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The not-so-all-American game of baseball

Although as a player Ken has experienced three All-Star games (1977, 1979, 1981), he had the unique opportunity to broadcast the 1998 game in Denver for Major League Baseball International.

rockies300_071509.jpgI tagged along on the excursion, sucked into the city’s energy as it pumped out baseball adrenaline. Every nook and cranny was filled with souvenirs, activities and keyed-up baseball fans in full celebration mode, clearly thrilled to be in such close proximity to their favorite Major Leaguers, and to taste the flavor of Denver.

I met Derek Jeter for the first time during the enormous outside/inside All-Star gala sponsored the evening before by the Colorado Rockies and Major League Baseball. Quite impressive that gala (and Derek, who had brought along his sister).

Being the host of an All-Star game gives a city a chance to strut its stuff, so you can envision how many bells and whistles were included that night … an evening to celebrate Major League Baseball’s finest and most popular players and their families, and a chance for the host team to throw the party of the year.

“It’s not only about the game,” says Ken. “Cities want to put on a good show. They want people to come back.”

On game day, working in the booth alongside Gary Thorne (now a Baltimore Orioles play-by-play announcer), Ken’s challenge was to deliver the All-Star game to listeners in more than 200 countries around the world, most of whom are not familiar with the sport.

“We had to explain things well,” said Ken. “We couldn’t take for granted that people knew what we were talking about. When doing regular games, we know that fans are more aware of what’s going on.”

E-mails flowed in during the telecast for Gary and Ken to address as they announced the 69th All-Star Game from Denver’s Coors Field.

“We received a lot of questions about strategy,” remembers Ken. “Such as, ‘Why does a player sometimes bunt and sometimes not?'” The duo would address questions on-air as thoroughly as they could in between plays, to explain the American game to foreigners in New Zealand, Australia, China and around the world.

Ken had the special opportunity to further announce for MLB International, a championship game in 1997 between the Atlanta Braves and the Florida Marlins; the World Series the same year between the Marlins and the Cleveland Indians; and in 1998 the World Series between the Yankees and the San Diego Padres (which the Yanks of course won in four consecutive games).

Since Minor and Major League players come from far and wide (Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Korea, Netherlands, Italy, South Africa, to name a few) and baseball’s popularity continues to grow around the globe, the role of Major League Baseball International (formed in 1989) focuses on worldwide growth of the sport through broadcasting, special events, sponsorship, licensing, etc. They have offices in New York, London, Sydney and Tokyo.

“It was a very rewarding experience,” said Ken, “to know that people around the world were enjoying and learning the game.”

Ken answers your questions

MrsSingy@suzannesingleton.com

Robert A Modica: Ken, somewhere I read that the Red Sox believe
Diasuke Matsuzaka’s injury is from  being extensively used in the
baseball classic. Is there a limit in innings a pitcher can pitch,  or
is it left up to the coach on how he wishes to use them? And do you
think the players are getting in the best of shape, playing in the
classic as apposed to Spring Training. Always a Yankee!!!!!

Ken Singleton: There is no real limit to the innings a pitcher can throw. Now, as opposed to the past, there is more of an effort to protect pitchers arms by monitoring their innings. I think stressful innings the WBC as opposed to the gradual getting ready in Spring Training can cause injury. Pitchers are very competitive and may try to reach back for a little extra on a fastball when they  are not quite ready to do so.

Jerry Kohut from Woodbridge, N.J.: “How does Ken feel about the in-studio hosts using the term RBI instead of RBIs? “I have never heard any of the former player analysts say RBI unless it was one. Why do they insist on not using the plural? None of the Yankee announcers have said it. I’ve never heard Scully or Mel Allen say it when I was a kid. I grew up saying RBIs and I’ve never heard the singular use of this until a few years ago. This is a totally new phenomenon.”

Ken Singleton: “I agree with Jerry. It is RBIs; that’s the way I say it most of the time. They might do this because RBI is already plural – runs batted in. There are a lot of things in baseball that might not be quite the proper English. Jerry’s right – only recently some people started saying RBI. I don’t know why.”

