In “A Tale of Two Cities,” Charles Dickens proclaimed, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” But a modern version of his novel (albeit called “A Tale of Two Boroughs”!) could be written about the professional baseball teams of Brooklyn and Queens.
Let’s start with the worst of times — and for that we travel up the Jackie Robinson Parkway, where the underachieving Mets are below .500, the team is crumbling faster than Shea Stadium, and manager Willie Randolph (until this week’s firing, of course) had to keep one eye on the field and the other peeking at the guillotine above his neck.
After letting Randolph squirm for weeks, the Mets flew him to California, allowed him to manage a Monday win over the Angels, and then dropped the blade on him in a hotel room after midnight.
Even though the team was apparently seeking to avoid bad publicity, the Mets’ cruelty to Randolph created a public-relations disaster of epic proportions.
Now for the best of times: Against the backdrop of the Mets debacle, the team in Brooklyn took the field on June 14 for its annual open workout for the media and the faithful — and the event demonstrated that the 15 miles separating Shea Stadium and Keyspan Park sometimes comprise an unspanable chasm.
While the Mets’ situation has become public spectacle, the Cyclones’ prospects for the 2008 season have the public abuzz.
After last season’s cataclysmic collapse, one in which the division-leading Mets lost a seven-game lead with only 17 games left in the season, the Mets’ organization has been excoriated for over eight months.
This season’s poor start has given talk radio fodder to rip the Mets’ farm system for the perceived inability of the team to call up ready reserves from the minors.
With new CitiField opening next April, the Mets want to make the 2008 season memorable — and sell plenty of tickets to their new joint. Here’s where Brooklyn can benefit: The Cyclones can take some of the heat off the big club.
If the Brooklyns roll over the New York-Penn League in the regular season, the negative talk about the Mets’ farm system will evaporate. Should Brooklyn go on to take the league championship, the Met organization will get even more positive publicity.
Could it be that the Mets will load up Brooklyn with talent this year instead of at Savannah, the next rung up the ladder, and a far-off place to which the Mets are not likely to establish any long-term connection?
Last year, Brooklyn went 49-24 in the regular season, and made the championship series (though the Brooks lost in two games to Auburn).
But remember, these are the best of times for Brooklyn: “The talent on this year’s team is far better than on last year’s club,” said returning Cyclones manager Edgar Alfonzo.
Particularly strong is the infield. Third baseman Zach Lutz broke a bone in his foot in last year’s Opening Night and missed the entire season. The 2007 Division III National Player-of-the-Year is back for a second try, looking stronger than ever. Indeed, he was the offensive star on Opening Day, driving in two of the Cyclones’ three runs.
Apparently temporarily bothered by a sore elbow, Reese Havens will be at shortstop. The first-round draft pick hit .359 at South Carolina University and slugged 18 homers this year.
Second base features Josh Satin who hit .379 and blasted 18 homers for the University of California-Berkeley last season.
At first, if he signs a contract, will be Ike Davis, son of former big league pitcher Ron Davis. Another first-round pick, Davis is a lefty hitter who hit .385 with 16 homers and 76 RBI for Arizona State last season. Davis, negotiating for big bucks, is a big talent.
With this infield, the lineup should be first rate, but how about the hurlers?
Coach Hector Berrios is starting his fifth year as pitching guru — and he’s has had the Cyclones in the top three in team ERA every year he’s been in Brooklyn.
This year, the talent should make his job easy: Brad Holt, a first-round pick, will join a squad that includes Pedro (no relation) Martinez and relievers Wendy Rosa and Yury Santana.
So don’t worry, Cyclone fans, about the “Tale of Two Boroughs” going on between Queens and Brooklyn. For Keyspan Park regulars, it really is the best of times.
Each week, Ed Shakespeare, the bard of Brooklyn baseball, will take a page from his ancient ancestor and add a bit of iambic pentameter to all our lives. This week’s contribution is called “Clean Slate”:
The season starts, the slate begins so clean.
The squad returns a few, though most are new.
From Kingsport or drafted, hustling on the scene.
They’re starting fresh, and so, dear friend, are you.