Author Archive

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 Lulu.com, Amazon.com 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.

Lifetime Stadium Pass

lifetimepass_310.jpgThere’s a metal gold and red lifetime stadium pass in our kitchen junk drawer about the size of a credit card. It reads: “American/National Major Leagues of Professional Baseball present this LIFETIME PASS to KENNETH SINGLETON AND ONE in appreciation of long and meritorious service.” It’s signed by then American League president Lee MacPhail Jr. and then National League president Charles S. Feeney (leagues no longer have presidents, according to Ken).

The pass is scratched up, bent, and very tarnished – after all, it’s old. Ken retired from the field 25 years ago. He saw the pass sitting on my desk in my office as I’m writing.

“I was looking for that,” he said.

“You were?” I laughed. “Why? When would you ever need this?”

Hard to imagine stadium personnel would require Ken to show his permanent metal pass to get into a Major League ballpark, nor can I imagine him attending as a fan in the first place to watch a game. (Why should he when he can view sports on his High Def TV from a choice of nine brown La-Z-Boy recliners in our theater room?)

Besides in the stands at Oriole Park at Camden Yards during Cal Ripken’s 2,131st consecutive game in 1995, where Ken had been invited to participate in a postgame ceremony, I’ve only seen him sitting in press boxes (not counting the bleachers at our three sons’ Little League and Minor League games).

Wouldn’t it be comical to see the look on a front gate attendant’s face when we tried to push through the turnstile using Ken’s metal lifetime pass?

“What IS this antiquated thing?” I’d imagine s/he would ask us. “Hold on, I better get my supervisor.”

My guess is that no stadium staff member has ever laid eyes before on a Major League Lifetime Pass.

“I think once you play 10 years, you get one,” said Ken. He cracks me up – he thinks he might use it “years from now.”

Guess I’ll be the “AND ONE” he takes along.

The fans named Ferraro

Joe Ferraro of Smithtown, Long Island, N.Y., said he didn’t move from his chair Sunday night watching the Yanks win the pennant. Ken had phoned him today to talk baseball and Joe said he has watched every inning of every game and every minute of every pre- and postgame show on the YES Network.

The Ferraros are THE biggest Yankees fans ever.

Joe and his wife Ida are actually my friends from long ago — we met in 1982 in Jamaica. I think the Ferraro family was extremely happy when I married Ken and then ecstatic when he started calling games for the Yankees back with the MSG Network.

And listen, not that I know all of the rest of you die-hard Yankees fans personally, and I’m positive many of you out there in Yankeeland claim the same title, yet I’ve seen this Ferraro family in baseball action — and reaction — over the team. It’s unbelievable.

Once, Joe’s father-in-law Vinnie Aprea was watching a game and something went wrong for the Yankees. Vinnie got so mad he tipped over backwards in his easy chair! That’s Joe’s favorite story to tell.

ferraros_300.jpgWhen Ken, the kids and I visit the Ferraros in Smithtown, Ken is one popular guy there, let me tell you. Joe, his brothers and sisters, and their entire somewhat large Ferraro clan, and the related Apreas and their big Italian family, toss many baseball questions Ken’s way. He doesn’t mind; he appreciates their enthusiasm because it matches his passion for the game.

Joe already is preparing for next year, he told Ken. He wants Carl Crawford from Tampa Bay on the team. Ken said that might be tough.

Three of Joe’s kids — Joseph, Vincent and Anita — were at Game 6. CC Sabathia flipped a ball to Joseph before the game, and Vincent got one from A.J. Burnett. Their sister Luci and mom Ida watched as many games as they could from out of town.

Anita posted on Facebook after the win: “Being at that Yankee game was insanity. Hugging random people … the whole stadium singing ‘New York, New York’” … everyone going crazy in the street. It was one of the most SENSATIONAL situations of my life.”

Coconut macaroons among the fan mail?

With the oodles of boxes and envelopes – large and small, bulky and flat, neat and sloppy – that over the years have entered our house from autograph-seeking fans, I’ve sort of become immune to them. Fan mail is scattered everywhere in the Singleton house – on Ken’s desk, in the La-Z-Boy chairs, on the dresser, and in the kitchen where the household mail piles up for the secretary to process (don’t be so impressed – she and I are the same person).