Kathleen Hannan from Tarrytown, N.Y.: “Did Ken ever think about managing?”

Ken Singleton: “Others have often asked me the same question. No, I’ve never thought about it. Managing does not provide much in the way of job stability. I’ve been broadcasting for 25 years and not many managers last that long, particularly in one job.”

Chris Warbach from Poughkeepsie, N.Y.: “How did Ken hook up with YES? He was an Oriole. Why doesn’t he do Orioles games? Although I’m glad he’s with us….”

Ken Singleton: “It’s kind of a long story but the reason I don’t do Orioles game is, when the opportunity arose, they picked someone else. Basically the management from MSG wanted me to work their games. They approached George Steinbrenner and told them I’d be good. Steinbrenner wasn’t sure because I had never played for the Yankees; instead I had played for their rival.

He eventually said OK – Mr. Steinbrenner knew I was from Mount Vernon, N.Y., (born in Manhattan) and he gave a local guy a break. So I went with the Yankees and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. At first, many Yankees fans wondered how someone who never played for the team could do the games, but I’ve been doing Yankees telecasts for 13 years now, counting MSG, and they’ve forgiven me for all the bad things I did to their team.”

From your friend, Fu-chan

“From Your Friend, Fu-chan”
Friends a half globe away share passion for baseball
MrsSingy@suzannesingleton.com

singy-250.jpgIn Japanese, Ken knows how to say happy birthday, thank you, good morning, good luck, “and that’s about it,” he laughed. “I couldn’t recite the Gettysburg Address or anything.”

On Ken’s first Major League trip to Japan in 1979 on an All-Star tour, he met Fumihiro “Fu-chan” Fujisawa, president of the Association of American Baseball Research.

“He was very helpful,” said Ken. “He could speak with us without a translator — his English was pretty good. He took us to his house, took us shopping, and made sure we didn’t get lost on the extensive train system.”

Ken and Fu-chan had the luck to meet again in 1984 when the then-World Champion Baltimore Orioles visited and played in Tokyo.
 
Through the years, Fu-chan and Ken have forged a long distance friendship via mail and e-mails, kept alive by their mutual love of baseball. Before each season, Fu-chan asks Ken for predictions of how American teams will finish in each division, who will be deemed an MVP, and who will win the Cy Young Award.

“Fu-chan has been a good friend over the years,” said Ken, touched that this “very nice and gentle man” closes every e-mail with the words, “Your Friend.”

Recalling Ken’s third trip to Japan in 2004, the black-haired petite Japanese sat in the YES Network booth between him and Michael Kay during a telecast when the Yankees played a Japanese team. Off-air, Fu-chan relayed stories and information via handwritten notes and between-inning-conversations which only a Japanese baseball insider would know.

When the Yankees landed on American soil again, George Steinbrenner was waiting at the St. Petersburg airport to greet the team despite it being 3 a.m. The owner called over Ken and Michael to compliment them.
 
“I didn’t know you knew so much about Japanese baseball,” said Mr. Steinbrenner, whereby Ken admitted their secret weapon had come in the form of a friend.

“The telecast would not have been the same without him,” said Ken. “He knew the details to make the game interesting.” (A detail like knowing one of the player’s names translated to “red star.” Director John Moore was then able to show a close-up of that center fielder wearing a red glove.)

“Fu-chan knows Japanese and American baseball,” said Ken. “Obviously he’s a big fan.” He has traveled to the United States to watch baseball around the country, and has met up with Ken in Baltimore and other cities, even staying overnight as a guest in the Singleton home.

In an e-mail to Mrs. Singy, Fu-chan remembered the time in 2003 he had taken a photo of one of his sons with Hideki Matsui in Baltimore. He had asked Ken to ask Hideki to sign in and mail it back.

“The picture flew to the USA over the Pacific Ocean,” said Fu-chan, “and came back to Japan! I think it is a very good story of showing Ken’s great personality and our friendship.”

Back when Ken visited Japan as an Oriole, there weren’t any Japanese players in the Major Leagues. MLB had sent not only All-Star teams on tour, but the World Champions periodically had traveled to Tokyo on goodwill trips to play Japanese teams.

