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.
As I mentioned in my recent post(s) on the Trenton Thunder experience, I’m going to make an effort for the remainder of the season to visit Minor League teams that are easily accessible from my New York City base of operations. And few teams, if any, are more accessible than the Staten Island Yankees. They’re just a ferry ride away!
So, this past Wednesday, I left the office a bit earlier than usual and made my way to Richmond County Bank Ballpark. From MLB Advanced Media’s Chelsea-based offices, this involves a ride on the 1 train from 14th street to the ferry terminal.
Len’s Papaya is a new addition to the terminal’s food and beverage choices. Amongst NYC’s wide array of papaya-referencing frankfurter purveyors, Len’s is pretty much a non-entity. But, still, I picked up a papaya drink for the ferry ride. I figured this could be a new tradition for me, as in the past I’d always bought a Budweiser at the ferry snack bar (beer is now off limits to me, due to the celiac disease).
Within 10 minutes I was on the Staten Island ferry, which doesn’t cost a thing! One of the reasons that I have always enjoyed SI Yanks games is because it provides an excuse to ride the ferry — a 1/2 hour excursion filled with wonderful aquatic vantage points. Even the though the weather was less than ideal (cloudy, with scattered rain showers earlier in the evening), I still enjoyed the scenery.
I always do.
I wasn’t expecting a big crowd, due to the mediocre weather, but I was still caught off-guard as the ferry approached Staten Island. It was 7:30 and the game was underway after a 15-minute delay, but very few people were in the stands.
It was going to be a quiet night indeed! The ballpark is, more or less, next door to Staten Island’s St. George ferry terminal. While there are certainly a portion of fans who have driven (or walked) to the stadium, those who have taken the ferry come across this entrance first.
This outfield entrance is THE first impression ferry-riders have of the facility, and not once over six years of attending games here have I ever seen that ticket window open. I find this indicative of a larger issue: for whatever reason, the SI Yanks don’t do much marketing to the city at large (one of the biggest and most diverse media markets in the entire world!).
And call me naive, but I don’t think that this is a tough sell: a Yankees affiliate, easily accessible via an outright fun public transit journey, competing in a beautiful facility that offers a skyline view of the greatest city in the world! 2012 marks the first year in which the team is under the ownership of Nostalgic Partners LLC and in a press conference announcing this Nick Tiller, one of the group’s partners, said “We think a lot of people don’t know the team exists, and we hope to change that.” I sincerely hope that they do! To a large extent my job is to be an advocate for Minor League Baseball, and I would love to be able to champion the SI Yanks as they make strides toward realizing their immense potential.
Multiple requests, via the team, to speak to the new owners went unanswered. That will be a story to pursue for another day, but for now, what I have is merely this slice of SI Yanks life on a damp but otherwise pleasant Wednesday evening in early August. This is simply me, as a fan, trying to convey the experience. Take it for what it is…
The main entrance, like most main entrances, is located in front of home plate. It’s a bit of a hike.
For those looking for will call, the hike continues.
Finally, access was obtained. Poor weather and underwhelming crowd aside, this remains a beautiful place to see a game.
The visibility of the Manhattan skyline was compromised somewhat by the clouds, but nonetheless a case could be made that this is one of the most scenic ballpark environments in Minor League Baseball.
The team’s mascot is the Phil Rizzuto referencing “Scooter the Holy Cow.” He originally had a halo perched above that big old hat of his, but at some point through the years it fell off.
The SI Yanks have expanded their concession options this season, including a nacho stand and, yes, even a sushi bar. But on this low-attended evening these options weren’t available. The third base concessions stand was operating at full-steam, but beyond that the stadium was more or less in shutdown mode.
I soon went into shutdown mode as well, sitting behind the first base dugout with NYC-based Minor League travelers Rex and Coco Doane (last seen in Winston-Salem). And while I have been frustrated regarding the SI Yanks’ marketing and media relations techniques (or lack thereof) through the years, one area in which they have always excelled is in-game entertainment. The between-innings games and contests are well-organized and staged with professionalism, and helped redeem an otherwise sluggish evening (the time of game was an agonizing 3:45, plus it started 15 minutes late).
When the game script calls for you to dance on the dugout, then you dance on the dugout — even if it’s 11 o’clock on a misty Wednesday night.
The Auburn Doubledays were victorious, doubling up the hometown team by a score of 10-5.
And from there, there was nothing to do but catch the 11:30 ferry back into Manhattan — another appropriately late night in the city that never sleeps.
But ample motivation to set foot in the so-called “forgotten borough” is provided in the form of the Staten Island Yankees, who have competed in the New York-Penn League since 1999. The team has played at Richmond County Bank Ballpark for the past 10 seasons, a waterfront facility located a proverbial stone’s throw from the Manhattan skyline.
The water plays a key role in the Staten Island Yankees experience, starting with how one gets there. This past Friday, my journey began at lower Manhattan’s South Ferry Terminal (accessible via multiple subway lines):
The stout vessel that I ended up boarding was the Samuel I. Newhouse, 310 feet long and capable of carrying 6000 passengers.
While there is ample seating, I prefer standing along one of the outside railings (after stopping for a drink at the snack bar).
Budweiser in the foreground, Lady Liberty in the back, America all the way:
The ferry provides ample opportunity to view the Statue of Liberty, as well as the chaotic NYC waterways in general.
All while the city itself slowly recedes into the background:
Once arriving on Staten’s foreign soil, it is very easy to find the ballpark. Just look for signs with a baseball on them:
The scoreboard is visible immediately upon exiting the terminal:
So close, yet so far away as it turns out. The right field entrance is relatively nearby…
But the team doesn’t sell tickets from this area:
It’s a disconcertingly desolate first impression, and the only choice is to keep walking:
Finally, the front entrance comes into view:
But if you’re one of the poor souls who needs to procure tickets from Will Call…well, keep walking:
The hassles to actually get inside notwithstanding, this is an excellent place to see a game:
Red SI Yanks hats are distributed to those attending a game as part of a group. This seems to be a big part of the overall ticket sales strategy; standalone giveaway items and theme nights are non-existent on the promotional schedule.
But there are many entertaining between-inning games, including one that simply documents the hilarity that ensues after a baby is given his first taste of lemon:
As well as the ever-popular Hula Relay Race:
I apologize, my photos from the concourse didn’t turn out. Here’s the best of the sorry bunch:
The team’s mascot triumvirate, led by Scooter the Holy Cow (in honor of Phil Rizzuto, of course):
The scoreboard is top-notch, as is the view beyond:
The game was won by the visiting Lowell Spinners by a score of 7-1. But no mere defeat can get in the way of Friday Night Fireworks and post-game Run the Bases:
Finally, it was time to walk back in the direction of the ferry terminal:
The ride back to Manhattan always offers astounding visuals of the rapidly approaching city, but my attempt to capture these views photographically once again came up short. So all I can do is leave you with this quite sagacious-looking fish, who makes his home in Staten Island’s St. George Ferry Terminal:
I wish I could end this post as gracefully as that fish moves about within his aquatic habitat. All I can come up with is “Oh water night” and, sadly, that’s going to have to do for now.
Oh, water night!