It’s always an exciting moment when — after an interminable wait through winter and spring — a family gets to once again open up its summer house.
This time it wasn’t a beach cottage at Breezy Point, but a spot just across the water at Keyspan Park, and the family was one comprised of Cyclone fans, but the joyous anticipation towards the summer was there on Saturday evening as about 100 fans attended the first public work-out for the 2007 Cyclones.
Yet the opening of the summer house reminded fans of the shuttering of Brooklyn baseball’s previous summer retreat — Ebbets Field, which actually was razed in 1960, but was psychically demolished after the Dodgers’ final home game on Sept. 24, 1957.
And though this season is the 50th anniversary of the Bums’ final Brooklyn campaign, the return of Edgar Alfonzo as Brooklyn’s manager brings back more recent memories — those of the 2001 season in which Alfonzo guided Brooklyn to a 55-25 overall record and a share of the New York- Penn League’s championship with Williamsport — as the season abruptly ended after 9-11.
This theme of return extends to more than Alfonzo. The Mets brass also brought back former Cyclone players, as 10 players on the opening roster were Brooklyn veterans.
In a league in which teams typically return only three to five players from previous seasons, the large number of returnees gives the Cyclones’ roster a boost, since playing in front of 8,000 fans a night can be daunting for players accustomed to much smaller crowds in college or the lower minors. In addition, adjusting to Brooklyn crowds requires some time, since the Keyspan Park crowds are unique in their knowledge of baseball, their vociferous cheering, and yes, even their booing (home team not excepted).
Six of the returnees are pitchers: right-handers David Koons, Greg Mullins, and Nick Waechter, and left-handers Todd Privett, Grady Hinchman, and Josh Appell, with Hinchman and Appell returning after spending parts of the past two seasons in Brooklyn.
Hinchman is a fan favorite because of his friendly personality and playing intensity — and he also happens to have been born in the same hometown, Anderson, Indiana, as was former Dodger pitching great Carl Erskine.
At 25, Hinchman is old by league standards, but he doesn’t look at being back in Brooklyn as a career roadblock, but rather he views it as an opportunity.
“Down in extended spring training, the coaches have been working with me on my arm slot, on going back to pitching from a three-quarters angle rather than as I was last year, which was lower — almost sidearm,” said Hinchman, whose one no-hit inning in Tuesday’s home opener was marred only by a hit-batsman.
“Brooklyn will be a good place for me to get plenty of work on my new motion.”
The other two-year Cyclone pitching veteran, Josh Appell, is similarly enthusiastic about another season on the beach.
“I learned so much in extended spring training this year, and I’ll get a chance to try it out in Brooklyn” said Appell.
“You’ll really get scrutinized here [Keyspan Park] because the Mets are so close. This way, If I pitch well, I could get a promotion up to St. Lucie [a high-A team] next season.”
In addition to the half dozen pitching veterans, the Mets have sent four position players back to Brooklyn: catcher/infielder Jason Jacobs, infielder Jake Eigsti, and outfielders Will Vogel and Ender Chavez.
Jacobs was a New York-Penn League all-star at catcher in 2006, but he’ll catch and play a variety of infield positions this year.
Chavez is a popular Cyclone who played for Brooklyn during the 2002 and 2003 seasons. The younger brother of Mets star Endy Chavez, Ender, 26, is back in the Mets’ organization after the Washington Nationals’ dropped him.
“I had passport problems, and I became a free-agent, and then the Mets signed me,” said the ever-smiling Cyclone veteran.
“I can get games here in Brooklyn, and get my timing ready — and also help the Cyclones.”
Of course, the Cyclones aren’t all returnees.
The Mets’ highest-drafted position player this year is Zach Lutz, drafted in the fifth round. He’s a third baseman from Alvernia College, a Division III school in Reading, Pennsylvania — Phillies’ country. But Lutz doesn’t always go with the crowd.
“I was always a Mets’ fan,” he admitted.
A hard-nosed player with a sweet swing loved by the Mets brass, Lutz could have attended many Division I schools, yet was successfully recruited by Alvernia’s coach.
What was the coach’s secret?
“He’s my father,” said Lutz.
Alas, Lutz reinjured a twisted ankle in the home opener on Tuesday and hobbled off the field. For now, he’s day to day.
Lutz isn’t the only newcomer creating a buzz.
Raul Reyes, a 20-year-old outfielder up from last season’s Kingsport club, is attracting attention for his hitting potential.
And Ed Kunz, a reliever pitching in the College World Series for Oregon State, could sign with the Mets and become Brooklyn’s closer.
So the signs look good for the Cyclones’ season.
Remember, the Mets’ owner, Fred Wilpon, a former Brooklynite, is very aware Dodger lore, and he may want to help Brooklyn to win a championship 50 years after the Dodgers’ last stand in Brooklyn. Hence, the return of Alfonzo and the host of veteran players.
That prospect was in the air when the summer house was opened.
After all, as Alfonzo recently noted, “Fred Wilpon has a warm spot in his heart for Brooklyn.”
It can only help when the landlord loves the summer place.
Each week, Ed Shakespeare will offer games notes in the iambic pentameter style of his famous forebear. Here is this week’s entry:
The past returns, the boys of summer flings.
And Fonzie’s back to teach the kids some things.
©2007 Community News Group
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