“Each time it was tougher to beat them,” remembered Ken. “The Japanese were learning the game.”

matsui_singy_062409.jpgToday more Japanese players are in the states, like the Yankees’ own Hideki Matsui. Most teams in both U.S. leagues have added Japanese players to their rosters.

“It’s a big deal when they get to come over here and play,” said Ken.

Some American teams with Japanese players telecast their games to Japan live, for example the Yankees, Seattle Mariners, and Boston Red Sox, which means fans a half globe away are watching today’s game tomorrow (there’s a 13-hour time difference).

“I bet fans DVR a lot of games,” said Ken.

When Hideki Irabu was a Yankee, Ken and I once met him for lunch at our favorite sushi restaurant here in Baltimore County (Edo Sushi in Cockeysville).

George the translator was necessary because remember, Ken only knows four Japanese phrases. I only know Italian, so I just ate my sushi.

Using a translator is quite an interesting method in which to converse with another human being. That’s trust, let me tell you.

As avid sushi lovers, it was the first time Ken and I had eaten eel; Hideki had suggested it. Who were we to argue? The man knew his fish.

————-
The Association of American Baseball Research (AABR) was established in1977 in Tokyo, Japan. It releases, translates, and supervises books about American baseball, histories of teams, and MLB almanacs. AABR hosts monthly meetings, social gatherings, and publishes a bulletin called Dugout, and an annual report called Ballpark, with information collected by the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

The Singletons are fresh out of autograph items

MrsSingy@suzannesingleton.com
I cannot envision the magnitude of fan mail and requests for autograph and auction items which must pour in for the extremely popular baseball players such as Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera – not only to the Yankees office, but to the players themselves.

Comparatively, Ken probably receives a hundredth of that as a former Major Leaguer, however, the requests do appear fast and furious. Not a week goes by that an auction item isn’t solicited by a group or individual via e-mail, letter, phone, or verbally. And not a day passes that our Maryland mailbox doesn’t contain fan letters mixed in with the junk mail. At least 3-5 envelopes arrive every day from all around the country requesting Ken’s autograph – and this after all these years – he retired from the field in 1984.

We’ve given away autographed baseballs, bats, cleats, duffel bags, programs, scorebooks, baseball cards, postcards, lithographs, 8x10s, a stadium seat, posters, hats, personal photographs, and golf shirts … you name it, Ken has signed it and I’ve mailed it or dropped it off. We’ve doled out these donations to schools, nonprofit organizations, dances, bull roasts, libraries, golf tournaments, little leagues, churches, baseball programs, and friends and neighbors … for this cause, that cause, the best cause, the littlest cause, and for no cause at all.

Honestly, we’re running out of items for Ken to sign. It’s not like we stockpile an inventory of bats and balls in a sporting goods warehouse attached to our house. The only thing we keep on hand because they’re requested so often is 8×10 autographs of Ken in action in Orioles uniform. We still have a few old pieces of O’s memorabilia like programs and posters in the basement, but nothing to draw big money in a silent auction.

As the unofficial Ken Singleton secretary, at times I’ve had to get a bit creative when promising items to people. I’ve created photo albums from our personal stash, such as our 2007 trek up to Cooperstown for Cal Ripken Jr’s Hall of Fame induction. I snapped close-ups of Willie Mays, Yogi Berra, Brooks Robinson, and a bunch of other Hall of Famers. Add a little caption-writing and Ken’s autograph, and ta-da … the baseball decorated photo albums thrilled several bidders as they wrote checks at fundraisers.

Sometimes I stick under Ken’s nose used scorebooks to autograph which I extract from the pile in his home office and send them as auction items. They’re filled with Ken’s left-handed slant as he diligently keeps score during Yankees games. These have proved to be well-liked; we witnessed one earn $400 at a fundraiser.

And when I can’t locate any more big ticket items around the house, I give away Ken himself! When we belonged to a local golf course, I would create an attractive certificate on the computer for A Round of Golf and Lunch with Ken Singleton. These go over well also, as Ken remains a popular Baltimore sports celebrity.

