The bond between Brooklyn and baseball might be the strongest bond that the sport has with any group of people on the face of this planet. Owing very much to the borough being home roughly two millions émigrés between 1890 and 1940, and the historical notion that understanding America's game was one of the pathways to truly become American, immigrants dedicated themselves to not only understanding, but actively following baseball. The recipient of their fandom? The Brooklyn Dodgers, a team that was as multicultural as the borough, a team that was as blue collar as the borough, a team that was as human and flawed as the people of Brooklyn.
In the late 1950s, the perfect storm of politics, greed, and pig-headedness took the Dodgers away from the people of Brooklyn, ripping a giant hole in the heart of the people that not a single place of worship in the ‘borough of churches' could heal. Our lovable Metsies, born in the ashes of the Dodgers' move, filled the baseball void for many, but the relationship between team and people never grew as deep. The Mets played ‘all the way' in Queens. New players—especially in the wake of Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally effectively nullifying the Reserve Clause—did not immerse themselves in the borough, preventing the intimate relationship between player and fan as had been enjoyed by fans and the older players who were slowly retiring from the game. In short, the team they rooted for became simply a team they rooted for, not a part of the community.
All that changed in 1999, when Sterling Equities purchased the St. Catherine Stompers, the NY-Penn League affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. The City of New York, already investing millions in the revitalization of numerous neighborhoods within the city, including Coney Island and the St. George neighborhood of Staten Island, agreed to allocate $110 million dollars in public funds to develop and build a stadium for the new minor league affiliate of both the Mets and the Yankees—who were also interested in bringing their own affiliate to the city—contingent upon both sides agreeing to not to veto the other side for overlapping territorial rights. The Stompers were moved to Queens, where they were renamed the ‘Queens Kings' and played at The Ballpark at St. John's University for the 2000 season. At the end of the year, the Blue Jays terminated their relationship with the team and former mayor Rudolph Giuliani announced that a new stadium would be build on the site of the former Steeplechase Park, paving the way for Cyclones to be born.
With the umpire's command to "play ball" at roughly 2:00 pm last Tuesday, the Brooklyn Cyclones played their 1,000th game (and fittingly, in typical Cyclones humor, tickets were free to anyone attending the game who was 1,000 or older). In the fourteen years since Fred Wilpon's dream of returning baseball to Brooklyn was realized, the Cyclones have gone 593-407. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and given that it had been nearly a half-century since the last time professional baseball had been played in the borough, the men and women of Brooklyn had a lot of catching up to do. Almost 300,000 fans cycled through the turnstiles of what was then Keyspan Park in 2001- 289,381 to be exact, a league attendance record- in 2001, and they've continued packing the house ever since, leading the NY-Penn League in attendance for thirteen straight seasons and counting. As their marketing campaign correctly identified, ‘the Cyclones ARE Brooklyn'.
In those 1,000 games, we've experienced the highest of highs, the lowest of lows, and everything in between:
- June 25, 2001: In their first home game, the Cyclones got things started with a bang. After eight innings, Brooklyn found themselves trailing 2-0 going into the 9th inning. Two outs and down to his final strike, Edgar Rodriguez belted a two-run home run to tie the game, sending the sold out crowd of 7,500 into a frenzy. In the 10th, Mike Jacobs hit a deep fly ball into left to score Leandro Arias, notching the Cyclones' very first victory.
- September 10, 2001: In their inaugural season, the Cyclones made it to the NY-Penn League Championship Series, facing off against the Williamsport Crosscutters in a best-of-three series. The Cyclones won the first game 8-4, and seemed poised to take home the gold, but the terrorist attack the very next day threw everything in array. With baseball very much not at the forefront of anyone's mind, Brooklyn and Williamsport were declared co-champions and the season brought to an abrupt end.
- August 2002: Scott Kazmir made his highly anticipated professional baseball debut. The left-hander lived up to expectations, dominating his NY-Penn League competition in the 18 innings/5 starts he pitched with the team. He allowed a single earned run, good for a .50 ERA, and walked seven to an eye-popping 34 strikeouts, holding hitters to a .089 BAA. Kazmir went on to be named the 11th best prospect in all of minor league baseball by Baseball America going into 2003 as a result.
- September 2, 2003: The Cyclones saw their first alumnus graduate to the MLB, as Danny Garcia was called by the Mets. The second baseman went 2-4 in his MLB debut, a 3-1 win against the Atlanta Braves. He would go on to hit .214/.274/.357 in the rest of his 19 game cup of coffee.
- July 23, 2005: In a special day for Brooklyn more than the Cyclones themselves, the team hosted 50th anniversary festivities before the scheduled game to celebrate the Brooklyn Dodgers' 1955 World Series championship. On hand were pitchers Carl "Oisk" Erskine, Clem Labine, and Ed Roebuck, outfielder George "Shotgun" Shuba, and Joan Lombardi-Hodges, the widow of Dodgers and Mets Hall of Famer Gil Hodges.
- July 20, 2006: The Brooklyn Cyclones and the Oneonta Tigers played the longest game in NY-Penn League's 70-year history, a 26-inning game that took almost seven hours to play to completion. After running out of pitchers- starters and relievers- right fielder Mark Wright to pitch. Though he pitched a scoreless frame in the 25th, the Tigers touched him up for five runs. In the bottom of the inning, the Cyclones- mercifully- were unable to score five of their own, and lost 6-1. Manager George Greer had the best seats in the house: he was ejected in the 1st inning arguing a close force play at second.
- September 7, 2007: The Cyclones broke the franchise and NY-Penn League attendance record by drawing 10,073 fans in a 5-4 win on Brooklyn Bridge "bobblehead" night, which also happened to be scheduled on a beautiful Friday night and the last night of prescheduled fireworks in Coney Island. With an official seating capacity of 7,501, the game drew an overage of some 2,572 attendees.
- June 19, 2008: Ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte of the Staten Island Yankees made his professional baseball debut, coming in brought in to pitch the ninth inning of a 7-2 Yankees blowout. With two outs, switch hitter Ralph Henriquez stepped to the plate. Henriquez and Venditte swapped which side they would hit/pitch from as to gain the platoon advantage, causing the other to switch which side he was hitting/pitching from. This went on for some time before the umpires intervened. Two weeks later, a new rule was written regarding how to handle similar situations in the future, known as the ‘Pat Venditte Rule'.
- July 24, 2008: Brad Holt struck out fourteen batters in only six innings in what would be an 8-1 victory. It was the second time the right-hander reached double-digit strikeouts in a game that year. He would go on to end the season with a 1.87 ERA in 72.1 IP/14 GS, issuing 33 walks and striking out 96. He would be named the 94th best prospect in all of minor league baseball by Baseball America going into 2009 as a result.
- August 23, 2009: Brandon Moore threw the first no-hitter in New York Mets franchise history as the Cyclones beat the Aberdeen IronBirds 5-0. The 23-year-old right-hander walked three, fanned six, and hit a batter in the seven-inning contest.
- October/November 2012: Hurricane Sandy made landfall in the region, leaving pain and devastation in its wake. New York City did not escape her wrath, and in particular, the low-lying, beach community of Coney Island was hit hard. Storm surge washed across the neighborhood, submerging it in the temporarily drawn in Atlantic Ocean. When the tides receded, MCU Park was a wreck. Everything at ground level, including stadium infrastructure and the field of play, was damaged. In the ensuing months, the facility was renovated, and the field paved over with artificial turf.
What are some of the moments that you recall most vividly regarding Brooklyn, baseball, and the Cyclones?