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Nineteen years is a lot of baseball

By September in the Singleton household, admittedly, I’m weary of baseball. Let’s just get the Yankees to the World Series already, and get Mr. Singy home to make spaghetti.

If I had a dollar for every baseball game I’ve watched (um, sort of watched) being a Singleton, I could have loads of fun at The Dollar Tree. (You thought I was going to say I’d be rich?)

Throughout Ken’s radio announcing days for the Montreal Expos, TV broadcasting for Madison Square Garden and the YES Network, our son Justin’s little league, high school, and Clemson University games, his summer leagues (including Cape Cod), and on up to his Minor League career in the Toronto Blue Jays’ Triple-A system … whew, that’s a ton of baseball for someone who connects with the phrase ants in her pants.

Wait … forgot to count two other sons’ rec council baseball games. Now we’re up to 19 years’ worth of being a baseball mom and wife, loyally sitting through mega-innings of a sport with which I have a love/hate relationship. Good thing the tickets have been free.

It’s not a secret – Ken admits it, too – baseball is a slow, methodical, and sometimes
L-O-N-G game. I’ve been the one in the stands reading a book (hey, a girl has to prepare for rain delays somehow), and I’ve walked around stadiums to stretch my legs and people watch. I’ve hunted for the healthiest stadium food possible and even shopped in team stores to pass time through extra innings, although our household does not need one more jersey, cap, or jacket in the closets. (Wait – do they make high heels yet with team logos?)

I try to pay attention, honestly I do, but the distractions are too great … watching people pig out or guzzle beer, noticing kids more bored than I am fiddle with their dad’s hat or fold their stadium seat up and down 42 times. I contemplate why that girl walking up the aisle would want to show that much cleavage in a male-dominated venue (oh right); and calculate the time we’ll get back to the hotel to catch a “Sex and the City” rerun.

Basically I’ve decided that watching baseball is like going to work with my husband. The sport has been extremely good to the Singletons, certainly, I’d never want to sound ungrateful (that’s the love part). Baseball feeds our hungry teens and my shoe fetish. Yet it separates our family for seven months (that’s the hate part). We miss Ken, and Ken misses out on family life such as birthdays and weddings, meeting visiting cousins from Italy, simply hanging out with the kids – and the most recent, as you may have heard Michael Kay announce on air – the birth of our first grandson September 21.

We can bring Ken’s face into our living room via airwaves, sure, but that is no substitute for the real deal.

Yes, 19 years is a lot of baseball. Excuse me while I run out to the dollar store.

Ken was in the lineup

People ask often how Ken and I met, so I may as well tell the story here, too. How Mr. and Mrs. Singy ended up in the same life is accredited to my 9-to-5 corporate days as a communications officer for a bank where I was editor of publications.

After Ken retired as a player, he had signed on with the bank as a spokesman for a product called “The Lineup,” which tied in neatly with a baseball theme. He made appearances at bank branches, taped a TV commercial with the late Clara Peller of “Where’s the beef?” fame, and allowed our department to interview him for a 1985 issue of RECAP, the bank’s newspaper (I still have it).

I remember being somewhat nervous – more excited actually – to meet a real live Baltimore Oriole the morning he stepped into my small lamp-lit office in downtown Baltimore. Yet he quickly placed me at ease with his congeniality and easy smile.

Ken had moved on to his second career, broadcasting games for TSN (The Sports Network) in Canada, which produced games for the Montreal Expos and the Toronto Blue Jays, among others; he also anchored sports on the weekends for a Baltimore TV station.

“I enjoy it,” he had said about being behind a microphone instead of behind home plate. “I’m comfortable since I’m talking about something I’ve been doing my whole life.”

On the topic of retiring from baseball, Ken explained it like this, “There are different stages to an athlete’s career. When you make it to the Majors, you make it on talent alone. You have the ability, but the talent and experience aren’t mixed together. The longer you stay, the more the experience blends with the talent. In my case I was a good player, but I wasn’t overly talented. As you get older, the talent decreases, then it gets to the point when the talent is almost gone and you rely solely on experience – which is not good enough. That’s the point I reached.”

