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.
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.
“From Your Friend, Fu-chan”
Friends a half globe away share passion for baseball
In 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.”
Today 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.
At a Yankees/Orioles baseball game, a small group of blind fans filed into the row in front of us.
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.
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.