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.
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.”
Since 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.
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.
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.
Former 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.”
Meet Bron Locke … it’s his 45th birthday!
Bron, an avid Yankees fan who lives in Clearlake Oaks, Calif., has been a fan since 1976. He was 12 years old when Mickey Mantle shook his hand and autographed a photo for him at an Apple Blossom Festival.
Before that he was a Baltimore Orioles fan when he lived nearby, and Ken was one of his favorite players, said his daughter Tasha in an e-mail to Mrs. Singy.
“He never misses a Yankees game and watches most of them on the YES Network,” wrote Tasha, a Virginia resident.
Bron has attended nearly 100 Yankees games at 12 different stadiums. During the recent Yankees-A’s series, Bron was thrilled when Johnny Damon acknowledged his wave with a nod, a smile and a lift of his glove. When Johnny chased a foul ball then flipped it to an A’s attendant, the attendant flipped the ball to Bron. Regrettably, another fan bumped his arm and the ball bounced away for someone else to snatch up. He was heartbroken.
Tasha said it is her dad’s lifetime dream to own a baseball from the Major Leagues. And good daughter that she seems, she wants to ensure her dad has a very happy birthday.
“You have no idea how much my dad’s happiness means to me,” she said.
What a sweet girl. Tell your dad to watch his mailbox, Tasha, for a little baseball birthday surprise from Ken.
Happy Birthday, Bron Locke, Yankees fan extraordinaire!
UPDATE: A week after this entry, Mr. Locke was kind enough to send me a nice e-mail.
Hi Mrs Singleton,
This is Bron Locke, thank you for the great blog entry! It’s a shame I was so clumsy at the game, I should’ve anticipated that someone would be reaching for the ball as well. But, to get an autographed ball from Ken is MUCH more special.
Attached is a collage picture I made for Tasha, with an extra message added to the bottom for you and Ken. I wanted you two to have it so you can know that you made a Ken Singleton fan’s year! I’m building a walnut display case to house the ball and display the card.
Thanks again for your kindness,
If you have not had the pleasure of experiencing the quaint village of Cooperstown in scenic upstate New York, please add it to your “must do” list. Cooperstown satiates visitors for its lovely location on Otsego Lake, its’ line of dazzling impeccable Victorian homes, and its diverse collection of shops and restaurants, to name a few characteristics.
For baseball fans, add to the mix the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum on Main Street and surely Cooperstown bats a home run in perfect getaways.
(Now I sound like a travel brochure.)
Ken, the kids, and I have visited Cooperstown twice – in support of Ken’s pals Eddie and Cal, former Orioles teammates inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003 (Eddie Murray) and 2007 (Cal Ripken Jr).
For a switch, we had opted to stay in a Bed & Breakfast versus a hotel. Online I had found a charming, pretty, and well-kept house on Chestnut Street called the Rose and Thistle, less than a mile from the Main Street bustle.
Perfect choice. Two Yankees fans own it. Steve and Patti D’Esposito from New Jersey had moved upstate in 2002 to try their hands at innkeeping, after working Manhattan’s rat race their entire careers.
Let me assure you … this couple is in the perfect occupation.
We stayed for several nights at their inn and were hit with hospitality, warmth, and graciousness unequaled at any hotel. Plus we met who we’ve since labeled “The Cooperstown Gang” … a group of the most die-hard baseball fans I’ve ever encountered in the 18 years as Mrs. Singy: Larry, Joan & Henry of N.J. … Pat & Jim of N.Y. … Scott of CT … and Agatha, Steve & Steve Jr. of N.J., most Yankees’ fans, with some Braves, Dodgers, and Mets in the mix – who meet year after year at the Rose and Thistle to celebrate baseball and the Hall of Fame’s inductees.
This bunch of extremely friendly folks welcomed the newest family, the Singletons, to their annual gathering with open arms (it didn’t hurt one of us happened to be a baseball announcer for the NY Yankees).
“They are baseball junkies who are pranksters, and loveable like family,” said Patti of her Hall of Fame Weekend crew.
When Patti and Steve had announced to them that Ken Singleton would be staying at the inn, “Jim started to stutter and shake,” said Patti, “and almost spilled his coffee. Henry was close to tears upon meeting Ken and said it was the best experience in his life. Larry was impressed with the amount of time Ken spent with our guests – he said he didn’t want to wash his shoulder after Ken hugged him!”