The interview goes on for a long page after that (and how I wish I could edit my young green writing) with questions such as “What career would you have pursued if not baseball? (teaching) … “Would you like to manage?” (no) … “Who was your idol in baseball?” (Willie Mays) and other topics.

Our department then began to produce news videos for the branches and satellite offices, and we had invited Ken to host them; I was chosen as co-host (and I still have the videos, too, but I swear I’m not a packrat).

While sitting around waiting for the crew to set up shots, lighting, sound, and make script changes, Ken and I chatted off-camera, and a friendship began. Occasionally he would phone me at work for a chat, or we would meet downtown for a meal, still as friends. I had a stuffy bow-tied banker boyfriend at the time; and neither of us looked at the friendship as anything more.

After resigning from the bank in 1989, I freelanced as a communications/events specialist and was hired to help plan a treasure hunt fundraiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The event called for local celebrities to present clues to the contestants, posted around various departments of Saks Fifth Avenue in Baltimore where the event was staged.

I had invited Ken to participate, and because my frugal boyfriend chose not to attend, Ken and I went together. There was a magical kiss on the escalator at the end of the black-tie evening, eventually I broke up with the banker and hung out with Ken more.

The next summer while renting a house with a roommate, the landlord decided to sell it. We approached our friend Ken with the idea to housesit for him while he worked on the road for Expos radio. He agreed, and we moved in to what was supposed to be a temporary situation. At the end of the baseball season the roommate left, I stayed, and became Mrs. Singy the following October ’91.

And they lived baseball ever after …

A bag of balls

baseballs_250.jpgMrsSingy@suzannesingleton.com
When people and organizations ask Ken for an autographed baseball, I politely inform them that we don’t currently own a warehouse of sporting equipment (see “The Singletons are fresh out of autograph items“) yet if they provide a ball, Ken will be happy to sign it.

With certain situations that tug at my heartstrings, however, I’m a little more lenient, so once in a while I scurry around the house in search of a blank baseball to stick under Ken’s nose to sign.

There aren’t many – blank ones, that is. On the last go-round, I stopped upstairs in Ken’s office at a red felt, almost-Santa-like bag filled with over 40 autographed baseballs. One of these days I should buy him a shelf or display case because the baseballs – or rather what’s on them – are fairly impressive even to my amateur eyes.

I wish some of these guys had had better handwriting for me to report what names are on the balls! Ken, without a doubt, could sit here and relay a zillion stories behind each in his collection.

Alas, this is what I see:

? Rawlings official ball of the 1983 World Series signed “To Matthew, Good Luck, Pete Rose.” Unfortunately, our son Matthew, in a creative mood as a kid, tried to decorate the ball further using small rubber stamps so Pete’s scribble has a little company.

? On another ball, Ken’s handwriting reads: “RBI #100 and 101, 8/30/79 vs. Twins in Baltimore”

? “1,000 Major League Hit, pitcher Jim Slaton, Milwaukee vs. Baltimore 7/25/77″

? “First A.L. Grand Slam 5/22/76, 8-4 win over Tigers”

? “1st American League homerun, donated by Jim Perry 4/27/75″

? “Homerun off Juan Marichal 6/13/71″

? “Homerun #23, R.B.I. #100, 9/23/73″

? “RBI #1000 & 1001, homerun Chicago, 8/11/83″

? “9th Consecutive Hit, a club record, 4/28/81″

? “Career Homerun #200, 4/26/81″

? “Hit #1,500 at Baltimore vs. Chicago, double, 1st inning, 8/6/80″

? “American & National 1979 Japan Major League Series”

?  “N.Y. METS” with a ball full of faded autographs

? official league ball with Montreal Expos logo and various signatures

?  “To Matthew & Justin, Al Bumbry, Padres #4, 1985″ (Al is still one of Ken’s good friends; he lives in Baltimore, too)

? “50th All-Star Game” ball

? official ball of 1981 All-Star Game with various signatures

? baseball stamped with “Liga de Baseball Profesional de Puerto Rico”

? many other autographs too numerous to list, however, legible names include Frank Robinson, Earl Weaver, Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken, Jim Palmer and many others

One lone autographed ball not in the red bag with the others, sits amid Ken’s papers and baseball books on his desk. It has one signature – Hank Aaron.

