Cyclones to stay short-season

The flag is up, but the hopes are already dashed.

Borough President Marty Markowitz celebrated the Brooklyn Cyclones’ amazing 2001 season by raising the team’s New York-Penn League championship banner over Borough Hall Tuesday, but the joyous event was tinged with the bad news that the Cyclones will never be a full-season minor-league team.

“It is not going to happen,” team owner Jeff Wilpon said outside Borough Hall, without the hemming, hawing or wiggling that Cyclones fans have typically cited as undeniable evidence that the team would someday become a more major minor-league team.

Many fans believed that the success of the Cyclones last year — not just on the field, but in the stands, where almost every game was sold out — would convince management to lengthen the season to a full 120 games, rather than the mere 76 of short-season, class-A baseball.

And with the entire 2002 season already sold out, it’s clear that Cyclones fans are demanding more than a measly 36 home games. This year, there are 3,800 season-ticket holders, up from 2,400 last year. And even standing-room tickets have been pre-sold. For most games, the only seats available in the 8,500-seat Keyspan Park will be the 200 bleacher seats that the team is reserving for day-of-game sale.

The Cyclones’ season officially begins Tuesday with a road game against the Staten Island Yankees. The home opener is Wednesday, also against the Yankees, last year’s second-place finisher.

But even before the first pitch of the 2002 season has been thrown, Wilpon was as cheerful as a three-hour rain delay on the subject of giving the people of Brooklyn what they clearly want. Making the Cyclones a full-season team — even if they remained in the lowest level of the minors, class-A — would require approval of both the Yankees and the Mets and, Wilpon said, “Both organizations feel that short-season A is the right mix in the region.”

Cyclones Senior Vice President R.C. Reuteman was equally pessimistic. “We’re happy where we’re at right now,” he said. “Certainly, if we played more home games, more people would have a chance to see the team. But April and May are difficult in terms of weather in Coney Island. Would those games be slam-dunk sellouts? I don’t think so.”

So Cyclones fans will have to make do with less. But, if Markowitz is any indication, they’re doing it. At Tuesday’s ceremony, the beep showed that Borough Hall is finally friendly territory.

“Raising the championship flag over Brooklyn’s building today affirms without question that the Brooklyn Cyclones is indeed Brooklyn’s team,” Markowitz said, promising to be a regular presence at home games — quite unlike his no-show predecessor, Howard Golden.

Of course, this year’s Cyclones team will resemble last year’s champions only because they’ll be wearing the same uniforms. The reality of minor league baseball is that just as fans are beginning to be able to tell the players WITHOUT a scorecard, the player has been promoted to a higher-level team.

There may be a couple of familiar faces on this year’s team — a preliminary roster shows that injured infielder Edgar Rodriguez and outfielder John Toner will start the season in Brooklyn so they can get plenty of at-bats — but for the most part, fans will have to befriend a new crop of minor-leaguers, as well as a new manager.

Last year’s hitting coach, former Met legend Howard Johnson, now has the top job. In an interview, HoJo vowed that his Cyclones will be just as exciting as Edgar Alfonzo’s championship squad of last year.

“My [managing] style will be the way I played — aggressive,” Johnson said.

“We want our players to feel like we’re going to make things happen and push the limit.”

Johnson also hyped two players whom he thinks will be the stars of the 2002 Brooklyn Cyclones: Andres Rodriguez, a first-baseman who was hitting .291 at the Mets’ class-A team in Columbia, S.C., and Alhaji Turay, an outfielder who spent last year in the rookie league.

“Both of them have all the tools,” he said.

June 17, 2002 issue