Yet once in a while the contents of an envelope or box, after it was spread across the kitchen table where Ken opened the mail, peaks my interest and I’ll pick up a letter to scan, view an old Ken Singleton baseball card, handle the nifty pen included to sign it, or marvel at a small plastic container of coconut macaroons.

Did I say macaroons?

In the last batch of “interesting things people mail to Ken,” one longtime Yankee fan Joyce Rockwood of New York City baked a batch of “Joyce’s Yummy Homemade Macaroons” and delivered them first to Yankee Stadium, and when it was rejected there, mailed her package with a nicely scrawled note that suggested Ken share the cookies in the YES booth.

gloveonhead_350_102009.jpgI imagined Joyce painstakingly placing a chosen and thoughtful selection of other items into the box along with her friendly letter … a coffee table Orioles book photographed by her dad David Spindel; a photo of young Joyce in Bucky Dent’s locker in 1978; another current photo of baseball-glove-on-her-head Joyce next to her husband Ken at Yankee Stadium (which my Ken mentioned on-air); her business card; the carefully hand-rolled coconut macaroons of course … oh! … the recipe (see below) in case Ken feels like donning a baker’s apron during the offseason. (Actually he bakes only chocolate cakes, but there’s always hope he’ll try something new.)

I e-mailed Joyce to thank her for the entire package and told her if we lived in a perfect world, baseball husbands would have time to respond to each piece of fan mail. (He does the best he can, God love him. Gee, I hope Macaroon Joyce wasn’t disappointed that she heard only from Mrs. Singy.)

Then I told her if I liked coconut at all, I would have tasted what I’m certain must be THE YUMMIEST macaroons ever baked by a Yankees fan. (Yet apologized because I cannot think to place coconut into my mouth … well, except in the case of swigging my all-time favorite cocktail – Malibu Coconut Rum and diet soda – a drink my girlfriends and I have christened “The Suntan Lotion.”)

Dear Joyce … people such as yourself and your husband Ken, who take the time with such fun gestures, and are determined that a package reach its destination, are surely to be applauded. There are other fans out there who also should be thanked one by one.

Where is that darn secretary when you need her anyhow?

_______________________

Joyce’s Yummy Homemade Macaroons
(Raw Vegan Vanilla Macaroons)

I asked permission of Joyce before posting to ensure this isn’t a handed-down secret family recipe that she shares only with YES announcers.

? 9 cups organic unsweetened shredded coconut
? 4 cups raw cashew powder (blend raw cashews to make this)
? 2-1/4 cups maple syrup
? 5 T coconut oil
? 3 T vanilla extract
? 1 teaspoon sea salt
? just the right amount of love
? optional: 1-2 T cinnamon; 1 T peppermint extract; replace cashew powder with 2-1/4 cups cacao powder to make chocolate macaroons. If exchanging cashew powder, also remove 1 T vanilla extract and replace with 1 T almond extract.

Place all ingredients in large bowl and mix well to blend thoroughly. (Cut recipe in half to make smaller batch.) Using a scoop with spring action release (single meatballer works perfectly), scoop out even portions to a dehydrator tray. Pressing firmly with fingers, make macaroons as compact as possible in the baller before releasing onto tray. Dehydrate @ 115 degrees for 8-10 hours or until crisp on outside and chewy on inside.

These tasty treats are free of yeast, dairy, and gluten. Share with a fellow NY Yankee commentator for added fun!

To your health!
Joyce Rockwood

Sick or healthy, kids are kids!

(and those with cancer are still cool)
Cool Kids Campaign first began in memory of late Orioles shortstop Mark Belanger

coolkids_300.jpgIt never seems to be the right order of things when people pass to death before the average human life span has been reached.

These were surely the thoughts of Ken and his former teammates as they were forced to bid goodbye to a teammate and friend in Belanger – eight-time Rawlings Gold Glove award winner – who passed from lung cancer October 6, 1998 at the young age of 54.

And although sometimes God’s plans deem a young death for reasons we cannot comprehend, none of us can do a darn thing about it … except to afterwards honor a loved one in some grand gesture.

In memory and honor of the shortstop stands a wonderful foundation called the Cool Kids Campaign (initially named the Belanger-Federico Foundation), started by Belanger’s son Rob and his close friend Chris Federico. The duo wanted to raise funds for lung cancer research by hosting a golf tournament to honor parents lost to cancer. (Chris’ mom Susannah died of leukemia.)