Dance of Love

danceoflove_250_083109.jpgMrsSingy@suzannesingleton.com
When I opened the lumpy envelope containing Jim Kaat’s just-published poetry book, one word came to mind – WOW! Then one thought – every person after they die should be honored with such a lovely book.

Dance of Love; Dance of Life
… Poetry by Jim Kaat is a substantial wow for several reasons … one being who would expect a self-proclaimed “dumb jock” to go so deep? And I don’t mean to left field.

The second reason being that the contents of Jim’s book depicts a love so sturdy and affectionate between a husband and a wife, even if we all didn’t know Kitty, we would have shed a tear for the tenderness he offers with words, and the sadness and helplessness he surely experienced watching his beloved bride of 22 years wither away with cancer.

Mary Ann Kaat passed away July 21, 2008.

It was through death when I first met her. Ken and I flew to the Kaats’ Florida home last November to attend a stirring memorial party. In their happy yellow house, Jim kept notebooks of hundreds of poems he had written daily to his beloved “queen.” He ran with my suggestion to publish them, thus Dance of Love was born, and unlike any of us, it shall live forever in a splendid tomato-red hardback book. The cover artwork is a mock of a contemporary statue on the Kaats’ front lawn. Mary Ann’s bright face bursts from almost every page as the reader watches her live, hug, swim, laugh, kiss, share, sit and love Jim Kaat right back “mutually” as she once told him.

And if Kitty’s poems aren’t beautiful enough, two surprises are included before and after his collection. Eight of Mary Ann’s family members and friends wrote their wonderful thoughts; then after Jim’s “Farewell” poem, there are several pages of Mary Ann’s notes to Jim in her handwriting. Very nice touch.

I’m still shaking my head paging through Dance of Love. It’s a beautiful testimony of marriage. And I hold true to my initial reaction … wow.

“Facing Mickey Mantle with the bases loaded was relatively easy,”  writes Jim Kaat in Dance of Love, as he weighed how he would pen his last words to his wife. The following is the last poem he recited to Mary Ann on the day before she took her last breath:

Farewell
Farewell my beautiful queen,
The most magnificent woman I’ve met or seen.
I look forward to seeing you again some day,
I’ll recognize you as soon as I see you;
You’ll be the one that stands out from the crowd
The dynamic outspoken one, free-spirited Italian,
Maybe a bit boisterous and loud.
You’ll always be with me in spirit, my guiding light,
Even though you’re gone from my sight.

All my love,
Jimmy Lee
XXXOOO
7/20/08

Although Dance of Love was produced only to share with Jim’s family and close friends, I encourage you to meet Mary Ann on Jim’s Web site.

A baseball birthday surprise

dad-collage_350.JPGMrsSingy@suzannesingleton.com
Meet Bron Locke … it’s his 45th birthday!
 
Bron, an avid Yankees fan who lives in Clearlake Oaks, Calif., has been a fan since 1976. He was 12 years old when Mickey Mantle shook his hand and autographed a photo for him at an Apple Blossom Festival.

Before that he was a Baltimore Orioles fan when he lived nearby, and Ken was one of his favorite players, said his daughter Tasha in an e-mail to Mrs. Singy.

“He never misses a Yankees game and watches most of them on the YES Network,” wrote Tasha, a Virginia resident.

Bron has attended nearly 100 Yankees games at 12 different stadiums. During the recent Yankees-A’s series, Bron was thrilled when Johnny Damon acknowledged his wave with a nod, a smile and a lift of his glove. When Johnny chased a foul ball then flipped it to an A’s attendant, the attendant flipped the ball to Bron. Regrettably, another fan bumped his arm and the ball bounced away for someone else to snatch up. He was heartbroken.

locke_250.jpgTasha said it is her dad’s lifetime dream to own a baseball from the Major Leagues. And good daughter that she seems, she wants to ensure her dad has a very happy birthday.

