When teammates call, they come running

Ken-Singleton-275.jpgUtter the words golf tournament and some former Major Leaguers will show up with their clubs. Mention the phrase “kids with cancer” and teammates come running in bunches. On Monday, Ken, seen here with Paul Blair and Jim Palmer, hosted the Ken Singleton Celebrity Golf Classic in which he had invited former teammates and others to play for this Cool Kids Campaign fundraiser, of which Ken serves on its board.

This young but amazingly strong organization here in Baltimore assists kids and their families with cancer as they muddle through horrifically challenging months — sometimes years — of treatments, surgeries, hospitals, financial setbacks and watching their “babies” become bald, feel ill and endure this crappy disease.

Mrs.-Singy-325.jpgThe impressive celebrity list featured Hall of Famers Palmer, Eddie Murray, Gary Carter and a Brooks Robinson stop-by. Other former Orioles — Ken’s friends — committed their time as well: Tippy Martinez, Blair, Boog Powell (pictured with Mrs. Singy), Rick Dempsey, Bobby Floyd, Bobby Grich, Steve Rogers, Dick Hall and Joe Orsulak, among other retired players, TV hosts and entertainers.

Other celebs on the links included Dancing With The Stars’ Tony Dovolani; NBA’s Jack Marin; and NFL’s Victor Green, Lydell Mitchell and Bruce Laird. Tom Matte also stopped by afterwards.

When Ken’s friends call him to participate in one of their causes, he doesn’t bat an eye — he goes. This time when Ken did the inviting, they came.

“When we were playing,” said Ken, “we all had each other’s backs … it’s nice to know we still do.”

These guys played in an era when Major Leaguers stayed in one town, performed for one team and bonded with each other in dugouts around the country. Lifelong friendships were formed.

mac2.jpgAfter this tournament, Ken’s teammates went home with more than a tote bag silk-screened with “Ken Singleton Celebrity Golf Classic.” They took with them an image of one pre-teen girl riding around in 90-plus degree weather to greet the golfers in a festively decorated golf cart. Her face is swollen from medication; her disposition sweet. MacKenzie Stuck is rounding third base with a brain tumor (as in three times it has returned) with nothing more that docs can do for her.
Her mother was barely audible through tears as she spoke to the golfers at a pre-tournament dinner the evening before.

So yes, mention the words golf tournament and a group of jocks will show up. Yet it’s for a better reason than chasing a miniature white ball around 18 holes. They call on each other and they come running … in friendship … and in support of a cause.

This time it was for the kids.

* * * * * * * *

When fans write to Ken requesting autographs, he asks them to consider a donation of at least one dollar per autograph to Cool Kids Campaign. Many fans generously donate more. If you feel so inclined, please consider mailing a donation of any amount to:

Cool Kids Campaign
9711 Monroe Street
Cockeysville MD 21030

Clothed in baseball

caps 6-11.jpgSince I write solo in my Baltimore home office without an editor, I often ask a fellow freelance writer, Nancy, to review my stories before I submit them to YESNetwork.com.  

So when Nancy read a story I had written titled “Clothed in baseball,” she admitted she didn’t like it – the story was weak.

Nancy knows.

The idea had evolved during a week when one Mrs. Singy was a tad “dry” for a topic. So instead I tackled the laundry. (Thrilling. Proof of a real case of writer’s block). After padding barefooted around the house putting away clean clothes predominantly stamped with the “NY” logo, I wrote about how us Singletons could open a New York Yankees store with all the baseballs on our clothes.

It went something like this:

… hats, socks, sweatshirts, knit caps, windbreakers, workout clothes, basketball shorts, winter coats, robes and T-shirts – oh so many T-shirts! Long-sleeved, short-sleeved, no sleeves. There’s even a pair of “NY” underwear at the bottom of the laundry basket (whom they belong to, I’ll never tell). The kitchen drawer holds a neatly folded NY Yankees pinstriped apron (which Ken should wear when he grills to avoid barbeque sauce splattering on his favorite YES T-shirt).

