While watching the Jackie Robinson Day ceremony at Yankee Stadium April 15, our friend Joe commented about the current players,”These guys have no idea what black players went through back then,” as the Rangers and Yankees each donned the number 42 for the night (as did all MLB players) in commemoration of the man who changed baseball.
Joe’s comment inspired me to ask my husband, Ken Singleton, on the ride back to the hotel after the game: What was it like as an African-American to play baseball in the 1960’s?
“I’m not comparing what I experienced to what African-Americans and Hispanic players went through before me — because they did all the heavy lifting,” said Ken, “but it wasn’t great sometimes. It was obvious in some of these cities that people weren’t happy that black and Latino players were there — in their manner of speaking or the way they looked at us. They weren’t nice. It didn’t happen everywhere, but it did in certain places.”
Ken played in the New York Mets’ Minor League system 1967-1970 before rising up to the big leagues and never looking back: Winter Haven Florida (A); Raleigh Durham North Carolina (A); Vasalia California (A); Memphis Tennessee (AA) and Jacksonville Florida (AAA)).
Although he was never the only black player on a team 20 years after Robinson paved the color warpath, Ken was one of just a few. Growing up in integrated New York City schools prepared him to “learn how to get along with everyone,” he said, as a student of Graham Junior High School and Mt. Vernon High School. “I had all different kinds of friends: Italian, Jewish, Black, Hispanic.”
As an Expo, Ken had the good fortune once to meet Jackie Robinson in Jarry Park in Montreal (where the NY Dodgers had first sent Robinson to Triple A).
“I was taking batting practice and he came onto the field,” said Ken. “I was tongue-tied. This guy was a legend! I was so nervous I was shaking. This was Jackie Robinson!”
As a right fielder, Ken recalls many a mean taunt from opposing fans jeering from the stands. “Fans yell stuff about your parents or your playing ability,” he said, “They call out, ‘You stink! You suck!’ Not everyone at the ballpark is rooting for you.”
Those incidents were mild compared to what Jackie Robinson went through as the only black player in the entire league. “I don’t know how he was able to do it,” said Ken.
Pitchers threw at Robinson (called up in 1947), opponents tried to spike him, fans insulted him, and Robinson received death threats; i.e, he would be killed if he showed up at a ballpark. He was unable to lodge at the same hotel as his teammates. Robinson took all the heavy barbs for black players of the future.
“He had to hold his tongue — he must have been a very strong man,” said Ken. “He was told he couldn’t fight back — that he would have to take it. He was aware of the situation and where his success could lead to — not only personally — but for all black players. Jackie Robinson was a social experiment for the whole country, and it paid off in baseball. If Robinson had failed, it would have set the country back many years. Who knows how long it would have taken to give another black player a chance?”
All of baseball owes this guy a debt of gratitude since baseball today is international, housing Hispanics, Europeans, Asians, Americans — to name a few — and certainly, scores of African-Americans.
Ken is convinced, as are many others in baseball, that “Robinson made the game better.”
There exists a plethora of Derek Jeter fans and they all want an autographed baseball. One young Baltimore boy didn’t have much time left to get one … he was dying from leukemia.
Two weeks ago, when president Chris Federico of the Cool Kids Campaign called Joe Gorman’s dad, Gregg, to ask how young Joe was faring, the bad report told of a relapse – the chemo wasn’t taking. Then the six words were uttered that no one wants to hear about a person they love, let alone a kid, “There’s nothing more they can do.”
“It was hard for Gregg to hold it in,” said Chris, who asked him if the Cool Kids Campaign could do anything.
“Well, I know Joe would really like a Ferrari,” Gregg joked, even with a broken heart. “Or anything signed by Derek Jeter – or a chance to meet him. But Joe doesn’t have much time left.”
“I can help with that,” said Federico, who had grown to love the kid. “I’ll call Ken Singleton.”
Ken serves on the board of this organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for pediatric oncology patients – and their families – experiencing the trauma of a cancer diagnosis and treatments.
