July 17, 2004 / Sports / Brooklyn Cyclones / The Play’s the Thing

Brooklyn’s baseball ‘Babes’

The Brooklyn Paper
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Brooklyn baseball has long had its share of “Babes” — Babe Herman, Babe Phelps, Babe Dahlgren and even Babe Ruth, who was a coach with the Dodgers in 1938.

But the majority of Brooklyn’s “Babes” are women.

On Saturday, July 17, the Cyclones, in conjunction with the Ladies Home Journal, will celebrate that by conducting a baseball clinic for women at Keyspan Park from 11 am until 1 pm.

The participants will be the latest in a long line of women associated with professional baseball in Brooklyn.

The most prominent of these “Babes” is a woman who many consider to be one of the greatest athletes of all time. Babe Didrickson was an all-around superstar athlete. But on March 20, 1934, she entered the annals of Brooklyn baseball history by pitching in an exhibition game involving the Brooklyn Dodgers. Didrickson pitched a scoreless inning against the Bums for the Philadelphia Athletics.

Another is a Dodger fan, Hilda Chester, who become more famous than some Dodger players … by cheering for the team. Peter Golenbock’s book “Bums: An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers,” relates how Chester loved the Dodgers, worked at Ebbets Field as a professional peanut sacker, and also attended games as a fan, screaming encouragement for the Dodgers.

After Chester suffered a heart attack, her doctor forbade her screaming, so to compensate she rapped a ladle against a frying pan, and later used a cowbell, to make noise.

Around the same time that Chester was making her cowbell noise, Effa Manley was making noise as the only female owner in the history of the Negro Leagues. She and her husband, Abe Manley, started a Negro League team in Brooklyn, the Eagles. The team played in Ebbets Field in 1935 before the team moved to Newark the next year where they survived through 1948, eventually sending pitcher Don Newcombe to the Dodgers.

Author Marianne Moore, born in St. Louis, Mo., in 1887, lived in Fort Greene for 30 years. The winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1952 for her book “Collected Poems,” Moore was a devoted Dodgers fan, and was frequently at Ebbets Field cheering on the team. Her poem “Hometown Piece for Messrs. Alston and Reese” celebrated the Dodgers’ World Series triumph in 1955.

So Brooklyn women were involved in baseball in the capacity of pitcher, peanut sacker, pioneer, and poet, but what about players? Did Brooklyn women actually play professional baseball? You bet! Bea Chester, Blanche Schachter, and Betty Trezza played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, a league whose history was portrayed in the movie “A League of their Own.”

Now let’s fast forward to present. How about the women fans of the Cyclones? A consensus estimates that 35 percent of the fans at Keyspan Park are female, so who are some of these current Brooklyn baseball babes?

One is Donna Byrnes, 42, a lifelong Brooklyn resident now residing in Bay Ridge, and a season ticket holder with her husband, Don. Donna played baseball for St. Anselm’s Grammar School in Bay Ridge, and later played co-ed softball for the Brooklyn Egg Creams.

Donna attends almost all the Cyclones home games. In addition, Donna and Don travel to see other teams in the Mets farm system, where they renew acquaintances with former Cyclones. This season they have visited with Cyclones alumni at Norfolk, Va., and at upstate Binghamton. They also travel to the New York Mets Florida spring training facility in Port St. Lucie each year where they enjoy chatting with former Cyclones.

An amateur photographer, Donna has hundreds of photos of past and current Cyclones.

Is this done as an investment?

“My joy is taking a picture and getting it autographed,” explains Donna. “But it’s not done so we can sell the photos. We get the photos autographed because it makes the photo more personal, and it brings back memories of our trips.”

How does she feel about the Cyclones’ players?

“If five of these guys make the majors in the next few years, I’ll be happy,” notes Donna.

Why does she love baseball so much?

“To be honest, I wish I could be out there myself,” she said. “In my next life, I’m going to come back as a tall male, and I’m going to be a Hall of Famer.”

While some of the female Brooklyn fans are outgoing like Donna, some are more reserved, such as Burnley Duke Dame, a baby boomer from Park Slope. A Brooklyn resident since 1970, Burnley is a graphic artist and photographer who enjoys minor-league baseball and has been a season ticket holder since the inaugural 2001 season. She has never missed more than four home games in a season.

“I’ve talked to some of the other women fans and we want the team to win, but mainly we’re here to support these young guys who want something very much,” she said.

Burnley sits in Section 9, right behind the visitors’ dugout.

‘I like sitting here because from this spot I can watch the faces of our guys in their dugout,” adds Burnley.

While Burnley is a quiet fan, Mable Marzigliano, 51, of Bath Beach is just the opposite. She sits in Section 5 and cheers enthusiastically — and loudly — for her Cyclones. Born in Coney Island, Mable is a lifelong Brooklyn resident. But once in Keyspan Park, she’s not called Mable. There, she is called, “Monkey Lady.”

In 2001, Mable purchased two Cyclones caps and two Cyclones souvenir monkeys. “So I put the hats on backwards and put the monkeys on top of the hats and right away the kids started calling me “Monkey Lady,” she says.

“I have over a hundred monkeys and they all have names,” explains Mable. “Each night I wear about six or eight of them to the game. I need a place to store them, so I want my husband to build me a monkey house.”

The Cyclones’ women fans also include Dali Cincotta, 21, a Brooklyn resident. Dali also enjoys rooting for the players and, as a bilingual fan with a Puerto Rican heritage, Dali especially supports the Spanish-speaking players. In fact, her friend, Carmen Valentin, a former resident of Coney Island, used to host dinners at her home so that many of the Spanish-speaking Cyclones could enjoy some home cooking.

Former Cyclones such as Vladimir Hernandez, Edgar Rodriguez, Noel Devarez and Angel Pagan were some of the players who enjoyed dinner with Dali and Carmen.

Would Dali like to be involved in baseball herself?

“I’d like to be a baseball executive someday,” she says. “There are more opportunities now for women in the business part of baseball.”

Another young Cyclones fan is Samantha Vito, 12. She’s from Bensonhurst and attends games with her father.

“I played baseball for Saint Athanasius as a second baseman. I was the only girl on the team,” says Samantha.

Samantha won both the Most Improved Player and the Coaches Awards for her school team.

Samantha and her dad have season tickets in Section 16, near first base and, in the Cyclones’ inaugural season, Samantha gave Cyclones first baseman Jay Caligiuri a wristband to wear. The next day he hit a home run while wearing the wrist band, and he still has it at his home in California.

These are just a few of the Cyclones’ female fans. There are no plans to bring back the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, but if there were, would the revived Rockford Peaches wind up playing the Brooklyn Cheesecakes?

We’ll have to wait and see.

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