Our shirts are screened with “Property of YES NETWORK” … “Why New York is better than New York: We never traded Nolan Ryan” … “My Yankees Baseball” … “YES HD” … and various players’ names and numbers white-on-navy across the backs.

I continued the tale about how these New York-based clothes have long since replaced logos of other baseball jobs Ken has held; shirts and jackets boasting MSG Network, FOX, Montreal Expos and The Sports Network in Canada. Way before that we wore a plethora of orange and black Baltimore Orioles garments.

When Nancy had suggested to spice up the subject by maybe tying the T-shirts to memories, still I had nothing more to add. After all, Ken constantly brings home baseball stuff, so there is not much nostalgia there since we have lived and breathed the sport for a few decades. (“Baseball Is Life” is the most significant T-shirt in the pile.)

Nope, there wasn’t even much to reminisce about that pair of NY underwear other than that they were purchased in a Cooperstown gift shop during a pleasant family trip to Induction Weekend. (Okay they’re mine – happy now?)

Enough about baseball clothes; Nancy warned you it was weak.

Then I read a comment on the Mrs. Singy column from a Yankee fan who knew how to attach true feeling to a New York Yankees garment (see May 2010 – Life needs Diversions), putting my dim words to shame had I decided to post that feeble story.

This fan’s anecdote was about how Yankees baseball pulled him through cancer. “It was like being in a safe environment for a few hours,” he wrote. “One that made me forget, even for the shortest of times, that I was sick or in pain.”

When this fan lost his hair during three rounds of chemo, he purchased a new NY cap that he will “never get rid of. It’s worn heavily, but I can’t discard a cap that did so much for me.”

And he said he feels the same way about the entire Yankees franchise – a team that helped him greatly through a tough time, providing a distraction from ill health. Luckily, remission has been his friend since December 2007.

Now my collection of colorful NYY caps has meaning. As I donned the canary-yellow one to wear while walking the dog today, I recalled this fan’s bittersweet story – how a simple item like a baseball cap can evolve into such sweet significance for an ordinary baseball fan.

Yankee Frankie: A 101-year-old fan

frankie_275.jpgMy neighbor Annie emailed me about a “most delightful” scene she witnessed while shopping at a Publix grocery store in Hilton Head, S.C., where she has a vacation property. An announcement sounded over the store’s P.A. system about a customer’s birthday: Frank Ventre is 101 years old.

Annie said the Publix staff had thoughtfully prepared and presented a few small birthday gifts representing Frank’s interests, including orange cupcakes for Syracuse, N.Y., and a few blue and white goodies to delight him in his passion for the New York Yankees.

“Where else in the modern world on a busy Saturday afternoon would a food store go to such lengths for a regular customer?” said Annie.

While Frank was being presented with the Yankees gifts (one an autograph signed “To Frank”) the gentleman spoke in great lengths about the team’s 27 championships, what city they were playing in that day, and where they would be playing in upcoming away games. Frank knew his facts.

When he nostalgically mentioned how he wished he could again attend a game some day, but that “the tickets are too expensive,” Annie approached him. Without mentioning who her neighbor is, she said she might be able to help him grant his wish. That’s when she emailed me to ask Ken if it was possible to obtain tickets.

Frank is now making plans to attend the game against the Tampa Bay Rays July 17 in New York. Ken laughed just now glancing at the schedule while he double-checked the date for me. “Huh! How about that? It’s Old-Timers’ Day at Yankee Stadium.”

No pun intended, Frankie.

frank.jpgWhen Ken had relayed this story to the Yankees PR office, they sent Frank a letter inviting him onto the field before the game. His 68-year-old son will accompany him to the Big Apple and his daughter (who he lives with) is treating them to the airfare.

A little old-timer recognition can go a long way.

“Oh my, I can’t believe it!” Frank relayed to Annie who told me, “He is so very excited!” (If you knew Annie, you’d know how she gets big kicks out of helping people – strangers and friends. It’s just the way she’s wired … Angel Annie … one of the last of the good Samaritans.)
Healthy still at 101, Frank goes to the gym regularly. He uses the treadmill, stationary bike and free weights. He’s 100 percent Italian – a sweet, entertaining man, reports Annie about her new friend. And believe me, they will be Hilton Head Island friends for sure.