When Ken learned of the situation, he said, “I’ll take care of it,” knowing he could ask Derek to sign a ball when next he saw him at Steinbrenner Field. Somewhere around the batting cages, Ken approached Derek with a practice ball and explained the request from young Joe.
“Sure, I’ll sign it,” said Jeter, “but go get a brand new one from the equipment manager in the clubhouse.” Derek didn’t want to send a dirty ball to Joe.
On Monday – the day before Joe’s birthday – Ken and Chris drove to John’s Hopkin’s Children’s Center in downtown Baltimore to deliver the much desired autograph. Joe was unconscious.
His dad tried to wake him up, “Hey, guess what? Your wish came true. Derek signed a ball!”
But it was too late. The ball placed in the young man’s hands stayed for a few minutes, then rolled out.
“I didn’t get a chance to talk to him,” said Ken when he arrived home. “He wasn’t coherent.”
He and Chris had a good visit with Joe’s parents and an uncle, “Nice people, who were extremely appreciative that Derek and I took the time to get the ball for their son,” said Ken. “They were obviously in pain but were upbeat. They knew the situation that Joe wasn’t going to be around much longer.”
One day after his 15th birthday, Joe Gorman died.
Rest in sweet peace, Joe Gorman
March 8, 1996 – March 9, 2011
9711 Monroe Street
Cockeysville, MD 21030
The Cool Kids Campaign is embarking on a groundbreaking venture, The Cool Kids Learning Center, a blend of tutoring facility and activity center – a place to keep kids with cancer up-to-date on their school curriculum. Until now, there hasn’t existed a place for kids to go where they can stay germ-free, meet other families, and have a place to hang out where they are just like everyone else.
Ken is in “commute” mode this weekend, able to zip down I-83 to Camden Yards from our home in Baltimore County, instead of hopping a plane or train to meet up with the Yankees and the YES Network crew. Since he wore an Orioles uniform for 10 seasons (1975-1984), yet announces games for the pinstripes, fans generally think he must be “torn” between his allegiances. Mrs. Singy sat down with hubby to get the real score.
Mrs. Singy: What’s it like for you to announce a Yankees/Orioles game?
Ken Singleton: Much like all of the others, that’s the way I look at it. I approach it the same way. I think other people may look at it differently because I used to play for the Orioles and I’ve been with the Yankees so long. Maybe they think, “He must be torn.” I’m not really. I just do the games. And my job is easier when the Yankees win. I’ve been fortunate to see them win quite a bit.
Mrs. Singy: Would you prefer to announce a Yankees/Orioles game in Baltimore or New York?
Ken Singleton: Well I like doing Yankees games in Baltimore because I don’t have to travel far. I’ve lived here for about 35 years. But I really love the new Yankee Stadium. I don’t think there is a more exciting stadium in the Major Leagues in terms of the crowd, how they get into the team, and their knowledge of the game. Plus, New York is where I grew up [Mount Vernon]. I’ll always love New York.
Mrs. Singy: The Orioles network MASN usually show you on TV during an Orioles game in the YES Network booth – what do you think of that?
Ken Singleton: They do, so I heard, but I’m not aware of it during the game. Someone usually tells me that I was on. Hopefully, the guys are saying nice things about me. 🙂
Mrs. Singy: How do you think fans react to that at home – you working for the Yankees?
Ken Singleton: When I was announcing games for the Montreal Expos, fans in Baltimore didn’t seem to mind. Now that I do games for New York, at first they would ask, “How can you do that?” [Mrs. Singy hears this constantly!]. But I think now they understand better … I hope. The Yankees are good. They are a good team to work for.
Mrs. Singy: Does it bring back memories as a player when you announce in Baltimore, or not as much since you didn’t play at Camden Yards?
Ken Singleton: Not so much; only when I’m reminded by people who I might see around the stadium whom I’ve known over the years, like Jim Palmer, Mike Flanagan, and some of the ushers who have carried over from Memorial Stadium to Camden Yards. But that was a long time ago. Times change. Camden Yards has a different atmosphere than Memorial Stadium. A lot of that has to do with the fact that the Orioles were big winners in those days.
Mrs. Singy: What do you say when fans consistently ask why you don’t announce for your “home” team?
