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Touring the minors: Brooklyn

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Next up on our trip is Brooklyn, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones!

MCU Park
MCU Park
Steve Sypa

“Home To Everyone From Everywhere,” Brooklyn has roughly 2.6 million residents, which would make it third-most populous city in the United States, after Los Angeles and Chicago, if it were its own city. While Brooklyn was indeed its own, it merged with the City of New York in 1898 to become one of New York’s five boroughs. The second-largest borough, with an area of 91 square miles, Brooklyn is a diverse crosshatch of cultures, with Italians, Irish, Jews, Russians, African-Americans, Chinese, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Mexicans, West Indians, and others all having deep roots in the community.

Organized baseball has been present in Brooklyn since the sport first organized, and many important instances in the development of the game happened in the borough. Of the many teams that played in Brooklyn, amateur and professional, none would be more important that the Dodgers. Formed in 1883, the team played in a variety of different leagues and went by a variety of monikers: the Greys, due to their grey uniforms; the Bridegrooms, due to six of their players getting married during the 1888 season; the Superbas, inspired by the Hanlon Brothers’ acrobatic troupe and theatrical productions in the mid-19th and early 20th centuries; the Robins, due to the guidance of manager Wilbert Robinson; the Trolley Dodgers, a somewhat disparaging term of Brooklynites used by residents of Manhattan, who did not have to worry about the hazards of trolleys as most in the borough had been replaced by underground subways; and finally, the Dodgers.

It cannot be understated how much the Dodgers meant to Brooklyn. There has perhaps never been as much ink spilled discussing the relationship between team and city than there has discussing the relationship between the Dodgers and the city of Brooklyn. Simply put, the Dodgers were Brooklyn. Over the years, in all of their different names and incarnations, the Dodgers won numerous pennants and championships, winning the National League pennant in 1890, 1899, 1900, 1916, 1920, 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955, and 1956, and winning the World Series in 1955.

More important than any banners or championship trophies is what took place on April 15, 1947. In front of a crowd of 26,263, Jack Roosevelt Robinson hit a grounder to third base, which was promptly fielded. With his at-bat, he became the first African-American to play in an organized Major League Baseball game since Moses Fleetwood Walker, and the first to play since Cap Anson successfully pressured clubs to put in place an informal color line.

In 1957, the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles. Faced with declining profits due to dwindling ticket sales, an Ebbetts Field that was in dire need of improvements, and a foil in city powerbroker Robert Moses, owner Walter O’Malley was successfully wooed by the Los Angeles city council, who promised him whatever he wanted. The people of Brooklyn did what they could to stop their beloved Dodgers from leaving, but in the end there was nothing they could do. O’Malley took the Dodgers with him, and while his profit margins improved, he earned the ire of roughly 2.6 million men and women. A common joke made the rounds that is repeated even today by old-timers and those raised by their stories: “Hitler, Stalin and O’Malley are in a room and you have a gun with two bullets: who do you shoot? O’Malley, twice!”

Baseball had been the glue of Brooklyn. Many fans continued following the Dodgers from afar, in the newspapers. Many fans begrudgingly began following the Yankees, the only team left in town. In 1962, many became Mets fans, especially with the early teams playing up their Dodgers roots by acquiring many Boys of Summer veterans. But in Brooklyn itself, the only baseball remained in schools, and on the patches of green dotting the borough where little league teams made their homes.

In 1999, Rudy Giuliani announced that he had acted as an intermediary between the Steinbrenner and Wilpon families and the two sides had brokered a deal that would bring not one, but two minor teams to the city. The Yankees moved their Short-A affiliate to Staten Island, creating the Staten Island Yankees. The Mets moved their Short-A affiliate to Queens, creating the Queens Kings. The Kings were only a temporary placeholder, though.