“Hats off to the Publix staff that took time and effort merely to be nice,” said Annie, “and to make an amazing old man feel very special.”

This, she said, was truly a great example of “publix” affection.

Life needs diversions

You know that reflective, somber mood that overtakes us after attending a funeral? I’m in that today.

I don’t much prefer to attend funerals – who does? Yet I do like to write when my mind is swirling in such a pensive frame of mind. This afternoon’s office plan was to return from the internment Mass of my former coworker – “Marvelous Melba” I called her – and write a Mrs. Singy column about baseball clothing.

But the topic of baseball in any shape or form on a gloomy cloudy funeral day seemed totally inconsequential. Who cares about a Yankees anything when we feel sad? Can’t take that to heaven.

In many conversations with Ken, he explains that sports is a release … a diversion … pure entertainment. Maybe that’s why we need activities like watching baseball – so we don’t walk around like post-funeral zombies 24/7, contemplating the woes of the world.

Maybe without those championship lacrosse games to focus on, Sharon and Lexie Love – the family of the University of Virginia lacrosse player, Yeardley Love, who was murdered by a former boyfriend – wouldn’t have been able to get out of bed any morning after May 3 when the horrific and incomprehensible news was delivered to them.

Maybe without the release of the cheering and the cohesiveness of UVA fans surrounding them in the stands, they would be instead lying on the floor at home kicking and screaming, totally inconsolable and heartbroken. Maybe without the thrill of watching Yeardley’s teammates “win it all for Love” … those first few emotionally raw weeks would have been absolutely and completely unbearable -not that they weren’t.

But Sharon and Lexie somehow got dressed and put one foot in front of the other to go watch a sport they heartily supported. In the stands at Klockner Stadium in Charlottesville, Va. at the start of the NCAA Tournament, they watched Yeardley’s lacrosse team win that day. They stood up and clapped, cheered, hollered, smiled and yes – sobbed – their way through the game because the sport had held great significance for their athletic daughter and sister.

Maybe for some of you, Yankees baseball has helped to get you through … a divorce, a job loss, God forbid a family tragedy, even just a bad day. Maybe watching a game or talking baseball helps you to take your mind off of a dilemma.

Yes, life needs diversions like sports. We need petty day-to-day activities to balance the heavy. We need distractions so we are able to slip out of somber moods and once again think happy thoughts.

Short commute

It’s 3 p.m. and the kiss on my cheek fades as Ken leaves for work, a seemingly simple gesture performed by countless spouses on an ordinary day.

The Yankees have come to us this time; a three-game stint in Baltimore during a few chilly spring days after their April 26 visit to the White House less than an hour south of Camden Yards.

We pretend for three days, Ken and I, that he has nothing more than a 30-minute commute into the city, leaving in the afternoon and returning after the household is snoring, once again planting a soft kiss on my cheek as I doze close to midnight.

“Did they win?” I mumble as I turn on my side, feeling disappointment that the Orioles managed to find a burst of energy to beat the Yankees in spite of Baltimore’s atrocious start to the season.

But we don’t get used to it – this ritual of the 3 p.m. kiss and commute. It’s just a tease and we know it. And not that Ken wishes to work for another team – he does not – what could possibly compare to the New York Yankees experience?

So just for three days we pretend that he doesn’t have to pack a bag, go on the road, hop a plane, hail a cab, commute by train, and exist as a dad and a husband through cell phones, texts and emails.

Yes, just for three glorious days, the Yankees come to him.

Dusting off a perfect game

scorecard_300.jpgIt’s not essential that I actually watch a Yankee game when Ken is home on an off-day since he treats me to a play-by-play from his favorite perch in the TV room. As he’s “doing his homework” (how’s that for an explanation why a husband needs to watch so much baseball?) Ken calls out sporadically, “3-nothing Yankees!” … or … “CC Sabathia has a no-hitter going!” … or whatever pinstripe action is unfolding on the screen. (He gets stirred up when he’s watching his guys.)

“What inning?” I called out about that particular game, knowing no player can count their baseball chicks before they hatch.