Ken Singleton: I consider myself a Yankees broadcaster; I work in New York. I’m very happy where I am. Who wouldn’t be happy working for a team that I have witnessed win the World Series four times? I’ve seen them in the playoffs 13 times in 14 years.
Mrs. Singy: What did you think of the NY Yankees when you were an Oriole?
Ken Singleton: Good question. I had a lot of respect for the Yankees. They were the team that we always tried to beat. As Orioles, we went to the World Series twice and I can recall in 10 years in Baltimore, we finished second, six times – some of those to the Yankees. They had great players: Thurman Munson, Reggie Jackson, Willie Randolph, Ron Guidry, Catfish Hunter and Lou Piniella. George Steinbrenner was still the boss back then. I had a lot of respect for their organization.
Mrs. Singy: What are some of your standard responses to fans when they allude to the same questions like: “Do you still have orange and black running through your blood?” … “We need you back here” … “Why don’t you live in NY?” … “Do you miss playing?”
Ken Singleton: When they comment that they need me back, I say, “There was a time.” But those days are over. It’s very nice for people to remember, but the game goes on and the players change. About living in New York … that’s easy. All I have to do is get on a train and I’m there – it’s a simple commute. My kids grew up here in Baltimore, you [Mrs. Singy] are from here. I don’t miss playing, no. Like I said, those days are over. When you start as a player, you know you can’t play forever. I was blessed to have played for 15 years – 12 on winning teams. Fifteen years in the Majors is a good run. I earned a good living – still earn a good living. I’ve been in the Majors for over 40 years now.
Mrs. Singy: What do you think about the Orioles now?
Ken Singleton: I would like to see them play better, but not against the Yankees. They are showing signs of improvement with new manager Buck Showalter and it will make the division even more competitive next year.
Strangers’ grins peer out from a collection of photos scattered around Ken’s office: some buried under paper piles, some stuck in drawers, others graduated to frames, sitting on a crowded credenza among baseball memorabilia.
These are the standard four-golfer poses … a typical souvenir from the bazillion golf tournaments in which Ken has been invited to play by charitable organizations trying to raise a buck.
The other three golfers in each pose took home an identical photo. I would wager to say they would be able to name Ken in the picture for a long while. But if Ken had to name them, most likely he could not. With no offense to anyone (I can guarantee my husband most certainly enjoyed each tournament), Ken has greeted thousands upon thousands of fans over two baseball careers. If he still remembered each of their names, we would change his name to Einstein.
Hopefully, their memory of a day on the links with a baseball celebrity is a great one. Maybe they bragged to their golf buddies that Ken Singleton played in their foursome. Maybe they proudly showed the souvenir photo to a spouse or displayed it on a desk.
And just because Ken may not remember names and faces of the myriad of golfers with whom he shared 18 holes, doesn’t mean he wasn’t congenial and polite while interacting with them. Ken is a very friendly guy.
If the one thing he prefers fans “take away” from him, is that he looked them in the eye, gave them his time, and tried his best to provide a pleasant experience. Many fans approach or e-mail me – or share on this blog – with wonderful comments about the “great guy” I’m married to. He has been described as personable, genuine, hospitable, and gracious. And it’s true. I have never seen my husband act none other than gracious to baseball fans. When we are out and about with friends, some have commented about this, as they observe him in “celebrity mode.”
Lesson here for all of us is that we cannot control another person’s experience, memory, or judgment about another human being. Yet if we are involved in the interaction, what we can control is ourselves. We can do our best to ensure that another person takes away the best pieces of ourselves that we have to offer.
People are funny without realizing it – and just a little transparent.
If you were married to a doctor, would you be expected to answer medical questions? If you lived with a singer, would people expect you to break out in song?
I don’t think so.
So why do people expect me to talk baseball? I’m a writer, not a baseball analyst. Sure, I can write about fluffy baseball topics, like spitting or a 101-year-old Yankee fans named Frank, but the stats, strategy and who’s returning to the lineup from the disabled list? That’s Ken’s department.