The team would move to Coney Island. Shortly after taking office in 1994, Giuliani had brokered a deal to construct a minor league on the site of the old Steeplechase Park- a lot that had remained undeveloped since the 1960s, when Fred Trump purchased the property and destroyed the Steeplechase Pavilion of Fun due to continuous litigation between private entities and the City of New York. A “Name the Team” contest received thousands of entries, with “Sweat Hogs”, “Hot Dogs”, “Honeymooners” and “Bums” among the finalists. But one entry was more popular than the others and perfectly encapsulated the essence the team was looking to capture: “Cyclones.” “This was intended to be a Minor League logo for a Major League market,” said Todd Radom, a graphic designer who was hired to help develop the Cyclones’ imagery. “It made sense to go with something refined and classy.”

Since 2001, the Cyclones have made the New York-Penn League playoffs numerous times. In their inaugural season, the team went 52-24 and were declared New York-Penn League co-champions along with the Williamsport Crosscutters after the season was ended prematurely due to 9/11. In 2003, they beat the Oneonta Tigers in the semifinals but lost to the Williamsport Crosscutters in the finals. In 2004, they lost to the Tri-City ValleyCats in the semifinals. In 2006, they lost to the Staten Island Yankees in the semifinals. In 2007, they beat the Staten Island Yankees in the semifinals but lost to the Auburn Doubledays in the finals. In 2009, they lost to the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in the semifinals. In 2010, they beat the Jamestown Jammers in the semifinals but lost to the Tri-City ValleyCats in the finals. In 2011, they lost to the Staten Island Yankees in the semifinals. In 2012, they lost to the Hudson Valley Renegades in the semifinals. In 2019, they defeated the Lowell Spinners to win their first solo New York-Penn League championship.

The Cyclones play at MCU Park, formerly known as Keyspan Park. Since opening in 2001, the stadium has received near universally praise from fans, journalists and baseball insiders. Located on the Coney Island boardwalk, the park overlooks the Atlantic Ocean, with a view of the Wonder Wheel and Cyclone in left field and the Parachute Jump in right field. The stadium has an official capacity of 7,000, with up to 2,500 tickets in bleacher and standing room only available daily. Prior to the 2013 season, the field was made up of natural grass, but in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and the flooding damage that was done to the stadium, MCU Park was changed to artificial turf.

The stadium offers numerous classic baseball food options, but with Nathan’s- located just a block away- providing most fares, they are better than what can be found in your run-of-the-mill minor league ballpark. Brooklyn-based restauranteurs Arancini Brothers offer more gourmet options. Vegan and kosher options are available at dedicated food stands as well. Local beers from Brooklyn Brewery and Coney Island Brewing Company are on tap, as well as options from less-local New York State Brewers Association breweries. Nathan’s is just a block away if you’re looking for a pre/after-game snack, and three of the best pizzarias in the world, Grimaldi’s, Totonno’s, and Spumoni Garden’s are all within walking distance.

Since 2001, their inaugural season, Sandy the Seagull has cheered on the Cyclones. Born that same year, Sandy fell out of his family’s nest in the Parachute Jump and was nursed back to health by construction workers building Keyspan/MCU Park. He grew up in a family of baseball loving birds and was an obvious choice when Cyclones officials asked him to be their mascot. His father was extremely proud, but perhaps even more proud was his grandfather, who grew up in Flatbush and had a nest in a telephone pole right next to Ebbets Field. Over the years, Sandy has seen and been involved in many great Cyclones moments, including his own bar mitzvah, which took place on Jewish Heritage Night on June 23, 2013.

During the winter of 2003, workers renovating the Parachute Jump discovered a seagull egg hidden at the base of the Brooklyn landmark. After they were unsuccessful in finding the eggs’ parents, they contacted the Cyclones for assistance. Sandy- still not a man, as his bar mitzvah would not be for another decade- took care of the egg over the next few months. Finally, that June, it hatched, giving birth to Pee Wee, who Sandy took under his wing as team mascot.

In addition to Sandy and Pee Wee, Cyclones games are emceed by King Henry. A season-ticket holder since 2001, the Bensonhurst native initially wore his regalia to games to drum up business and interest in his children’s entertainment business, King Henry Entertainment, but eventually became a fixture at games to the point that he was hired by the organization.