Now, call me oblivious, but I don’t always listen 100% to the baseball lingo floating around our house (being that it’s a daily occurrence), so I’m thinking Ken meant CC was pitching a perfect game.

Later, when Ken’s final game report echoed from the TV room that Sabathia gave up a hit in the eighth inning, I commented something about a perfect game.

That’s when Ken quizzed me. “Beauty,” (he calls me Beauty), “Do you know the difference between a no-hitter and a perfect game?”

Although I could describe a perfect game as when batters are up 1-2-3 and out 1-2-3, I failed the quiz by improperly describing a no-hitter (and how long have I been a baseball wife?). Well, I knew what I meant.

And although I didn’t describe it correctly, at least I know what a perfect game most definitely looks like, since I’ve been dusting a framed scorecard autographed by Dennis Martinez that has been on display in Ken’s office for 19 years. It’s a keeper.

Okay, that’s a white lie. I haven’t been dusting the scorecard for 19 years because, well, I don’t actually dust.

Martinez’s perfect game July 28, 1991 is one of two that Ken has had the privilege of calling as an announcer — one in the National League and one in the American. That’s some kind of baseball statistic right there, folks, since only 18 pitchers total have tossed perfect games in MLB history. The earliest two were recorded in 1880 and not another happened until 1964!

That perfect game between Montreal (2) and Los Angeles (0) was made sweeter for my husband to witness — and call — since Dennis is a former Orioles teammate and was a Montreal Expo starting pitcher during Ken’s run at The Sports Network in Canada.

Before the YES Network evolved and Ken was a Yankees announcer on the Madison Square Garden Network, David Wells was the second pitcher to decorate Ken’s office with a perfect scorecard May 17, 1998 (New York 4, Minnesota 0).

Super! Another dust collector … uh, I mean … keeper.

Stadium noise is par for the course

On an off day in Spring Training, Ken took time to enjoy one of his favorite pleasures – to watch professional golf at a PGA Tournament in Palm Harbor, Fla., about 30 minutes from Steinbrenner Field.

If you have ever attended a pro golf tournament, you’re familiar with how quiet is the atmosphere – a courtesy extended by fans so golfers can focus and eventually sink miniature white balls into tiny cups in as few strokes as possible.

What amazes Ken is the difference between the hushed atmosphere of a golf tournament versus the deafening one of a baseball stadium.

“Quiet applause is accepted after a shot,” said Ken. “Very few fans shout comments, and if they do, it’s mostly encouraging. In baseball stadiums, some things that fans yell are not so encouraging and can include disparaging comments about your family members.”

In Minnesota on Mother’s Day some years back, Oriole Ken was in the on-deck circle warming up when a Twins fan shouted, “It’s Mother’s Day and even your mother doesn’t love you!” Ken went up to bat, hit a home run, and on his way back to the dugout, addressed the guy, “Now even your mother loves me.” That elicited a hearty laugh from the fan’s friends.

What people do not realize, Ken said, is that players use the discourteous comments as incentive to play well against the opposing team. “When you’re on the road and fans say bad things, you really want to do something to shut them up. Then they might learn to leave you alone.”

Ticket takers at pro golf tournaments take more than your entrance fee at the gate – they confiscate all cell phones, too. This is so phones do not ring during play and so people aren’t tempted to chat and make business calls.

So when it was time for Ken to receive a scheduled phone interview from a Montreal radio station, he was forced to step outside the gates where he could talk Yankees in a comfortable tone of voice without disturbing the quiet on the links (first having to retrieve his cell phone from the front gate staff).

Could you imagine if a Yankee Stadium PA announcer whispered, “Shhh, all quiet please … Derek Jeter’s up to bat.” Or if a vendor at a golf tournament screamed, “Get your beer here!”

The hype and rowdiness of attending a baseball game is half the fun – no – make that all the fun. And who cares if anyone’s yakking on a cell phone? We can’t hear them anyway over the roar of Yankees fans.

Two different sports, two different atmospheres. The notion supposedly, is that golfers would not be able to concentrate if fans were able to scream at will.