Our welcome by this lovely group was astonishing. A splendid weekend! Steve slaps a scrumptious abundant breakfast on the large dining room table like your stomach wouldn’t believe … and the D’Espositos treat their guests as family, even hosting a “porch barbeque” after the induction ceremony is over (which the group attends of course).
As we departed the inn after our first visit, they promised to save us the top floor room for Cal Ripen Jr’s induction in 2007 – and do you know – they did? We revisited Cooperstown again, stayed at their wonderful B&B, and reacquainted with The Cooperstown Gang during an equally wonderful weekend, if not better.
“Everyone was humbled and honored to be in the Singleton family’s company,” said Patti.
Yet it was our family actually who felt humbled to be so welcomed, and able to stay connected via e-mail to such a wonderful baseball bunch – the Cooperstown gang.
(And if I was writing a travel column, the Rose and Thistle would be awarded five stars! Visit their beautiful inn, The Rose and Thistle. Tell them the Singletons sent you.)
By “Mrs. Singy”
Suzanne Molino Singleton
New York Yankees merchandise doesn’t consist of only blue and white pinstripes, as shopping fans know. Some creative genius along the design line had fun with color – maybe to appeal to us ladies – and produced hats, T-shirts, and jackets of all hues.
My hat rack holds NYY caps in lime green … shocking pink … pastel pink … yellow … red … and the traditional dark blue. Ken once gave me for Christmas a big puffy Yankees jacket in bright lime green. In the winter, I wear it to the gym and to power walk the neighborhood, and you can bet the neighbors see me coming … no reflectors needed.
Yet comments about the vivid color aren’t the only ones flung my way. Because I’m a Baltimore girl wearing a NY team logo (and worse, a rivalry of the Orioles), freedom of speech comes into play as friends have their say about my precious Yankees merchandise.
“Take off that jacket while you’re around me,” or “I’d like to burn that T-shirt,” and other smarty-pants remarks are uttered to me and the kids. They say the NYY cap is hurting their eyes or making them gag. Funny them.
My standard reply is, “Hey you, quiet, the Yankees feed my kids and pay tuition” (and buy me shoes, but I leave out that part).
It’s a bit of a quandary, being that I’m a lifelong Baltimorean, once a die-hard Orioles fan. But like baseball players are traded team to team, the kids and I played a little switcharoo in our baseball team allegiance when Ken began to call Yankees games on MSG Network 13 years back, then for the YES Network seven years ago.
Actually we’ve discovered it’s not too tough being Yankees fans – it’s rather fun. We love riding the train from Baltimore to the city, and it’s quite exciting to watch them make it to the World Series so often. We love the enthusiasm in the stands, and Yankees fans are everywhere! (We do spend more money eating stadium junk food but hey, the tickets are comps, so who can whine?) And we can’t wait to feast our eyes on the new stadium, especially now that Oriole Park is old comparatively, as the rest of America builds new ballparks.
At first I thought we could be fans of the Yankees and the Orioles, yet when the O’s hosted the Yankees I was traumatized … which team to root for? Whose T-shirt should I wear? And if the Orioles aren’t going to hawk colorful merchandise like the Yankees, forget them. A few seasons I sat in the stands quietly, wore street clothes, and rooted for neither team. It was torture.
And if you think his wife gets teased, you should hear Baltimoreans comment to Ken about announcing for the Yankees, the poor dear. O’s fans think he should have black and orange running through his veins – and he forever will be an Oriole and extremely proud of his World Series ring. Yet his career now is with the Yankees, which he enjoys immensely.
What many don’t realize is that Ken is from Mount Vernon, New York (always his out in that conversation) so technically he’s allowed to stand so close to the pinstripes. (Useless piece of trivia – the Singletons lived in a house once owned by the family of former Brooklyn Dodger Ralph Branca.)
Let Baltimore fans tease us all they want … we’re wearing our Yankees merchandise and that’s that. And I will continue to pledge allegiance to my lime green Yankees jacket … that is, until Ken comes home with a different color.
Suzanne Molino Singleton is a Baltimore-based writer and columnist, and spouse of YES Network announcer Ken Singleton. She is the creator of a weekly women’s inspirational e-column, www.SNIPPETSinspiration.com, and a columnist on www.smartwomanonline.com.