So when the question is lobbed my way – “Does Ken have a baseball he could sign?” I suggest to autograph seekers if they supply the ball I’ll gladly get him to sign it. For the nonprofit organizations, I do my best to find an item to donate.

Notice I get the question rather than Ken; usually people are too chicken to approach him. Just like in public. A fan may spot Ken, but s/he approaches me instead, “Do you think your husband would autograph this?” I redirect the anxious person in hubby’s direction, “Ask him,” I say. “He’ll do it, and he doesn’t bite.”

Not to be discourteous, but I get no agent fee (wink), and if someone wants Ken’s autograph badly enough, I figure they should be bold enough to ask him for one.

But they better find a piece of paper or something, because sorry fans, the Singletons are fresh out of autograph items.

29 Angels

29Angels.jpgMrsSingy@suzannesingleton.com
A comment posted here on Mrs. Singy by “jik2″ asked if I would explain the meaning of our SUV’s license plate – 29ANGLS - which s/he once spotted in Syracuse, New York, as Ken exited from the car. (Ken had been attending a Chiefs Triple-A baseball game when our son Justin had played in the Toronto Blue Jays system.)

I never meant to confuse anyone with my vanity plate into thinking that the number 29 and the word angels corresponded to a baseball player on a Los Angeles team. It doesn’t of course; rather it’s a combination of Ken’s jersey number and my passion and belief in celestial beings. Angels decorate our lawn, our home, me, and The Angelmobile – the nickname with which I’ve christened our Nissan Armada.

It was also the name of a small business I began in 1997 when I self-published a theme gift-giving book (Clever Gift Giving) and merged our two passions to create Twenty-Nine Angels Publishing. Although I moved along after three books (also Clever Party Planning and Clever Costume Creating for Halloween), I kept the license plate because of its double and special significance.

Comical how people furrow their brows trying to figure it out – they almost never do. Even if they remember 29 was Ken’s number, they say, “Wait, he never played for the Angels.”

Exactly.

One guy pulled up to me at a traffic light and yelled over, “What’s 29 angles mean?” Sorry buddy, the word says angels. He drove off unaffected – or maybe not.

The clerk at Burger King the other morning as she handed me a large cup of coffee through the drive-in window asked the meaning of 29ANGLS. When I don’t wish to reveal the Singleton identity, I just explain the plate represents my favorite number and my belief in angels. This avoids a lengthy explanation – or a stalking fan. She smiled brightly and said it had made her day to think about angels.

Angels will do that to people.

Too bad Maryland’s Motor Vehicle Administration won’t allow eight letters on a vanity plate because then the word angels could be properly spelled out.

Oh well. Why take out all the fun of confusing people?

If I can infuse a little angel belief into humanity as I ride around in The Angelmobile adorned in angel wings and images on bumper stickers … terrific.

And if I can do this more than 29 times a day … then angel mission accomplished.

Where oh where is that Richard Gere?

singysgere2_350.jpgThe wonderful hubby-wife team Anthony and Adriana Taffuri who own A&A Car Service, which the YES Network uses in New York City, told me they sometimes drive Richard Gere.

Cool.

Isn’t he a grand actor, that Richard Gere? Officer and a Gentleman … Pretty Woman … Nights in Rodanthe … Unfaithful … The Hoax (excellent true story book by the way – an unbelievable plot). Just a few of my favorite Richard Gere movies, but he thrives in all of them if you ask me.

In Cooperstown 2007, when Ken and I and the kids drove up for Cal Ripken Jr’s Hall of Fame induction, I tried not to get too tickled knowing Mr. Gere was “in the building” during a VIP reception we attended in the museum. Yet my Hollywood antenna rose up as I poked it around the room, bypassing the many famous ballplayers’ faces (most of whom I’ve met numerous times over the years so my enthusiasm meter has fallen) in hopes of zeroing in on one good actor.

Now where oh where is that Richard Gere? I couldn’t find him anywhere. Maybe it was a rumor. Rats.