If a pro makes a good putt to take the lead in a tournament, then people get excited. But only after the fact. While a putter is in pendulum motion, no one’s clapping and shouting “C’mon! Sink the putt!”

I asked Ken what’s the difference with baseball and why doesn’t the noise bother Major Leaguers?

“You just have to concentrate and put all the sounds behind you,” he said. “You can hear the crowd but it’s almost like a buzz in the background because you’re so focused. Even years later, I can remember specific pitches, sequences, what it felt like to hit a baseball and how I swung … all because my concentration was so keen. Not to mention that if you don’t concentrate, you can get hurt while batting or playing the field.”

While comments from fans and the overall racket were challenging to a player, Ken said the noise and excitement is part of the game. “It’s easy to get pumped up in front of 50,000 excited fans.”

Quiet please. Ken is going to go hit golf balls now.

Denmark fan sends reindeer meat

Move over Joyce’s Coconut Macaroons, the Singletons have received a new contender for the most unique item included in Ken’s fan mail — three cans of reindeer and elk meat from Horsholm, Denmark.

meat300.jpgFormer New Yorker Larry Landman included a neatly-typed letter pointing out that during the playoffs last season, Ken had thanked fans on the East Coast for staying up late to watch the Yanks play on the West Coast, but had inadvertently omitted the fans outside of Copenhagen who were watching the next day via the Internet.

“We did not stay up late, that’s true,” wrote Larry, “but we were rooting for the Yankees as strongly as anyone. We thank you and your fellow broadcasters on TV and radio for giving us a little taste of home while we live abroad. Given the beauty — the absolute beauty — of condensed [Internet] games, we have seen more Yankees games the last few years than while growing up and living in New York.”

Ken was awed as he studied the letter and three cans sitting on the kitchen island. “I didn’t know people in Europe were watching!”

We were all too curious to see what reindeer meat looked like, so our 17-year-old son bee-lined for the can opener. But who would be brave enough to taste it?

Six-foot-three teenage boys eat anything, so no surprise that Dante volunteered. And since I had tasted reindeer sausage once on a cruise through Alaska — and lived to tell about it — I fished two forks out of the utensil drawer.

“Is it cooked?” I asked, staring at the blob of raw-looking red meat peeking from under the jagged lid. “Read the label.”

The majority was written in Danish except for the ingredients — and we had already used our imagination for that. We each stabbed a tiny forkful.

“It tastes like um … um … um,” said Dante.

“Chicken?” I joked.

“No, I can’t put my finger on it,” he said, “but I’m not crazy about the aftertaste.”

Ken put no fingers or taste on any of the reindeer meat. “I’ll give you 24 hours,” he laughed. “If nothing happens to you, I’ll taste it.”

As a group of friends were scheduled to come to our home that Friday evening, Ken had a bit more fun with the topic. “Make an hors d’oeuvre out of it,” he suggested. “Think our friends would know?”

Oh dear Larry Landman, we apologize for the jokes, but please understand that reindeer meat is a new concept for the Singletons. We eat seafood in Maryland!

All joshing aside, we were touched by Larry’s gift and laminated letter, especially the last sentence, a request that Ken enjoy the delicacy during Spring Training with fellow broadcasters: “Open a bottle of red wine and say a toast in memory of Bobby Murcer, and particularly Phil Rizzuto, whose admonition that one should not try to hit a home run, just a single, applies far, far beyond baseball.”

A Maryland crab feast in California

On the night before Eddie Murray’s wedding
Picking Maryland steamed crabs is a messy endeavor. You either know how to do it or you don’t. So only veteran crab eaters would think it odd wearing surgical gloves while eating crabs. In California no less. Yet this is what a small group of friends did on the night before Janice & Eddie Murray’s wedding at the condo of Brady Anderson and Rene Gonzales, both former Orioles.

Imurraywedding_250.jpg had flown out to California with my friend Diane Hock to attend the Murray wedding, and she had promised steamed crabs to Brady, Rene and friends. After carting them to the airport in a big box packed with dry ice, Diane successfully delivered the seafood securely to the dining room table in Huntington Beach where the Californians gobbled garishly with nary a spec of Old Bay on anyone’s fingers. When folks began to snap on white surgical gloves to operate on the crustaceans, I almost spit out a mouthful of Coors Light. Indeed, a funny sight to behold.

