Fate and Facebook unite Italian cousins

    Monday, June 4, 2012, 10:46 PM [General]

    Ken happened to leave a few Little Italy Baltimore friends of mine tickets to the May 19 Yankees game vs. the Reds. The three guys went up only for the day. So what are the chances one of them would meet his cousin from Brisbane,Australia in the city, whom he had found on Facebook in 2010?

    When Bill Bertazon joined Facebook after prodding from others about how great it was as a social gathering, he was introduced to a page called Bertazzon Worldwide. He noticed the majority of the members were from Treviso, Italy. (His grandfather had dropped a 'z' when he arriving in the U.S.)

    "I posted a brief biography explaining dates and names of my ancestry," said Bertazon, "plus the Bertazzon genealogy chart dating to the late 1700's from the providence of Sernaglia Della Battaglia in Treviso. Several Bertazzons wrote back in an attempt to match kinship, but none did."

    Then a message came from a Loretta Mengotti from Australia saying that her mother Caterina Maria (nee Bertazzon) was from that same area in Treviso. Turned out they were cousins through Loretta's grandfather and Bill's grandfather. (Also turned out, ironically, that Bertazon's only granddaughter is named Caterine Maria.)

    Loretta and Bill formed a kinship in spite of being on two continents. They use Skype and Facebook to stay connected. Gotta love the Internet.

    As fate weaves its way into happy endings, Bertazon received this message from Loretta before his scheduled Yankee Stadium visit:

    "Hello Bill, When you wake up this morning we will be on a plane to New York! Russell has to make a quick trip for a business meeting, so I've decided to go with him. It's only until Sunday afternoon. By any chance are you in New York this weekend? Ciao Loretta."

    And by chance, well yes, he was planning to be in New York. "Talk about ecstatic!" Bertazon said, "I teared up."

    Why a Yankees game? "I like the Yankees over everyone else except the Orioles," said Bertazon. "I have never been to Yankee Stadium - old or new. As a 50s kid from Little Italy Baltimore, I had all the baseball cards and knew their averages. I feel Yankee Stadium is the legend of baseball, home of the best. That's why I wanted to go. Love baseball."

    Saturday morning in Manhattan, Loretta and Bill hugged for the first time. They spent about three hours together that day chatting and staring at one another before Bertazon had to depart to meet his friends to attend the game (a special thanks to Ken! he added).

    "I could not believe we finally met," he said about Loretta. "I was only in New York for ONE day!"

    Since then, Bertazon and his wife MaryLou have scheduled a 2013 trip to Treviso, Italy, to meet Loretta and her mother, where they will certainly enjoy a longer and sweeter family reunion.

    And all because of one Yankees game on one Saturday in New York City.

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    Ken's special evening rewarding and touching

    Sunday, March 25, 2012, 7:19 PM [General]

    I admit, Ken and I were greatly anticipating meeting actor Denzel Washington Saturday night at the Rye Town Hilton in Rye Brook, N.Y., as hubby was slated to receive the 'Denzel Lifetime Achievement in Sports' award from the Boys Club Girls Club (BCGC) of Mount Vernon. And, I admit, I feel much disappointment 24 hours later.

    Turned out Denzel didn't show up to host the gala for reasons which event organizers are unsure. And it turned out Ken was rewarded in more distinctive ways Saturday evening than receiving the beautiful glass trophy or hobnobbing with Hollywood. He mingled, and reacquainted, with many of his childhood friends from his (and Denzel's) hometown of Mount Vernon - some of whom he hadn't seen since he left to play pro ball. He was touched particularly when folks approached him to say they knew his parents, the late Joe and Lucille Singleton.

    "That made the whole night worthwhile," said Ken.

    Actors Danny Glover and JB Smoove (of Curb Your Enthusiasm) provided the glitzy Hollywood component as they stepped on stage to stand in for Denzel. Learning about the mission of BCGC - and seeing so many alumni among the 600 guests - provided the inspiration.

    "Our town was like the perfect place to grow up," said Ken. It was a melting pot ... one-third Jewish, one-third Italian, and one-third black. People worked together. The schools were excellent, the recreation opportunities were wonderful, and it was close to New York City."

    The mission of this national nonprofit organization is to fight juvenile delinquency by helping youth, especially from high-risk neighborhoods, to make the most of their lives, with objectives to build self esteem, nurture talent, and contribute to society on personal paths to success.

    When Ken was growing up, the club was situated a half mile from the Singleton's house on Seneca Avenue (the house was sold to them by former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca). The BCGC facility was a place Ken and his brother Fred sometimes utilized as boys; a safe place in which to play in a weekend basketball league and socialize with their neighborhood peers.

    Decades later as it celebrates its 100 year anniversary in Mount Vernon, on South 6th Street, it offers even greater and more intricate programs and growth opportunities for kids than it did in the 1950's.

    Little did the Mount Vernon BCGC founders know they would churn out Hollywood actors, pro athletes, entertainers, senators, and a New York Yankees announcer. And little did the young boys and girls of Mount Vernon families know they possessed the potential to grow into fine people who could achieve impressive careers.