Then Ken and I strolled into the museum’s art gallery. We stopped in front of a colorful Willie Mays oil painting – the “Say Hey Kid” is Ken’s all-time favorite player – to snap a smile of Ken next to it. No one else was in the room. A few minutes later, in walked Mr. Gere and his young son. He spotted Ken and extended a handshake, introduced himself, and relayed how he has enjoyed Ken’s work on the YES Network.

Wasn’t that friendly? Here’s a famous Hollywood movie star who probably constantly hears the same compliment himself, turning the table to compliment someone else and to indicate he’s a fan. I was so proud of hubby.

If my tongue wasn’t so twisted, I may have said something clever. I don’t actually remember what I uttered. The three of us posed together for a few photos; he introduced his son, a friend, and the friend’s son, and we merrily moved along. We never spotted Mr. Gere again over the weekend, although he had to have been at the induction ceremony I’m sure.

John Travolta and Kelly Preston were in the front row, although I didn’t spot them either, happened to see only their photo in the newspaper.

I really need to get my antenna fixed.

Proud in the press box

kenbooth_400.jpgIf I had my way in the bottom of the eighth inning, I’d stay in my seat. The kids, however, drag me upstairs to the press box to see “Dad” in live YES Network TV action.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m always proud of hubby watching him in the booth – he’s happiest around baseball. Yet I feel we are just in the way of everyone doing their jobs, even though the TV crews are extremely accommodating and friendly (they give us free water bottles).

It’s been fun over the years talking my way up to the press level. No one in 18 years has ever asked to see my ID in any ballpark in America or upon driving into any stadium parking lot. Seems they believe a mom with two kids in tow claiming she’s Mrs. Ken Singleton is telling the truth.

Basically though, standing in the booth would be equivalent to you going to your spouse’s job and watching him or her work. It would be like Ken standing over my shoulder right now in my office as I write.

Although the TV experience is a bit more commonplace for me because I’ve been around it so long, when we bring along family members or friends, it’s refreshing to watch them get fired up experiencing live television up close and personal, and meeting other sports celebs who may happen to walk past.

I’m tickled our kids have the chance to see Dad at work, because being that he was retired from the Major Leagues well before they were a glint in his eye, our youngest son and daughter have been attuned only to Ken’s second career. They witness behind the baseball scene, whereas Singleton boys No. 1 and No. 2 as youngsters were closer to the field (at times on the field!), able to see Daddy play the game, hang out in the dugout during batting practice and high-five all the players.

Their experience was different being up close and personal with pros like Cal Ripken Jr., Brooks Robinson, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer and many other Hall of Famers and Major Leaguers.

Wherever Ken has worked – on the field or in the press box – has always made his family proud to stand behind him. 

Baseballs and bats which magically appear …

fans_250_051209.jpg… when Mr. Singy is near

I don’t know any magicians personally, but I have watched baseball fans pull out bats and baseballs from thin air when they stumble across Ken out in public.

After the Yankees-Orioles game in Baltimore Saturday night, a friend of a friend named Don – a devoted Orioles fan – was able to meet and shake hands with Ken after the game. We walked to our cars in the parking lot and Don (who had given me and two friends a ride to Oriole Park so I could ride home with Ken) conveniently whipped out a baseball and asked Ken to sign it. (He did not have a pen, however. Ha! An unprepared fan.

I lent him one … because a writer always has a pen.)

Although not so surprising that Don happened to have a baseball in his truck, being that he was attending a game (and probably hoping to meet hubby), over the years I cannot name how many times this very thing has happened in a non-baseball setting.

It’s amazing.

Once on my birthday, Ken and I dined out with four good friends in downtown Baltimore, and when a guy spotted Ken in the restaurant, he ran over to our table with a baseball bat to ask for an autograph.

I had to laugh and asked, “You just happened to have a baseball bat with you?” and he chuckled in return and said, “No, but I just got it for my birthday!” and as we looked over at his group of friends a few tables away, they were clearly in celebration mode.

Another time while waiting for a movie to start, Ken and I stopped for a beverage next door to the theatre and a fan spotted him. He walked over, introduced himself and whipped out two baseballs from his pockets.