Yet not as funny as the little trick played on me the next day at the wedding. Some guy convinced me to ask a sturdy man at the next table for an autograph, claiming it was Barry Bonds. So I did.

“I’m not Barry Bonds,” the guy answered.

Oh. Oops.

“Very sorry to have bothered you,” I said red-faced with a squint in the trickster’s direction. “Excuse me, I need to go visit someone who gave me the wrong information.”

I’ve never repeated that mistake. At least I knew what Eddie looked like.

murraywedding_350.jpgThe Murray wedding was a splendid event. I remember lots of balloons decorating the hall and lots of Eddie’s siblings (he has 11). Somewhere on a VHS tape in the Murray house is a long silly rhyming verse, which a small group of us had concocted as our congratulatory message for the new bride and groom. High on wine and the ambiance of marital bliss, we giggled hysterically during its’ performance. Seventeen years later, I am confident in saying that it was probably rather dumb. Well, we had amused ourselves in the creative process at least.

“I absolutely remember the video you guys made,” said Janice, “and I thought it was great … a window into Eddie’s friends I would come to inherit.”

Post reception, we had been invited back to the Murrays for a party in Santa Clarita. This stands as the single most gigantic house I have ever stepped into and probably ever will – a Swiss Chalet style house that could have been featured in a celebrity homes’ magazine: a ridiculous amount of bathrooms (11 – did he build one for each sibling?) and bedrooms (9), a wine cellar, a bridal suite, nine-car garage, an elevator, a cave room, an adorable girl’s room with a ladder leading up to a loft, a to-die-for kitchen that went on forever, and a long rec room with Eddie’s collection of baseball hats and a billiards table.

Even the glass and wood design of the front door was beautiful! The square footage went on for miles, but sadly my memory does not, or I could describe it in greater detail. In a 35′ deep lake out front – stocked with large fish – a beautiful swan paddled around softly (or did I dream it?) and peacocks wandered the grounds.

Ken and I had visited the Murrays’ home one other time, after a Dodgers-Expos game. We followed them home for a visit, and upon leaving, shook our heads in awe all the way back to Baltimore. The Murrays have since moved from that gorgeous home, yet still reside in California. We wish we could see them more than we do, which is not often.

Ken and Eddie have bumped into each other over the years at various stadiums, and sometimes the Murrays will fly back east periodically to attend an Orioles-related functions – and yes, to eat Maryland steamed crabs.

Please, no more chocolate cake!

Here’s an oft-asked question: “What does Ken do in the offseason?” My common silly answer: “He bakes cakes.”

Someone tell me how I’m supposed to shed these extra holiday pounds with all this cake around the house?

Daughter brings home straight A’s? Ken bakes a celebratory cake. Son receives an acceptance letter from college of his choice? Cake. TGIF? Cake

And what do you know … there’s actually a National Chocolate Cake Day and it’s celebrated annually on January 27th in the U.S. – a day for those who love chocolate cake and other chocolately items. A perfect reason for Ken to pull out the mixer and spatula.

Ken always finds a reason to celebrate with cake – frosting them with two cans of icing, mind you, so it’s double-chocolately and double- thick. The man is one cake-eating machine.

I am forced to hold my nose to escape the tempting aroma of a cake baking in the oven for 45 minutes and I don’t want to smell the sweet icing during his careful application, lest I repeatedly dip an index finger into the gooey, yummy mess. Because doesn’t everyone think the icing on the cake is the best part? (Actually, Ken leaves most of his icing on the plate. Therefore, his double-frosting act perplexes me.)

Hurry up and get here, baseball season, so Ken can return to announcing and the oven is turned off. Not only because he needs to earn more to stock the pantry with Pillsbury cake mixes, but also because he will be immersed in his favorite sport – the one he’s forced to live without through the cold Maryland winter as the oven warms our kitchen.

Then he can have his cake and eat it, too.