“You have no idea how much my dad’s happiness means to me,” she said.

What a sweet girl. Tell your dad to watch his mailbox, Tasha, for a little baseball birthday surprise from Ken.

Happy Birthday, Bron Locke, Yankees fan extraordinaire! 

UPDATE: A week after this entry, Mr. Locke was kind enough to send me a nice e-mail.

Hi Mrs Singleton,
 
This is Bron Locke, thank you for the great blog entry! It’s a shame I was so clumsy at the game, I should’ve anticipated that someone would be reaching for the ball as well. But, to get an autographed ball from Ken is MUCH more special.
 
Attached is a collage picture I made for Tasha, with an extra message added to the bottom for you and Ken. I wanted you two to have it so you can know that you made a Ken Singleton fan’s year! I’m building a walnut display case to house the ball and display the card.
 
Thanks again for your kindness,

Bron Locke

locke_360.jpg

One name: Willie Mays

MrsSingy@suzannesingleton.com
As I write, the Yankees just left San Francisco and Ken just landed in Boston on a red eye, leaving behind the home of the Giants, where his all-time favorite baseball player – Willie Mays – played most of his career.
 
“He was a great all around player,” said Ken of the center fielder. “He was exciting, he made the right plays at the right time, was a great home run hitter, a tremendous fielder, and a great base stealer and base runner.”
 
williemays_350.jpgIn Cooperstown in 2007, when we attended Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn’s inductions into the Hall of Fame, Ken and I bumped into Mr. Mays several times during the infamous weekend, once in the gift shop where we snapped this photo that caught Ken in an excited mode to meet and greet his favorite player.
 
The two had played against each other when Ken first arrived in the big leagues as a New York Met in 1970. In the first expansion of baseball to the west coast, the Giants moved to San Francisco in the late ’50s, as did the Dodgers. That broke the heart of Ken’s dad Joe – he never got over it.
 
Years later, the face-to-face interaction with Mr. Mays clearly thrilled Ken.
 
“If I had a ball, I would have asked him to sign it,” he said, admittedly apprehensive and a bit nervous at the time. “I asked to take a picture together but I didn’t want to be all over the guy, knowing how that feels.”
 
Mr. Mays said he remembered Ken as a player, and asked if he was still doing TV. “Which I thought was nice,” said Ken. “When I was a youngster, he was the man. He couldn’t do anything wrong. I remember when the Giants moved.”
 
Yet as a fan back then it was hard to follow the Dodgers and Giants. Communication wasn’t nearly as effective as today.
 
“There was no Direct TV to watch every game,” said Ken. “People back east wouldn’t find out game results until the late edition of the newspaper.”

Always Yankees connected

MrsSingy@suzannesingleton.com
Waiting for a flight to Boston out of Baltimore earlier this summer, a Mark Teixeira-jerseyed guy approached Ken and I in the airport restaurant to meet and greet.

His name was Mike and he was headed on his honeymoon from Auburn, N.Y., along with his new bride Erin – a bridal corsage pinned to her shirt. The lovebirds asked for an autograph and photo of Ken, which I clicked of the three of them, and they went merrily on their way after sending us a complimentary beverage in appreciation.
 
Always Yankees connected.

hats_275.jpgAn October ago in Venice, Ken and I stumbled across a kiosk of NYY caps of various colors – pink, red, white. NYY caps in Italy? Why not? Yankees fans travel, too. They’re everywhere, with a few recognizing Ken as we walked the promenade along the canal.

“What are you doing here, Ken Singleton?” a guy called out.

Using his standard answer to that question, Ken laughed and said, “Everyone has to be somewhere.”

Always Yankees connected.

And if there weren’t Yankees fans in Italy before we got there, we made some. Thanks to the kindness of Connie Schwab of Media Relations in the Yankees office, who provided us with a load of Yankees merchandise to take along to my cousins in Sardinia, Ken and I doled out hats, pens, and key chains and left a NY logo mark around the old village. The below photo is my cousin Tina in a tiny old village in Sardinia, Italy.

tina_250x310.jpgAlways thinking Yankees.