When he’s on the road and I’m home in Baltimore, say like at the supermarket or church, people see “Suzanne” but I know they’re thinking “Ken” because the baseball ramblin’ begins.
It’s Ken they really want when an Orioles fan approaches me with a comment that they want Ken back as a player. It’s Ken they want when they ask me if I think he will some day broadcast for his “home” team. It’s Ken they want when they ask what he thinks of a current hot baseball topic or if the Yankees will win the pennant (again); and it’s Ken they want when someone e-mails to say she has been thinking about me, yet her next sentence includes the word baseball. (Guess she didn’t want to admit she was thinking about my husband all along.)
Do I look like I’m 6-foot-4 with short black hair and a YES Network microphone in my hand?
It’s Ken they really want when I walk into a friend’s house for a cookout and her husband is looking behind me with the immediate question on his beer-stained lips – “Where’s Ken?” – like I’m hiding him in my handbag or something. (Takes me a minute to get the cities straight on any given day, but eventually I utter the Yankees’ locale.)
Now around the end of summer every baseball season, I get a little cranky. (Jeepers, can you tell?) Don’t get me wrong – I want the Yankees to keep winning and see the inside of their dugout in October, but I also want my husband to come home. I become weary of kissing him bye-bye as he boards a plane or hops a train. I grow tired of checking his schedule every time I need a date for a cookout or to see if he’s available for back-to-school night.
Yet mostly, I’m feeling a tad drained with people talking baseball – to me – when it’s Ken they really want.
Yes, people are funny. They can’t quite get the hang of baseball schedules either. In December someone will ask if Ken is on the road. My cousin has asked if he returns home on weekends. On a summer holiday they seem astonished that he isn’t around. “Oh, Ken didn’t get off for Labor Day?”
My standard answer is “Baseball knows no holiday or weekend.” (Or kids’ birthdays, friend’s wedding or move-in day for our kid’s college.)
Sometimes a kind baseball soul will ask if I’m ready for the season to be over. Thank you and yes I am.
But in general, I don’t wanna talk baseball. Especially in September. It makes me cranky.
Fans may be surprised to learn that a baseball broadcaster doesn’t show up 15 minutes before a game to go on-air. “That’s not the way it works,” said my husband Ken Singleton, who devotes hours to his “homework” before picking up a YES Network microphone.
Like the average American, a workday for him is 8-hours-plus, except his is not 9-to-5 but the “second shift” — he leaves for the ballpark at 3 p.m. and returns to the hotel around 11:30 (barring extra innings or rain delays).
Let’s peek into Ken’s 15-pound briefcase (actually he uses a small black suitcase on wheels) to examine the tools that help him prepare for each game:
1. Laptop – Ken visits specific websites daily to check game scores around the leagues and to find out who did what. He learns of players’ injuries, special streaks and to see what’s happening beyond Yankee Stadium. His preferred sites include:
2. Press Guides – Ken carries specific ones needed for a particular road trip and keeps a press guide in his home office for every American and National League team. He researches historical notes and a plethora of stats. “Press guides tell me everything I want to know about a particular player or team,” he said, “even a player’s birthday.” (Certainly, Ken always carries the Yankees press guide.)
3. Scorebook – Designed by his former Montreal Expos broadcast partner, Dave Van Horne (42-year veteran broadcaster and current lead play-by-play radio announcer for the Florida Marlins), Ken’s scorebook includes room to write notes and track pitchers, game times, team records and next-game pitchers. Ken orders these specially designed scorebooks from a local printer, made thick enough to record an entire season of games.
4. Elias Notes – Produced each game by Elias Sports Bureau Inc., a major informational source for all sports, these notes are waiting in the YES booth — a copy for each broadcaster and one for the statistician. “These are very important,” says Ken. “They give good information about that particular game.”
Things he looks for: players on hitting streaks and reaching special milestones; injured players and who’s back in the lineup after an injury; what currently makes a team good; why a club is playing better now than at the beginning of the season (or vice versa). “I look for interesting items I think fans may want to know,” said Ken. “What would someone at home ask about this player or team?”