    "Every child follows a path in life," said Lowes Moore, executive director. "For many, that path will lead them to a door that gives them a place to grow, to learn, to belong, and a place to forge their future."

    It's Sunday around supper time. Ken, the teens, and I just arrived home from N.Y. and lugged our suitcases upstairs. As I stopped to blow a kiss to my in-law's' smiling photograph kept in my walk-in closet, I thought about how much they would have enjoyed attending the gala last night with us ... yes, because they were always so proud of Ken and Fred, yet also to greet old friends, and to be in New York near where they raised a family and set fine examples of how to make a life successful instead of wasteful.

    And I know for Joe & Lucille, a.k.a. "Ma" and "Pop," the evening would have been superb - with or without Hollywood.


    The Singleton family acknowledges and appreciates:

    1) The incredible support of the YES NETWORK, particularly John Filipelli, Ashley Fugazy, and Eric Handler, who attended the gala in support of their co-worker Ken, and arranged YES' involvement with the gala by sponsoring a table and program ad.

    2) The other five honorees who received Denzel Lifetime Achievement awards: NY State Senator Malcolm Smith; Mount Vernon Kiwanis member Rosemary Cornacchio; the late John Branca (educator, coach, commissioner); WCBS-2's meterologist Elise Finch; and the late Butch Lewis (boxing and entertainment promoter).

    3) The Boys Club Girls Club of Mount Vernon, its staff and the gala committee, for choosing Ken to receive this award and hosting our family that evening. Thank you.

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    Singleton remembers Carter when he was just a kid

    Friday, February 17, 2012, 10:02 AM [General]

    photos courtesy of the SingletonsDeath sure has been reaching out its long pasty fingers too often lately to the baseball world. Here we are as fans and friends once again saying farewell to a legend too young to die.

    I mostly remember Gary Carter and his wife, Sandy, from our days in Montreal in the 1990s, when Ken was a radio and TV broadcaster for the Expos (85-'96). Such nice, nice, nice people, those Carters, always offering smiles and kind words, in the tunnel under Olympic Stadium after the games; or in the stands with Sandy and our kids in the family section watching games together.

    We have bumped into the Carters sporadically over the years in the baseball world; one of the more exciting places was in Cooperstown, N.Y. when Gary was inducted into the Hall of Fame along with Eddie Murray (2003).

    "He was a fan favorite," said Ken from our home on a radio interview via phone to a station in Toronto, as a SportsCenter story about Gary aired low-volume on the TV in the background. "His personality was infectious. He was the same way every day." 

    Ken and Gary were brief teammates in 1974 -- for a month to be exact -- as Gary the rookie was called up in September from the Minor Leagues while Ken played out his last month as an Expo; Ken was traded to Baltimore that winter.

    "You could see the promise in him as a player," said Ken, "even for the short time when we were on the same team. Gary played probably the toughest position on the field and he did it well for a long time. It is rightly so that he's in the Hall of Fame."

    Over the years Ken and Gary played against each other during Spring Training games and a few All-Star Games (there wasn't interleague play back then), and it was back in Canada where they met up once again with Ken in a different role. He had entered his second career as a baseball broadcaster, doing play-by-play on the radio in Montreal and color analyst on TV for TSN (The Sports Network).

    "We were around each other every day," said Ken. "When Gary came back to Montreal he was already a star. He was on the back end of what would become his Hall of Fame career. Since I had seen him at his beginning, now I was watching him at the end of his career, too. He still played with the same rookie enthusiasm."

    In the baseball world, like in life, people weave in-and-out-and-in-and-out of our lives. Gary and Ken were acquainted once again in 2009 when he invited Gary to participate in the Ken Singleton Golf Classic in Baltimore -- a major fundraiser for the Cool Kids Campaign for which Ken serves on its board and I serve as part-time marketing coordinator.

    "I was appreciative of his playing in the tournament," said Ken. "I had called him; he agreed to play. We were very fortunate to have had Gary come up from Florida to participate. It was a wonderful gesture -- that's the way he was."


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    Ripken, Teixiera share same philosophy

    Sunday, February 12, 2012, 10:50 PM [General]

    We all heart-melt over a good non-profit cause, especially when we are face-to-face with the people so passionately standing behind it.

    At the eighth annual Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation Aspire Gala February 10 in Baltimore, Cal and brother Billy Ripken, founders of this organization (ripkenfoundation.org) in honor of their father, described how they help to get kids off drug-infested streets in less desirable neighborhoods around the country, and onto baseball fields to otherwise divert their attention.

    "We use baseball as a hook," said Cal in front of an enormous audience of supporters in a downtown Baltimore hotel, in an Academy Award kind of setting, to get young kids in distressed communities off the street and onto the field so they can be influenced by better factors – and people – than the illicit activities of drugs, crime and violence.

    The Ripken brothers led the evening’s program to honor four amazing individuals: Yankees first baseman Mark Teixiera; former NFL player O.J. Brigance; and philanthropists Patty and Jay Baker (she is a Broadway producer and he president of Kohl's) – truly a power couple who have donated millions to various educational and nonprofit causes.

    Honorees are selected from the fields of sports, business and entertainment and recognized for their leadership, dedication to their field, and commitment to philanthropy.

