Nicknames add to baseball lore

    Saturday, July 2, 2011, 10:40 AM [General]

    Are nicknames named after “Nick,” another name for Nicholas? Who knows, but nicknames can be fun. My friend’s husband calls me “Queen” and in high school I was “Bigfoot.” Close friends call me “Suz” and as you can see here, I’m nicknamed “Mrs. Singy” after hubby Ken Singleton’s nickname bestowed on him decades ago by Orioles teammates.

    Nicknames have always been common in the sports world. The 1900’s played “Wee Willie” Keeler since he was little; and thinking way back to the late 1800’s, there was a Major Leaguer nicknamed “Death to Flying Things” – Bob Ferguson’s nickname derived from his greatness as a defensive player. And the most famous nickname of all was “The Babe” for George Herman Ruth. No more needs to be said about that.

    “We all had nicknames,” said Ken. “But nicknames nowadays are more a derivative of the player’s name instead of their talent.”

    There was “Cakes” for Jim Palmer because he ate pancakes on the days that he pitched, being that pitchers tend to be superstitious, “Blade” for the late Mark Belanger because he was so skinny and “El Presidente” for pitcher Dennis Martinez, the first player in the big leagues to hail from Nicaragua.

    “I gave him that nickname,” said Ken, “and it stuck.”

    Another teammate, Tony Chavez, was nicknamed “Visa Presidente” (as in vice president). The team used to tease Dennis and Tony by asking, “Who’s watching the country while you guys are away?”

    There was “Little Boomer” for teammate Al Bumbry, one of Ken’s best friends, nicknamed after Boomer Scott of the Boston Red Sox because both wore similar puka shell necklaces in style at the time.

    A few interesting nicknames around the league that Ken remembers as a kid -- he was a Giants fan and his father, Joe Singleton, was a Dodgers fan -- were Willie “Puddinhead” Jones (Phillies third baseman in the ‘50’s), Eldon John “Rip” Repulski (Phillies outfielder; Cal Ripken Jr. also was called “Rip” by Ken and teammates) and George “Foghorn” Myatt (Phillies third base coach), “because he had a real deep voice,” said Ken, “like the cartoon character Foghorn Leghorn.”

    There was “Rocket” (Roger Clemens) and “Dominican Dandy” (Juan Marichal, a Hall of Fame pitcher for the Giants) who Ken liked growing up and “got to play against later. I hit two homeruns off him.”

    “The Bird” was a Detroit Tigers pitcher, the late Mark Fidrych because he looked like the Sesame Street character Big Bird. Ken said he used to talk to the ball to tell it what to do and he got on his hands and knees to arrange the mound.

    “The Wizard” was Ozzie Smith “because he was a great fielder,” said Ken, and “The Kid” was Gary Carter because “he was enthusiastic like a kid.”

    Andre Dawson was nicknamed “The Hawk” since he ran everything down and “The Cobra” had a quick strike in Dave Parker. “Pops” was Willie Stargell since he was older than some players, and Terry Crowley was “The King of Swing” as a good pinch hitter.

    Coming up to speed in 2011 around the Yankees clubhouse, Derek Jeter is known by the players as either “Jetes” or “The Captain” because he’s captain of the team. Alex Rodriquez was first to be called “A-Rod” by the late Dave Neihaus, Seattles Mariner broacaster, when Alex first started with Seattle. Mark Teixeira is “Tex” just like his father John’s nickname. Nick Swisher is simply known as “Swish,” Mariano Rivera is “Mo,” and there’s “Grandy” for Curtis Granderson.

    Then there are players who have built-in nicknames like “A.J.” for Allan James Burnett and “CC” for Carsten Charles Sabathia.

    Freddy Garcia is called “The Chief” since he resembles the character of the same name in the movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

    “Nicknames are like a term of endearment,” said Ken, “they’re less formal. It shows that you appreciate the player – the teammate – and are willing to give him a name.”


    3.7 (1 Ratings)

    Rosie talks Yankees

    Thursday, June 30, 2011, 11:13 AM [General]

    It’s always amusing when it’s a little old lady who’s a baseball fan -- Ken gets a real kick out of that. His grandmother, Quinella, was a Chicago Cubs fan until she died of old age at 101.

    Rosie Apicella, 82, met Ken at the bocce courts in Little Italy, Baltimore, during my Tuesday night bocce league. Ken had tagged along to watch our team of Molino cousins -- team “CUGINI” (translates to cousins in Italian) -- but he never had the chance to watch because Rosie found him.

    And when Rosie found him, she talked baseball. A lot of baseball. Mostly Yankees – Rosie is a colossal Yankees fan. And in a town that has its own baseball team, especially Baltimore fans true to their O’s, that’s sometimes surprising. 

    She knew it was Derek Jeter’s birthday the other day and that he was 37. She likes Robinson Cano. She knew Nick Swisher was starting to get hot. (As Ken continued to report the current score vs. Milwaukee from his iPhone for Rosie, Swisher had hit a home run.)

    “She knew more about the Yankees than I did!” Ken joked.

    During Rosie’s storytelling, she relayed one memory of a trip to New York to the old Yankee Stadium with her husband to see Joe DiMaggio play. “The Yankees lost,” she said.

    “When Joe played,” Ken said, “there were no Orioles, so she had to root for someone. I don't blame her. He was a great player. Everybody liked him. Joe was the most popular baseball player and as you would expect, he had a huge Italian following.”

