(Long Island, NY) When the New York Mets placed one of their minor league teams in Coney Island in 2001, everyone knew it was a brilliant idea. But the team’s success on and off the field since then has even surpassed those hopes and dreams. As the team gets ready for its sixth season in Brooklyn, the anticipation is rising and will come full head on June 20th when the Cyclones host their chief rivals and defending NYPL champions, the Staten Island Yankees.
The New York-Penn League is considered a short season Single-A level that begins in June after the Major League Baseball college draft. The season is only 76 games, and that poses a problem for me. Keyspan Park is perhaps the most enjoyable location to watch a minor league baseball game and to only utilize it for 38 home games doesn’t seem right. The place is packed every game, including the bleacher seats in right field, which were added during the first season. The team averages close to 8,000 fans per game, an amazing number in the minors.
Having longed for professional baseball since the Dodgers abandoned them following the 1957 season, Brooklynites could not wait for America’s Pastime to return to their borough. Starting on that opening home game and right until the end of last season, every Cyclones game is an event. If you have never attended one, you are doing yourself a disservice. The scenic ballpark is located right in front of the famous boardwalk, which is visible along with the Atlantic Ocean over the right and centerfield fence. The Parachute Ride is also right there to remind us that we are definitely in Coney Island. Over the left field fence, the ride that gave the team their name, the Cyclone, can be seen giving riders a thrill. And don’t forget the Wonder Wheel, which is over in the same direction.
There is no better sight to see than when the sun is setting over the beach, the lights from the rides are illuminated, and a baseball game is taking place at the same time. Just like that old television commercial told us, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”
The team has been very successful, never finishing below .500 in each of their first five seasons. They were crowned league co-champions in the inaugural 2001 season, and have won the McNamara Division three times, resulting in three playoff appearances. Many familiar faces have either managed or coached the team over the years. Former Mets Howard Johnson, Bobby Ojeda, Tim Tuefel and Mookie Wilson have been teaching the new ‘Boys of Summer’ the tricks of the trade. The list of Cyclone alumni to make the major leagues include Danny Garcia, Matt Watson, Lenny DiNardo, Franklin Nunez, Scott Kazmir, Joe Hietpas, Justin Huber, Angel Pagan and Brian Bannister.
The Cyclones have also given homage to their Brooklyn roots. Located in the lower level of the stadium is the Brooklyn Baseball Gallery. It is like a mini Cooperstown for the Dodgers. There are actual seats from Ebbets Field, the uniform worn by Johnny Podres when he pitched the complete game victory in game seven at Yankee Stadium of the 1955 World Series to give the Dodgers their only championship in Brooklyn, numerous photos and team apparel, and so much more. And members of the Brooklyn Dodgers have made appearances over the years at the ballpark as well. Duke Snider, Joe Pignatano and Ralph Branca have heard the cheers from the fans just as they did back at Ebbets Field.
This season, a statue stands just outside the entrance to the ballpark of Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson. The two late, great Dodgers are remembered in a pose that took place on the field in May of 1947 during a game in Cincinnati. Taunts and boos reigned from the crowd at Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier that April. Reese walked over and put his arm around Robinson’s shoulders in a show of support. It is one of the more famous scenes from a game that is full of them. An excellent choice for a monument.
Another season in Brooklyn. Play ball