Riding home from Pennsylvania after a family birthday celebration, Ken turned on the radio and the voices of Suzyn Waldman and John Sterling erupted loudly and clearly from station 880 AM … all the way to Baltimore.

Always Yankees connected.

When that signal went staticky, Ken flipped open his iPhone, touch-screened a few buttons, and wa-la … the YES Network sounded over the internet. Had we been home, the Yankees would have been making plays right in our living room on that impeccable hi-def image which shows every whisker on a player’s face. Had Ken not been home, we can still watch him announcing games … ahhh, the beauty of a Direct TV baseball package.

Always Yankees connected.

Distractions at Tropicana Field

trop250.jpgMrsSingy@suzannesingleton.com
I’m a week late writing about the distractions at Tropicana Field while we attended the Yankees game in Florida versus the Rays.

Sorry, got distracted.

Listen, I try hard to pay attention at Yankees games, honestly I do, but it was odd sitting under a dome at a ballpark versus being in the fresh open air (although the A/C is a welcome addition during Florida’s humidity attacks). Even when I did settle in to watch the game … ugh. A night of bad plays on the part of the Yankees.

If the roof wasn’t enough to keep my eyes roaming away from the field, these did the distraction trick for sure:

? The cowbells … everyone had cowbells. Fans rang them repeatedly to demonstrate their delight when the Rays made a good play or scored a run. Even the PA system sounded a cowbell! Why? Is it a Tropicana Field tradition or something? It’s not like the team is in the country; they’re in downtown St. Petersburg for Pete’s sake! I just didn’t see the connection.  Cowbells are quite annoying when repeatedly shaken and, if you ask me, belong at football games.

? Then there was a female Rays attendee behind us shouting almost directly in my left ear “WOO!!!!!!!! WOO!!!!!!!!” – quite deafening for nine innings;

? And I couldn’t stop observing a couple several rows down who were clearly on a first or second date. She acted like she cared about sports with her little girly nods and phony grins as the guy talked about the teams. When she marries him, she won’t smile that much.

? It was entertaining watching the three belligerent drunk girls being escorted out of the stands by security – twice;

? And the guy behind us won first prize for sporting the funniest T-shirt: “Boobies Make Me Smile.”

? Then I wondered if it was yet dark outside (that dome again…)

? And we were forced to perpetually pay attention to the slew of foul balls coming our way like small white torpedoes, without the luxury of nabbing one ourselves;
 
? Then there was the creative Cotton Candy Caller: “HEY!!!!” he screamed frantically, and everyone turned around immediately to look at him. “I got cotton candy,” he said matter-of-factly, with a smirk;

? And how comical to watch the hefty quantities of junk food and beer being shuffled up and down the aisles by vendors and fans, then being consumed by the average gorging American (with my teens asking for money to buy most of it: ice cream, cotton candy, pretzels, soda, French fries).

Yes, a night at a Yankees game, try as I may to pay attention, is no easy walk in the ballpark for me. Maybe I should sit in the front row.
 

A boy can dream

nickken_250.jpgMrsSingy@suzannesingleton.com
Nine-year-old Nicholas Ziff with the nifty crew cut announced confidently to Ken at a Bernie Williams’ performance in Longboat Key, Fla., Sunday night, “One day I’m going to play first base for the New York Yankees.”

“Keep practicing, Nick,” encouraged Ken, kneeling next to him on the beach to snap a photo, as he has uttered to other little boys who have shared their dreams of playing professional baseball. Hey, you never know. A dream – of any caliber – begins with a passion, an idea and certainly a declaration. When something invades your soul, gets into your veins and plants itself permanently, there’s no reason on earth why it cannot materialize.

Little Nicholas may change his mind about playing baseball as he grows up, or maybe not. Surely many a Major Leaguer had declared the same sentence of confidence during their Little League days. Williams had the passion to play baseball and music – and has done both beautifully. Derek Jeter wanted to play shortstop for the Yankees when he was a little boy, just like Nicholas – and we know the rest of that story. Ken knew his baseball future at age five.