Enter idea genius and co-founder Sharon Perfetti, and four years later, the Cool Kids Campaign thrives with a cool list of programs: Cool Kids Cafe, Cool Kids Care Packages, Cancer Fears Me! product line, Cool Kids Reading Challenge, Cool Kids Family Support Fund and an array of other cool fundraisers to assist kids with cancer as they muddle through the ordeals of chemotherapy, radiation, and too many hospital visits.

“Dad went out of his way to bring smiles to kids’ faces when he gave autographs,” said Rob Belanger of his father Mark. “I think he’d be ecstatic about the campaign if he were alive now.”

His father probably would have become an ambassador he said, to help the program along as he rallied with his time and energy. Baltimorean Kimmie Meissner, a world champion figure skater, is an ambassador for the campaign and makes appearances at most of their events.

Ken, as an honorary board member, hosted their June 2009 golf tournament here in Baltimore. I have the pleasure of volunteering as copy editor for their Cool Kids Connection quarterly newspaper and assist with writing projects as needed.

The kids – mostly those being treated through Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland hospitals – are even treated to end-of-chemo parties, with cake and ice cream of course, because the Cool Kids Campaign philosophy is that kids are kids, regardless of if they’re sick or healthy.

“Every kid wants to feel cool even if they don’t feel well,” said Perfetti. “As we decide how to help these kids and best use the donated dollars … we try to make them forget, at least for a little while, that they are fighting for their lives.”

The Cool Kids Campaign is ready to take the organization to its next level. Knowing that kids with cancer spend most days in treatment with one caregiver while missing out on socializing, and feel different due to hair loss and surgical masks, the Cool Kids Care Center will be developed, offering a sterile facility for kids and families where they can be tutored, play, receive support, socialize, and share with other families facing the same challenges.

“I can hear Dad saying to his teammates, ‘C’mon! We’re going to pump this thing up!’” said Rob Belanger. “He’d be completely in their faces, ‘Let’s raise money!’ I think he would have really loved the organization and what we are accomplishing.”

How fans can help …
Should readers wish to make a donation to further the mission of the Cool Kids Campaign, there are three ways to donate:

1. Checks payable and mailed to Cool Kids Campaign, 9711 Monroe Street, Cockeysville, MD 21030

2. Donate through your company’s United Way campaign with the designated number 1121030.

3. Stock Transfers are accepted and delivered through electronic transfer: DTC# 0141 – Brown Advisory; A/C# 1051-7540 in name of Belanger-Federico-Perfetti Foundation, Inc.

Before there was Ken

Clean confessions of a baseball-fan-turned-baseball-wife

As Ken and I celebrate our 18th year of marriage on October 11, I can’t help but remember once upon a baseball time in my pre-Ken Singleton days ….

? Once I made myself slurp down raw oysters – which I loathe – with Brooks Robinson at a museum fundraiser in Baltimore when I worked for a video production company. This was after I had interviewed him for his reaction about the fundraising party. I still hate raw oysters.

? Once I was a common fan in the upper deck of Memorial Stadium screaming along with the other 52,000 beer-filled fans … “C’mon Ken! Hit it in the bullpen!

? Once a friend, Bob, pretended he was Oriole Rich Dauer as we exited Memorial Stadium long after most fans had left. Those still waiting outside for players’ autographs surrounded him after another friend with our group had shouted, “Hey, it’s Rich Dauer!” Stupidly, Bob signed their programs and balls; to this day I cringe thinking how they believed his authenticity (or stupidity?) Please know I would never fake Ken’s signature on an autograph item (although I can script it perfectly).

? Once my friend dated the late Todd Cruz when he played for the Orioles. I was in awe (okay, jealous) of the fact that she had attracted a Major Leaguer.

? Once in my early 20s at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, a friend and I (in “happy” state), slid from the tippy-top to the very bottom of a long, smooth metal partition between the escalators. I sported the largest, deepest purplish bruise ever (top of left hip to outside of left knee) as my side thumped extremely hard against the bottom base. It’s a good thing I couldn’t feel much after that baseball game (and that I didn’t yet know Ken to have to explain the bruise!).