    Once she cooked dinner for Orioles Jeremy Guthrie when he used to live in Little Italy. She met him as he pedaled past her house on a bike and they got to talking. “I was the only one who recognized him,” she said. “He called me Rosinda.”

    Ken enjoyed his chat with Rosie. “She’s a very enthusiastic and tremendous baseball fan,” he said, “A very nice lady.”

    She’s also one of the better bocce players in Little Italy. She knows all about that sport, too – one she has been playing for most of her life. In the old days the Italian men wouldn’t let girls play, but later Rosie helped to form the first all-female bocce team in Little Italy.

    The dark clouds rolled in faster than we could roll bocce balls that night and it began to rain. Rosie flashed a crooked smile Ken’s way as she dashed off to her row house a few blocks over.

    “I'm gonna go finish watching the Yankee game,” she said.  

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Geppetto lives on (and he's carving more than puppets)

    Friday, April 22, 2011, 9:29 AM [General]

    I’m not sure where Pinocchio ended up after he lied in Storybook Land all those decades ago, but a gentleman nicknamed Geppetto is alive and well, not in a small Italian village, but in Geppetto’s Wood Shoppe in West Monroe, N.Y.

    With wood chips flying around his workshop, it’s not a nose-growing puppet that Chuck “Geppetto” Nepage carves, rather, statuettes of NY Yankees’ pitchers and batters.

    These cleverly-designed figurines are the latest of attention-grabbing items received in hubby Ken Singleton’s fan mail, graciously sent by this Yankee fan, almost enough to make a team – he sent eight – pitchers, hitters, and two golfers (to appeal to Ken’s second greatest passion).

    Looking at one side of his four-inch tall statuette reveals a silhouette (a hitter, a pitcher), and when the statuette is turned a quarter, the NY logo is visible. It’s an ingenious design if you ask me, even though the only figurine I’ve ever carved was a stocky three-inch squirrel in ninth-grade woodshop.

    “These must have taken a lot of time and energy to do something so meticulous,” said Ken. “They’re great!”

    Chuck doesn’t take all the credit for the design. He and his wife, Nancy, collaborate in designing various pieces to carve, from religious to sports statuettes and everything in between.

    “Nancy will bring an idea out to my one-man wood shoppe for me to try,” said Chuck. “I think she is just trying to challenge me.”

    After the layout stage, “Geppetto” is ready to cut, using a scroll saw, which “takes a fair amount of concentration and patience,” he said. One NY statuette takes about an hour.

    A hobbyist in crafting from wood, Chuck decided to advance his pastime into a business two years ago. “The figurines are the smallest items I make,” he said. “I also build custom mailboxes and whirligigs, but my favorite things to build are the covered wagons, buckboards and stagecoaches.” (see photos)

    In the New York State Fair parade in Syracuse, Chuck enters his full-size stagecoach, with a handcrafted Pinocchio as the driver. As highlighted on his letterhead, his designs are “limited only by your imagination and physics.”

    And that’s no lie.

    (e-mail Chuck Nepage at


    0 (0 Ratings)

    More NY logos or Mickey Mouse ears?

    Monday, April 18, 2011, 4:55 PM [General]

    For those of you who have had the magical delight of visiting Disney World, you are familiar with the zillions of Mickey Mouse ears replicated around the various parks. EVERYTHING takes on the silhouette of Mickey ears –- from the giant roadside water tower nearest Magic Kingdom, to the meticulously groomed shrubbery nestled amongst the flawless landscaping; from the fun-to-eat pancakes at breakfast to the multi-colored lollipops in the gift shops.

    Mickey ears are everywhere.

    I figured a repeated logo of such magnitude existed nowhere else … until I stepped into Yankee Stadium. The Yanks may have trumped Disney in the logo department.

    A less-than-exciting nine innings during a Friday night Texas vs. New York game propelled me out of my blue stadium seat toward more interesting sights and sounds -– into the Yankees store. (Sorry, but shopping is more stimulating sometimes than baseball.)

    Now, having listened to hubby Ken Singleton talk baseball for over 20 years has introduced many a crazy “who cares?” stat which baseball delivers like no other sport. From monumental to trifling, stats are recorded, like the fact that Jarrod Saltalamacchia's name holds the record for the most alphabet letters of any Major Leaguer’s name in baseball history … or that the average life of a baseball in the Majors is six pitches. Things like that.

    So here's a stat Mrs. Singy would be curious to hear ... how many times is the NY logo replicated throughout Yankee Stadium? Certainly, the number would be unattainable, similar to attempting a count of sand grains on a beach, or how many times players touch their crotches during a game.

    NY logos are everywhere. Imprinted on EVERYTHING. From the jumbo photos in the Great Hall to the individual sugar pack sprinkled into my coffee in an attempt to warm up during that 47-degree game as I left my lime green Yankees jacket home.

    I'd venture to speculate that no place else exists as many logos under one roof. Might anyone like to start counting? It may take a few years.

    Now that would make a good stat.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Playing as an African-American in the 60's

    Monday, April 18, 2011, 1:03 PM [General]

    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 Brooklyn 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."

    3.7 (1 Ratings)

    The new home of Mrs. Singy

    Monday, April 18, 2011, 12:47 PM [General]

    Welcome to the new home Mrs. Singy: Married to Baseball.

    Mrs. Singy has been blogging with the YESNetwork since April 2009. To view her archived blog entries, simply click here.

    0 (0 Ratings)

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