    Teixiera joked that he hasn't been applauded in Baltimore since 2008. It's that 'good cause' uniformity among human beings that wouldn't allow a roomful of mostly Baltimoreans to boo a Yankee in their precious Oriole territory.

    Describing a 'give-back' example his dad "Tex" set when Teixiera was in high school and had won a $5,000 raffle, he had asked, "What are we gonna buy with the money, Dad?" John Teixiera took his son to purchase a riding lawn mower that would allow better grooming of the baseball field at Mount St. Joseph, Teixiera’s high school in Baltimore. Before that, he said, players pitched in to groom the field using push mowers.

    Teixiera is instrumental championing for Harlem RBI in Manhattan (harlemrbi.org), an organization that provides inner-city youth with opportunities to play, learn and grow by using the power of teams to coach, teach and inspire youth to recognize their potential and realize their dreams. Teixiera said it's not what he does on the field that counts as an example to youth - sure that's important - it's what he does off the field that matters more. He and Cal share the same softhearted spot in their philosophy towards kids across America who would not ordinarily have a chance to play baseball as they attempt to exit their incomprehensible negative daily existences.

    That was enough to touch each of our hearts in the audience. Then a video played on the two large screens to our right and left in preparation for the next honoree, Brigance, who was diagnosed in 2007 with ALS, more widely known as Lou Gehrig's disease. This merciless disease causes Brigance to be immobilized as his muscles have frozen up, practically laying vertical in a complicated cumbersome wheelchair, an air tube noticeably snaking over his right shoulder and disappearing into the front of his suit. He is unable to speak and instead, conveyed his inspiring speech through a computer attached to his wheelchair that 'speaks' for him; his beautiful wife Chanda stood by his side on stage after addressing the awestruck audience.

    Together the couple launched the Brigance Brigade (brigancebrigade.org), which raises awareness of this debilitating disease and helps those who cannot afford it to purchase the very expensive equipment needed to keep them alive.

    Teixiera … the Ripkens … the Bakers … the Brigances – they all have the right idea, good direction and full-size hearts. Standing behind good causes takes extraordinary types of people … and they are the Aspire Award honorees of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation.

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    So long, Mike Flanagan

    Friday, August 26, 2011, 11:33 PM [General]

    We don’t think much about never seeing someone again when we part ways, matter-of-factly saying “See you later,” because we expect that we will.

    Ken shook Mike Flanagan’s hand in that same fashion as they parted ways at New York’s Penn Station July 31 after the Orioles played the Yankees and the friends shared a car from the stadium. 

    Ken said to him, “I’ll see you when we get to town.” [Baltimore]

    It was no different than the way Ken parted with a baseball friend countless other times, knowing their paths will cross soon again in the baseball world.

    “That was the last time I saw him,” said an upset Ken about his longtime friend and former Orioles teammate who took his life August 24 behind his house in Baltimore County.

    Over 14 years, we have passed the Flanagans’ historic farmhouse hundreds of times as we drove in and out of our neighborhood 1.5 miles east. And almost every time I look at their house, I recall his wife, Alex, once telling me she had experienced a few incidents inside to indicate it may be haunted.

    This week, ghosts are furthest from my mind as I look up the hill at their stone house. Instead, I shake my head about the evil thoughts and feelings that haunted such a decent, funny, and nice man enough for him to do what no human being ever should do to himself.

    Of course Ken and Mike’s other former teammates – many of them still residing here in Baltimore – are reeling from this tragedy, mindful of course that none of them are quite as affected as Mike’s wife and three daughters.

    “Flanny” has been a part of Ken’s life and career since 1975. After returning tonight from Camden Yards since the Yankees are in town, Ken said the mood on the press level was obviously solemn. Where he normally would have bumped into Mike (an Orioles broadcaster), there was no Mike. Only a group of very sad colleagues sorely missing Flanagan’s presence, maybe silently wishing they could have personally helped their friend before he hurt himself.

    “This is not easy,” said Ken. “I played with Flanny for 10 years. He was a fantastic teammate, a trusted teammate. Not only was he a good pitcher, he was a good person, and that translated throughout the team.”

    Before Thursday's game, the Yankees paid tribute to Flanagan with a moment of silence, showing his photo on the center field scoreboard. Prior to tonight's game, the Orioles held a moment of silence in Flanagan’s memory with a video tribute. His uniform number 46 was posted on the out-of-town scoreboard in right field.

    “It was a very nice tribute,” Ken said, moments after he walked in the house. “Everyone was crying.” 

    Mike is already missed, yet he is haunted no longer

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  • There is nothing more all-American than baseball. Unless you count watching baseball while in Washington, D.C., a city where an American ... more
  • Ken happened to leave a few Little Italy Baltimore friends of mine tickets to the May 19 Yankees game vs. the Reds. The three guys went ... more
  • I admit, Ken and I were greatly anticipating meeting actor Denzel Washington Saturday night at the Rye Town Hilton in Rye Brook, N.Y., ... more
  • Death sure has been reaching out its long pasty fingers too often lately to the baseball world. Here we are as fans and friends once ... more

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