On Father's Day, Ken Singleton recalls his own dad's influence on his baseball careerHow one childhood moment led to two generations of pro Singletons
But for Singleton, it was more than a shared passion; as Ken recollects, without his father's influence early in life, he may never have gone on to have a standout 15-year career in the Major Leagues.
"My dad introduced me to baseball when I was 4 years old; it was on TV all the time. He used to pitch me the ball, and he could tell I could hit, so every time I hit, he would chase it," Singleton fondly recalls. "For him to get me on this lifelong journey, it's very close to me, and it made us very close. If there was nothing else to talk about, there was always baseball to talk about, even in the dead of winter."
But beyond just a game of catch or the like, Singleton's love truly blossomed when he was barely a kindergartener and his dad took him to his first game.
"He took me to a game at Ebbets Field; I was four or five years old," Singleton remembers. "We had black and white TV back then, and it struck me to see the color (on the field)."
And, even five decades later, Singleton vividly remembers that moment to the letter.
"It was a beautiful day, and we sat through a Dodgers-Phillies doubleheader," he remembered. "We sat in the upper deck over third base, and I was interested in every minute of that game; I wasn't fidgety. I can remember like it was yesterday."
As he grew up, Singleton developed quite the baseball pedigree, even in daily life. A self-professed New York Giants fan as a youngster, Ken grew up in a home in Mount Vernon that that was once owned by the family of Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca, learned to switch-hit by sometimes eschewing his natural lefty swing during stickball games to emulate those Giants players (including Willie Mays) who batted from the right side, and later played organized baseball at Macombs Dam Park, just across the street from Yankee Stadium.
As his adolescence went on, Singleton's father was unfortunately unable to see much of his son's talent, but one key moment as a teen brought their baseball relationship back full circle.
"My parents never got a chance to see me in Little League and Pony League because they were working. My dad knew I was a good player, but he never knew how good," Singleton remembers.
But that key moment came at one later game the elder Singleton did see, and it forged a decision that may have set Ken on the path to stardom once and for all.
"But I remember when my high school football coach wanted me to play, because he needed a wide receiver," Singleton said. "Right around then, my dad had gone to a summer league game in the Bronx, and he sat next to some scouts. He heard them say 'This kid has a chance,' and that was it. When the football coach came over to the house, my dad politely said 'He's playing baseball.'"
Singleton went on to do just that at Hofstra Unviersity, and days shy of his 20th birthday, the nearby Mets chose him with the No. 3 overall pick of the 1967 draft. He made his Major League debut with the "Amazins" three years later, and once he ended up in Baltimore in the mid-1970s, he wasn't the only Singleton in the stadium anymore.
"The payoff for (my parents) was after they retired; they moved to Baltimore, and got to see me every single day (when I was with the Orioles)," Singleton said. "That was the payoff for them, and later, they got to bring their grandkids, too."
And even though their father also was always working - this time, on the baseball field - those grandchildren, Justin and Matt Singleton, would share the national pastime and learn the love of the game from their old man, just as Ken had decades earlier…and history would repeat itself all the way through.
"My older son, Matt, played Little League, but he was never really into it," Singleton recalled, "but Justin, you could tell he was a good ballplayer. He is in his high school's Hall of Fame, had a hundred scholarship offers - letters from Harvard all the way on down. Of course, I didn't get to see him play much because I was working (as a Yankees broadcaster) in the summer, but I did get to see him in college because they started the season so early at Clemson."
But, in perhaps the ultimate "like father, like son" moment, Ken even got to fill the same role with Justin as a teen that his dad had with him.
"He played basketball and baseball, and the football coached wanted him, too, but Baseball America named Justin the No. 1 high school baseball player in the state of Maryland - so needless to say, Justin did not play football in high school," Singleton laughed.
Justin was drafted by Arizona out of high school - getting picked in the ninth round in 1997 - but he chose to go on and play at Clemson, and he would join the pro ranks as an amateur free agent in 2001, playing six seasons in the Blue Jays organization and reaching Triple-A in 2006 before concluding his career with a stint in the independent Atlantic League in 2007.
Someday, Justin or Matt Singleton may see their sons continue the family tradition of loving (and living) baseball, and as student-turned-teacher Ken summed up, that'll all be thanks to just one moment of parent-child bonding more than a half-century ago.
"I'm very thankful that my dad got me going in this game…it made us very close."