5. Calculator to figure batting averages
6. Legal pads to take notes
7. Hall’s honey lemon cough drops for after L-O-N-G games
The first day of a series, or rejoining the Yankees after he’s been off a week, will include the most preparation for Ken. Not every note he collects is used in one game. In a three-game series, for example, he may use some the following day.
“It’s better to be over-prepared,” said Ken, “because you never know when a game is going to go for 15 innings.”
Also, for every game he prepares a Scouting Report on the starting pitchers — one for each team. “I write three interesting notes about each pitcher and email it to a graphics guy at YES.”
For instance, as I questioned Ken for this story, he had made a note for tonight’s Sept. 7 game about CC Sabathia going for his 20th game win.
After Ken pours over all the information he has collected, “I’m basically ready to do the game,” he says.
After settling into the press box, he visits the clubhouse to obtain the starting lineup and chat with players on both teams. Sometimes he peeks into Joe Girardi’s press conference before the game (held near the clubhouse in a conference room) or if he doesn’t have time, he listens to it in the booth. For additional homework, Ken speaks with the visiting team broadcasters, many his friends.
“They see the teams every day,” said Ken. “I don’t. Although I think I know a lot about a team, they have a better insight to help me with my game.”
And if he didn’t spend time preparing?
“I would run out of things to talk about! I’d be reacting to the game itself but wouldn’t be able to fill in the blanks. There’s a lot of time in between pitchers and hitters. I have to fill it with interesting information for the fans.”
Ken is still in disbelief that years back his “Ma” tossed his collection of baseball cards from their home in Mt Vernon, N.Y.
“I had a lot of cards,” he said, remembering a few stuffed shoeboxes worth. “I used to trade them with my friends.”
In my mother-in-law’s defense, she doesn’t remember this. She said, “They were probably all bent up and old. I would not throw away anything good.”
Surrounded by baseball cards – and other sports memorabilia at the four-day 31st National Sports Collectors Convention – reminded my husband of his favored hobby as a kid.
The convention used 350,000-plus square feet of floor space inside the Baltimore Convention Center and attracted upward of 35,000 people. Over 1,000 dealers and exhibitors sold everything from 10-cent baseball cards to a $15,000 Babe Ruth-signed baseball.
“I don’t know what cards cost now,” Ken said when he returned from his appearance, “but when I was young, we used to buy them for a nickel a pack. They came with bubble gum and five cards. It was really big if you got a Mickey Mantle or a Willie Mays … but I think purposefully those weren’t included in many packs.”
For the typical fan, Ken says collecting autographs isn’t always about the value of the signed item – that’s secondary. The thrill is about having the autograph –
especially for kids.
“It’s also about the 20 seconds a fan spends with an athlete,” Ken said. “They remember that. It’s their personal experience.”
City to city Ken has spotted some of the same die-hard baseball fans waiting in line outside of hotels and ballparks hoping to score a few pros’ autographs.
How many times has my husband signed his name in a span of two baseball careers? Like grains of sand on the beach – impossible to count. “I have no clue,” he answered, but yes, thousands upon thousands upon more thousands. (It would be an interesting stat to know!)
Does an athlete’s hand get tired signing autographs? You bet. Just think of that Catholic school nun forcing you to write: “I shall not throw spitballs.” Three hours is about tops for Ken’s left-handed autographing stamina. He was a switch-hitter, yes, but not with a pen.
When players make appearances, it’s common that they sign extra balls for whichever organization contracted them for the autograph session. For instance, at the abovementioned collectors’ show, Ken signed six-dozen baseballs in the back room before he even faced an autograph seeker on the Convention Center floor. That was 72 additional “Ken Singleton”‘s to sign in his slim, slanty handwriting on top of the throng of people he signed for standing in his line between 2:30 and 5:30 … swamped the entire session.
“I can imagine what it was like on Saturday,” Ken said, knowing some of the heavy hitters were in town like Frank “The Big Hurt” Thomas, Eddie Murray, Brooks Robinson, Wade Boggs, Mike Boddicker, the immortal Willie Mays and other Hall of Famers.
The show wasn’t only baseball-related. Autograph lines snaked around to end face-to-face with over 70 athletes and entertainment celebrities.
