Last Friday, just two days after visiting the quiet confines of Staten Island’s Richmond County Bank Ballpark, I once again hit the subway in order to visit a New York City-based Minor League Baseball team. In fact, let me recycle the same photo I used in the last post:
But whereas the route to Staten Island begins with the 1 train, the journey to Coney Island — home of the Brooklyn Cyclones — begins (and ends) with the F. The above is where it starts, and here, some 27 (!) stops later, is where it terminates.
Coney Island, baby! Smell that ocean breeze.
But you know what? 27 stops or not, Cyclones game or not, Coney Island is always worth the trip. Always. The neighborhood has had dramatic ups and downs through the years — and is currently in a state of flux — but its status as New York City’s summertime playground remains intact. As soon as one leaves the subway, you just feel it. This is Coney Island, and Coney Island is like no place else.
The mural below is courtesy of the controversial Thor Equities, who have initiated many development projects in the neighborhood. While it’s hard to argue with progress, to what extent will it obliterate Coney Island’s idiosyncratic charm?
One place that’s not going anywhere is the flagship location of Nathan’s Hot Dogs. 96 years as a neighborhood anchor and still going strong!
The not-so-charmingly named MCU Park is located just down the street on Surf Avenue. Along the way, one walks by this scrappy Nathan’s competitor. From an aesthetic standpoint, this might be my favorite storefront in all of NYC.
This a busy time of year for all involved, and my communication with the team in the week leading up this ballgame was minimal. So, as had also been the case with Staten Island, I decided to attend this game more or less as a civilian. I picked up my tickets at will call, and received my ego boost of the evening when, after looking at my ID, Cyclones account executive Josh Hernandez said “I read your blog!” (I spend way too much time by myself in front of a computer. That kind of thing goes a long way).
Around the corner is the main entrance and — hey — what do you know? There were two people I knew standing there. The woman in the grey skirt, looking at the camera, is my cousin Jane. And the gentleman in the basketball jersey walking toward her is her boyfriend Jesse (who, rumor has it, once won a “best biceps in Brooklyn” competition). Those two will make a more substantial appearance in the “narrative” in just a moment.
Our seats were behind home plate, and when we mistakenly sat in the wrong section a friendly but aggressive usher immediately moved us over. He was just doing his job, but it was annoying to be stuck in the middle of row, disrupting people on both sides, when there was room elsewhere.
“Do you know who I am?” I felt like saying. “I’m a guy who spends most of his waking hours alone and in front of a computer screen!”
But they were good seats.
Soon after sitting down, Jane spotted a squadron of pom-pom wielding young ladies atop the first base dugout and incredulously asked me “Baseball has cheerleaders?!”
Usually, that answer is an emphatic “no.” But, Brooklyn being Brooklyn, Brooklyn has the Beach Bums. Here they are performing between innings.
But we weren’t there just to watch baseball. Or Beach Bums. Upon hearing of my “designated eater” concept (in which others eat the ballpark food that I, with celiac disease, can not) Jane had expressed prodigious interest. Jesse was on board as well.
The Cyclones lean heavily on Nathan’s iconic appeal, as nearly all of the concession stands put the focus on hot dogs and crinkle-cut fries.
My gluten-free options were limited, but certainly not non-existent. But as I was placing my order, Jane and Jesse decided that this was not the concession stand for them. The hot dogs didn’t have toppings!
They re-located to this nearby stand, whose line was far more manageable anyway.
I bade my time by watching this fan enthusiastically join in on another Beach Bums dance routine.
It was a beautiful atmosphere all around.
Finally, Jane and Jesse were ready to go: Nathan’s Dog’s with all of the fixings, with baseball in Brooklyn as the backdrop. It doesn’t get any more American than that!
These two made exceedingly quick work of their delicious frankfurters. And looked beautiful doing it.
Now it was my turn. Celiac disease might have me down when it comes to ballpark food options, but I’m never out! At first I kept things close to the vest.
But soon it was time for the big reveal. I had ordered my first-ever hot dog, sans bun! (An email to Nathan’s HQ had confirmed that the dogs themselves are gluten-free.)
A hot dog by its lonesome is an admittedly pathetic sight, and you don’t get any sort of discount for ordering one without the bun (but it certainly wasn’t a problem, as the friendly woman at the counter simply asked one of her colleagues to pluck a fresh one right off of the grill). But, here’s the thing — it tasted really, really good. I felt like I was eating a premium piece of beef jerky — crispy, salty, and well-spiced.
This led to a realization — the bun only gets in the way, and should one wish to be a true frankfurter connoisseur then it needs to be consumed in its naked state. Just as it would be pure folly to drink a fine single-malt scotch on the rocks, it is an unnecessary dilution of the gustatory experience to ensconce a lovingly crafted tubular meat product within a poorly defined lump of dough.
Am I on to something here, or are these merely the ravings of a poorly defined man ensconced in front of a keyboard? Please let me know!
After dinner, we decided to sit in some seats that allowed more room to move. We ensconced ourselves down the third base line, just in time to see a dance-off between Sandy the Seagull, a random fan, a Beach Bum, and on-field MC King Henry.
The fan won, of course, but it is King Henry that captured my attention.
The King has been a Cyclones staple since 2003, and on the team’s web site one learns that his real name is Guy Zoda and that he “has been a professional entertainer since 1989 specializing in family entertainment, business promotion and marketing.” He keeps things family-friendly, but nonetheless has an abrasive New York edge and always seems like he’s on the verge of going blue. (I could definitely envision King Henry as a cast member on Get A Life, hanging out with chain-smoking cop-turned-landlord Brian Doyle Murray, but that’s an obscure cultural reference for another day.)
The Cyclones do a great job of creating a colorful, anything goes environment (even though the pink gorilla I spotted on previous occasions was nowhere to be found). Here, mascot Sandy throws t-shirts off of the stadium’s second level.
Next up was the “Dime Big Deal” (not to be confused with the dime bag deal one can find outside on the boardwalk), in which a fan guesses which one of the four letters in “DIME” contains $500 in cash.
The fan was wrong.
And oh, wait, what? Pretty soon the game was over! How did that happen?
The Cyclones victory was followed by fireworks…
…which can be viewed both in and outside of the ballpark.
I soon bade farewell to the voracious hot dog eaters whose company had I enjoyed, but not before taking a picture in a most apropos location.
I meanwhile, lingered around a bit longer. For this was an atmosphere worth recording: Coney Island at 9:30 on a Friday night in the heart of the summer. There’s nothing like it.
Sideshows by the Seashore, located on Surf Avenue and West 12th and run by the eminently worthwhile organization Coney Island USA, is an absolute must-see diversion.
Especially if this guy is working the door.
Out of focus fireworks aftermath, taken with a fisheye lens effect. Photojournalism at its finest!
And, finally, there’s a reason that this team is called the Cyclones. Here it is, in all its neck-breaking glory.