? Once during my lunch hour when I worked for a bank in downtown Baltimore, I stood in a long line to meet and greet Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr. I didn’t want autographs, though; instead I asked each for a kiss. (And nowadays do not prefer when female autograph hounds manhandle my husband.)

? Once I chatted with Ripken Jr. at a nightclub called Christopher’s when he first played for the Orioles – before I knew him. Poor Cal now can’t step foot outside of his home without being barraged by fans.

? Once in 1985 when I worked in Employee Communications at Maryland National Bank, I interviewed Ken Singleton for our company newspaper when he played for the Orioles. I still have that edition of the paper, and the rest is history …

Fanatic fans … nice or obnoxious?

ripken_275_092809.jpg(Previously published in The Baltimore Examiner)
You spot him walking down the street like the average Joe, except his name is Cal, as in Cal Ripken Jr. You can’t believe your good fortune in spotting a sports celebrity, or your chump luck that you’re without a baseball. You nudge your kid, “See who’s over there?” as you frantically search for a scrap of paper. You must act fast or he’ll get away.

But how to grab Cal’s attention? You want that autograph! Should you touch his arm? Call his name? Offer a handshake? A tongue-tied oaf with four thumbs stands in your place, confidence transformed, unable to contain his exhilaration in the same breathing space as a Hall of Famer.

Ripken said plenty of fans fumble their words out of nervousness. It amuses him when he hears, “You’re my biggest fan,” when someone means the opposite. Once he calms them with his gentle demeanor, they usually express themselves more clearly.

What’s the best way to approach a player? Most people react without thinking, said Sandy Unitas, wife of the late Johnny U.

“We’d be sitting there [in a restaurant] and someone would obviously recognize him,” said Unitas, “Then right when they served John his food, a fan would decide to approach him.”

Her tip to the knack of celebrity-approaching is to consider the situation. Where he is? How is he engaged?

“Wait until an approachable time,” she said, “don’t just run up and start talking, ‘Oh my, he’s Johnny Unitas!’ and interrupt what’s going on. Be considerate of the people he’s with.”

Unitas said her husband became a tad annoyed when a fan approached him during their kids’ sporting events. “He was there as a father,” she said, “not as a celebrity. He didn’t like anyone talking to him while he was watching a game, including me!”

Fans may claim the attention comes with the territory, yet any territory has its boundaries. And fans sometimes can cross the line … such as when Ken Singleton was asked for an autograph by a hospital staff member while his wife was in labor.

Living close to Los Angeles, Janice Murray, wife of former Oriole Eddie, said so many stars and athletes are in sight, most people don’t give them the time of day. “It’s great out here. No one bothers him. He can even go to get groceries.”

Yet one “how not to approach” incident stands out in her memory. She and Eddie were leaving a game, and “a woman wanted Eddie’s photo,” said Murray. “She shooed me out of the way and said, ‘Oh no, not you, honey.’ That was kind of rude. There was a different way to do that. Maybe if that lady had been nicer, I would have offered to take the picture.”

Murray has witnessed women asking her husband to sign their T-shirts, maybe a tad too close to their you-know-whats.

There are many good stories, too. “The kids are polite,” she said, mimicking, ‘Mr. Murray? Could I have your autograph, please?’ That’s no problem. Adults are the ones.”

Her advice is to assess the situation, take into account people they’re with and what they’re going through (maybe rushing through an airport). Is it the appropriate time to interrupt them?

Brooks Robinson said 99 percent of the people he encounters are “wonderful” and respect his privacy. “I’ve always enjoyed people. I accept it; it’s part of the deal.” His wife Connie has patience with fans as well, he said.

Most are timid in approaching the third-base golden glove, yet he admitted an admirer occasionally may cross the line. “Sitting on the airplane, some guy wanted to bend my ear between Baltimore and Los Angeles … he wanted to talk and talk and talk and I couldn’t get rid of him. Connie was with me.”

Then there’s the restaurant fan who talks for 20 minutes while the Robinsons are eating. “That’s crossing the line,” he said. “But I’ve been around for so long, I can spot someone who wants an autograph. Some look at me and say, ‘You’re Johnny Unitas!’”
 
He shared Unitas’ story about a guy in a bar who knew Unitas was an athlete, but was incorrect with the name. “You’re Brooks Robinson,” he insisted repeatedly. Unitas had to pull out his billfold to prove otherwise.
 

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