Who goes to the movies with baseballs in their pockets?

And if fans don’t have a tangible thing to autograph, they make do with napkins, scraps of paper, menus, or whatever else nearby they can grab fast enough before the baseball celeb gets away.

All part of the territory – and most interesting to watch.

However, sometimes fans can cross the line a little bit. Last summer a Yankees fan ran after us on the streets of Baltimore’s Little Italy and wanted Ken to follow him back to the restaurant a block back to meet all his friends.

I stepped up to the plate. “Uh, we’re kinda on a date here?” (I wasn’t trying to be rude, I just wanted to be on a date with my husband.)
 
Though here’s the best one … and this is the truth: once a hospital staff employee asked Ken for an autograph at totally the inappropriate moment – while I was in labor having our first baby.

Oh boy! (And it was a boy) … if I could have pulled a bat out of thin air myself …

The night Tom Selleck missed meeting my mom

sellecksingy_250_051809.jpgThis is an old story but a favorite. Mother’s Day reminds me what a terrific mom I have.

Fourteen years later, my non-sports fan mom Gina still regrets declining a game ticket after Ken and I had invited my parents to the Cal Ripken Jr.’s “2,131” grand events September 5-6, 1995 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. We were allowed six tickets for each game: the tie of Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game record, and the record-breaker.

For the first game, my dad Louie (peeking through the photo to your left) and my sister Pamela joined us, as did our then-16-year-old son Justin and his girlfriend Michele. Mom had agreed to babysit our youngest son at our house, then aged 3. She didn’t quite understand the hoopla created around such baseball milestones.

Before the game, the Orioles hosted a fabulous VIP party with some big batters in attendance: Tom Selleck, Johnny Unitas, basketball pro David “The Admiral” Robinson, The Young & The Restless soap opera star Don Diamont, Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Earl Weaver, Olympics speed skater Bonnie Blair and other sports-related greats.

What a thrilling and memorable evening!

When I phoned Mom to check on the tot, she was frazzled. It was one of those “I want my Mommy and Daddy!” nights. He had been crying “plenty loud,” she said since we left, and “Mom-Mom” was unable to console him. Worse, he had seen us on TV, retrieved the car keys, and demanded his grandmother drive him to the stadium.

A night of babysitting hell.

Adding to my mother’s misery, I mistakenly mentioned, “Guess who’s here? Guess who we met? … Tom Selleck!” to which my mother’s wail could have been heard from our Baltimore County home all the way downtown. (She adores Tom Selleck, who doesn’t?)

“Do you mean I gave up a chance to meet Tom Selleck for this?” She was – and remains – in disbelief that she was stuck at home all evening trying to calm an irate toddler while her daughters and husband hobnobbed with Hollywood.

Sorry Tom, but you missed meeting a very pleasant lady – and a great babysitter. Thankfully, being the great Mom-Mom she is, it wasn’t the last time she agreed to watch our kids.

Thanks, Mom.

snippets_051709.JPG

Blind passion

At a Yankees/Orioles baseball game, a small group of blind fans filed into the row in front of us.

Intriguing.

What must that be like, attending a baseball game blind? For someone to experience a visual sport yet able only to hear its sounds? Must be quite a different sensation; one those of us with sight could never grasp … the distinct crack of a wooden bat … the hearty “BOO!” of an enormous crowd … and the silky voice of a PA announcer.

Sure, maybe a blind fan misses much visually, such as busy images on a stadium’s giant TV screen, or the spotless white uniforms before they’re muddied up, or the drunk fan in the second row being escorted out of the stadium by Security.

Yet blind fans are probably greatly attuned to their other four senses. What we may take for granted they may envelope in its entirety … the meaty aroma of a hot dog … the salty flavor of a soft pretzel … or groping their way along hard plastic stadium seats.

Two of the blind fans at that particular game were a young couple sharing an earpiece while they listened to the action on the radio. Their heads remained almost cheek to cheek for nine innings.

Endearing.

The group of blind people knew when to cheer for a good play or a home run. It didn’t seem to matter to them which of their senses led the open air experience, only that their passion for baseball led them to the game.

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