Our 18-year-old son tagged along with Dad that Thursday, then returned downtown two days later on his own to get more autographs and meet-and-greet professional wrestlers like Mick Foley, Kurt Angle and Rob Van Dam. Contrary to the world expecting him to follow in Daddy’s cleats as a baseball player, our son’s passion lies in WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) – he wants to wrestle.
His bedroom walls boast a small but impressive collection of sports autographs; over the years he’s nabbed a few cool ones. He frequently drives to wrestler appearances laden with paraphernalia he’d like autographed, then returns home “pumped” that he owns a few more scribbles in his WWE coffee-table book, “WWE Encyclopedia: The Definitive Guide to World Wrestling Entertainment (written, ironically, by my editor at YESNetwork.com, Kevin Sullivan).
“Being face-to-face with wrestlers is very exciting,” said our teen. “I feel like a little kid – I get giddy. I imagine myself being on the other side of the pen, signing an autograph for a happy fan. Although, I feel very small compared to them … fame-wise and muscle-wise.”
He smiles and adds, “Not so much in height though.” (He’s almost as tall as dad’s 6-foot-4-inches.)
Now in a few weeks this third kid of ours will be off to college where his dorm room walls will exhibit a few of his prized autographs. And maybe one day, who knows, his collection might end up in a forgotten top-shelf shoebox like Ken’s once-treasured baseball cards.
But I promised him I would never throw them away.
I can imagine how the phones are ringing off their hooks in the Yankees office after George Steinbrenner’s passing, because here in Baltimore our house phone and Ken’s cell haven’t stopped jingling yet.
Radio stations that typically call Ken during the baseball season for interviews about the game in general, double their calls when any big news breaks.
This week they want Ken’s reaction and thoughts on Mr. Steinbrenner.
I can tell my husband feels sad and melancholy. He happened to be golfing during the All-Star break when he heard the news. Because his cell phone sounded off repeatedly on the links, he stopped after nine holes to return home, handle the calls and silently process the news.
It didn’t feel proper to continue the golf round while the Steinbrenner family grieved, along with Yankees fans everywhere.
“Mr. Steinbrenner was always good to me,” said Ken. “This is not a good week for the Yankees and their fans. We had just learned about Bob Sheppard a few days before.”
Fourteen years ago, Mr. Steinbrenner had the final say whether to hire Ken. In Steinbrenner’s Tampa office before spring training at then Legends Field, Ken and two MSG executives met with the Yankees owner.
“I don’t think our fans are going to like you,” Ken recalled Mr. Steinbrenner’s comment.
“How come?” asked Ken.
“I can’t recall all the bad things you used to do to us,” said Mr. Steinbrenner about Ken as a Baltimore Orioles right-fielder and designated hitter.
“With all due respect, Mr. Steinbrenner,” Ken responded. “I was just doing my job.”
“Well, you did it very well.”
After Ken left Tampa, he was unsure he would be offered a seat in the booth to broadcast for the Yankees. Yet the next day he received an affirmative phone call.
“I appreciate the opportunity – and every single minute I’ve been there,” Ken said. “Mr. Steinbrenner said I could work for his team even though I never played for the Yankees … probably because I am from New York.”
Ken feels grateful that even after The YES Network was established nine years ago, Steinbrenner kept him around. Over the years he hasn’t encountered the boss often because Steinbrenner was usually in Tampa. (I have never met the man.)
“I guess he liked what he heard on TV,” said Ken. “If he had had a problem with our broadcasts, I’m sure we would have heard.”
About Mr. Steinbrenner as a team owner, he said, “I have a lot of respect for the way he built the Yankees into a championship franchise. When he bought the team in 1973 they weren’t very good.”
I would venture to guess that the eight All-Star Yankees played their hearts out during the All Star game in honor of an all-star owner. It was suitable that his team was so well represented by more players than any other and fitting that he chose All-Star game day to find his way to heaven.
Rest in peace
to watch Ken’s conversation with Michael Kay and Jack Curry.)
Utter 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.
The 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.
After 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
My 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.
When 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.