After congratulating me on my 20-year anniversary of covering the Brooklyn Cyclones, radio broadcaster Keith Raad asked me to join him in the booth for an inning of on-air guest commentary about my early Cyclones memories.
My actual coverage of the Cyclones didn’t start until the end of the 2002 season, when there was a vacancy at the Home Reporter newspaper. However, it was the Cyclones’ inaugural 2001 season that drew me and thousands to Coney Island to see young minor league players fulfilling the role of the reincarnation of the old Brooklyn Dodgers.
From mid-June to Labor Day 2001, it was as if the circus had come to town and stayed the whole summer. Sellout crowds cheered on the Nathan’s Hot Dog race and were stirred up by “Party Marty” to do the wave, and kids danced on the dugouts between innings.
There was good baseball as well as the Cyclones amassed an amazing 52-24 record and beat their immediate new rivals, the Staten Island Yankees, in the first round of the 2001 New York Penn League playoffs. Even though the Cyclones were well on their way to a championship after beating the Williamsport Crosscutters 7-4, the 9/11 attacks cut the final playoff series short for a declaration of Penn League co-champions.
In 2002 former N.Y. Mets star Howard Johnson managed the team and even more fans came out to watch. Well on the way to a disappointing 38-38 season, fans forgot about the Cyclones’ hopes to repeat in-mid August as their interest turned to the Mets’ first-round draft pick, pitcher Scott Kazmir. After he signed his bonus contract in July, all eyes were on the 19-year-old lefty flamethrower from Texas who threw a deceptive 95 MPH fastball and even struck out all of his Brooklyn teammates during a live batting practice session.
Starting only five games at the end of the Penn League season, Kazmir gave fans hope that they were seeing the Cyclones’ first major league star as the crafty lefty struck out 34 batters in just 18 innings. However, that hope was short-lived when the Mets made an ill-conceived deal and traded Kazmir to Tampa Bay in July 2004.
Eventually, players like Angel Pagan and Mike Jacobs from the 2001 Cyclones team came to play for the Mets, as well as other first-round picks such as Brandon Nimmo (2011) and Michael Conforto (2014). And an outstanding 2016 second-round draft pick, Pete Alonso, caught national attention for the Mets as the Home Run Derby King at the All-Star Game and as Rookie of the Year in 2019.
Remarkably, it feels like 20 years of covering the Cyclones went by in the blink of an eye, as every season wide-eyed major league hopefuls continue to come to Coney Island to “chase the dream.”