The roar of the roller coaster can be heard on a 90 degree summer night in Coney Island. There’s little to no breeze coming in from beyond the boardwalk, not on this night.
Once one walks beyond the Amusement Park rides, the sweet crackling sound of a bat connecting with a baseball can be heard. The cheers, and sometimes jeers, of an entertained crowd of thousands fill the air surrounding MCU Park.
It’s a picture-perfect night for America’s pastime, as the Brooklyn Cyclones take the field.
“It’s a great day for a ballgame; let’s play two” – Ernie Banks
Brooklyn’s opponent, the Staten Island Yankees, came into this three-game series having their number at home. The Cyclones had lost seven straight home games to the Baby Bombers. Then 20-year old Thomas Szapucki impressed in his Cyclones debut, tossing 5.1 innings of shutout baseball while striking out eight Yankees, to help finally snap the streak.
On this night, thanks to a rainout the night before, fans of the Brooklyn Cyclones were treated to a double header. Brooklyn took both games to complete a three-game series sweep of their cross-bridge rivals.
In the nightcap, Brooklyn took advantage of a Staten Island error in the bottom of the seventh that tied the game, before walking off with a thrilling win thanks to first baseman Pete Alonso’s sacrifice fly.
The series win, which moved them back to the .500 mark, could be a key turning point in the season for the Cyclones.
In the locker room, afterwards, the music was loud and the energy was up. The night was capped off by a fireworks display for the fans that remained behind. Across the hall, Cyclones Manager Tom Gamboa, a baseball lifer and well-respected throughout the sport, welcomed in the media with an enthusiasm reserved for talking about the pride he felt for his young players and their gritty play.
For well over a decade, the Brooklyn Cyclones have helped send more than their fair share of players to the Major Leagues. The Short-Season A minor league baseball team of the New York Mets have been giving fans a glimpse into the future since their opening season in 2001.
Current Mets who are former Cyclones include Wilmer Flores, Michael Conforto, Juan Lagares, Lucas Duda, Hansel Robles, and Kevin Plawecki.
This season is no different, and 2016 Mets’ draft picks two through five, (Alonso, third baseman Blake Tiberi, second baseman Michael Paez, and shortstop Colby Woodmansee) are seeing playing time as starting infielders for Brooklyn.
Pitcher Justin Dunn, the Mets first round draft pick, dazzled fans in his first professional start, a Cyclones win over the Aberdeen Iron Birds.
Colby Woodmansee, at 6’3”, may have the look of a young Derek Jeter with the glove. Woodmansee, through 31 games played this season, is third on the team in hitting with a .283 batting average. He leads the team in hits with 34 and is beginning to open eyes and turn heads. Gamboa, however, thought of another retired Major Leaguer who happened to also be pretty good in his day.
“The last player I managed like him, would be Travis Fryman,” Gamboa said. “They’re both built alike and their skill set is very similar.”
Fryman’s 13-year career, with the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians, produced impressive statistics. The shortstop hit for a career .274 batting average while finishing with 223 home runs. Fryman was also a five-time All-Star.
That’s a pretty good standard for Woodmansee to strive for. It’s also something not lost on Gamboa.
“I’m hoping that Woody will get on a weight program,” Gamboa said of Woodmansee. “And put on a few pounds and get stronger because he certainly has the possibility of having power like Fryman did if he adds some strength to his frame.”
Gamboa has also been impressed with the performance of second round draft pick Pete Alonso, specifically the power in his bat. The 21 year-old, 6’3” 225-pound slugger, leads the team in hitting with a .328 batting average.
“Someone asked me the other day when have you last managed someone with his kind of power,” said Gamboa.” In 2005, when I was with the Angels, I had Mike Napoli, who hit 37 bombs to lead the Texas League in home runs. Alonso is like Napoli, they have out of the stadium power, not just over the fence, from pole to pole. That’s why he was drafted in the second round, he’s a potential impact bat for the Mets.”
The Cyclones have been rolling as of a late, they’ve won their last five games, seven of their last 10. Brooklyn, at 20-19, are now just three games behind the first-place Hudson Valley Renegades in the McNamara division.
“We’ve played very well of late,” Gamboa said after Brooklyn’s series win over Staten Island. “Pitching and defense. Better hitting, better at bats.
This is a fun team to watch, they play the game hard all nine innings.
Their gritty play and hustle has been a key in their recent winning streak. Gamboa, when it comes to leadership, is as steady as they come.
While the Mets continue their pursuit of a return trip to the postseason, the pipeline from Brooklyn to Queens appears to be just as strong as the roar of a Coney Island roller coaster.