With enough diligence and hard work, dreams can transform into reality. Anything can begin with a strong affirmation. If Nick repeats that sentence enough times, and believes in his baseball talent and the ability to make it happen … mark his words. Maybe one day we will see Nicholas Ziff, a Yankees fan from Sarasota, playing first base in Yankee Stadium.

It’s all about holding the vision. Keep practicing, Nicholas – and keep affirming your dream.

 

The Cooperstown Gang

CooperstownGang_450.jpgMrsSingy@suzannesingleton.com
If you have not had the pleasure of experiencing the quaint village of Cooperstown in scenic upstate New York, please add it to your “must do” list. Cooperstown satiates visitors for its lovely location on Otsego Lake, its’ line of dazzling impeccable Victorian homes, and its diverse collection of shops and restaurants, to name a few characteristics.

For baseball fans, add to the mix the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum on Main Street and surely Cooperstown bats a home run in perfect getaways.

(Now I sound like a travel brochure.)

Ken, the kids, and I have visited Cooperstown twice – in support of Ken’s pals Eddie and Cal, former Orioles teammates inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003 (Eddie Murray) and 2007 (Cal Ripken Jr).

For a switch, we had opted to stay in a Bed & Breakfast versus a hotel. Online I had found a charming, pretty, and well-kept house on Chestnut Street called the Rose and Thistle, less than a mile from the Main Street bustle. 

Perfect choice. Two Yankees fans own it. Steve and Patti D’Esposito from New Jersey had moved upstate in 2002 to try their hands at innkeeping, after working Manhattan’s rat race their entire careers.

Let me assure you … this couple is in the perfect occupation.

We stayed for several nights at their inn and were hit with hospitality, warmth, and graciousness unequaled at any hotel. Plus we met who we’ve since labeled “The Cooperstown Gang” … a group of the most die-hard baseball fans I’ve ever encountered in the 18 years as Mrs. Singy: Larry, Joan & Henry of N.J. … Pat & Jim of N.Y. … Scott of CT … and Agatha, Steve & Steve Jr. of N.J., most Yankees’ fans, with some Braves, Dodgers, and Mets in the mix – who meet year after year at the Rose and Thistle to celebrate baseball and the Hall of Fame’s inductees.

This bunch of extremely friendly folks welcomed the newest family, the Singletons, to their annual gathering with open arms (it didn’t hurt one of us happened to be a baseball announcer for the NY Yankees).
 
“They are baseball junkies who are pranksters, and loveable like family,” said Patti of her Hall of Fame Weekend crew.

When Patti and Steve had announced to them that Ken Singleton would be staying at the inn, “Jim started to stutter and shake,” said Patti, “and almost spilled his coffee. Henry was close to tears upon meeting Ken and said it was the best experience in his life. Larry was impressed with the amount of time Ken spent with our guests – he said he didn’t want to wash his shoulder after Ken hugged him!”

Our welcome by this lovely group was astonishing. A splendid weekend! Steve slaps a scrumptious abundant breakfast on the large dining room table like your stomach wouldn’t believe … and the D’Espositos treat their guests as family, even hosting a “porch barbeque” after the induction ceremony is over (which the group attends of course).

As we departed the inn after our first visit, they promised to save us the top floor room for Cal Ripen Jr’s induction in 2007 – and do you know – they did? We revisited Cooperstown again, stayed at their wonderful B&B, and reacquainted with The Cooperstown Gang during an equally wonderful weekend, if not better.

“Everyone was humbled and honored to be in the Singleton family’s company,” said Patti.

Yet it was our family actually who felt humbled to be so welcomed, and able to stay connected via e-mail to such a wonderful baseball bunch – the Cooperstown gang.

(And if I was writing a travel column, the Rose and Thistle would be awarded five stars! Visit their beautiful inn, The Rose and Thistle. Tell them the Singletons sent you.)

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