on pretty blue stationary. His opinion was quite entertaining.

“There is too much spitting by all the players on all the teams,” wrote Mr. Payne.  (He was quite serious about the topic, too; he typed the letter in ALL CAPS.)

“I wonder if these players spit on the floor at home or in restaurants,” wrote Mr. Payne. “Do they do all this spitting when they go out with their wives or girlfriends?”

He thinks the Yankees superstars are the ones who spit the most. So I ran into the TV room to see for myself and to get Ken’s spit input as he watched the Yankees/A’s game. He suggested I count the number of times the players spit in an inning. Three spits later, I was out of there.

I couldn’t watch it any more than Mr. Payne, who said he is so offended by the ongoing spitting that he makes sure to eat dinner before he watches a baseball game on TV. It is hard for him to finish his meal while observing “this nasty, unsightly, unsanitary and unhealthy practice.”

He would like Ken and the other announcers to discuss this spitting problem with the camera people so they don’t show any spitting on air.

Ken said that’s a bit tricky. How are they supposed to know when someone is ready to spit? True.

There’s only one other solution then, according to Mr. Payne. He would like to request of the baseball commissioner, Bud Selig, to make a ruling against spitting during games. “Make an agreement … to help solve this disgusting practice.”

I’m with you on that one, Mr. Payne. Maybe this is the reason it’s so challenging for me to sit through nine innings. Can I blame it on the spitting?

Mr. Payne wrote that he has seen “players spit on their hands, rub the baseball, rub dirt on their hands, then put their hand back in their mouth. This cannot be very sanitary or healthy. My relatives, my friends and I … would love to be able to eat and enjoy our meal while we watch the Yankees on YES.”

I’m guessing Mr. Payne would be very upset if spitballs were still legal.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.