Brooklyn Boro

Brooklyn proves it’s a big league town

Nets and Islanders Combine to Give Borough New Sports Identity

September 2, 2015 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Come their Oct. 9 season opener at the Barclays Center, the New York Islanders will become our borough’s second major pro sports franchise, joining the already well-established Brooklyn Nets on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues. AP Photo
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It began humbly enough on the night of June 25, 2001.

The Brooklyn Cyclones, a Major League-affiliated Class-A short-season franchise, owned and operated by the New York Mets, officially kicked off what has since morphed into a 15-year love affair with our fair borough by pulling out a dramatic come-from-behind victory in their inaugural game at what was then called KeySpan Park.

It was Brooklyn’s first step back, albeit a tiny one, into the world of big-time professional sports since the Dodgers fled for Los Angeles following the 1957 season.

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The Cyclones went on to earn a share of the New York-Penn League championship that summer, the final series with Williamsport cut short with Brooklyn holding a 1-0 series lead due to the tragic and horrifying events that unfolded that Sept. 11.

They haven’t won a championship since, and are on the verge of being eliminated from playoff contention for a third consecutive summer.

But Brooklyn baseball fanatics have been showing up on Surf Avenue at what is now called MCU Park to see their Baby Bums ever since that historic opening game, welcoming their 4,000,000th fan through the gates last month to become just the third short-season franchise in Minor League history, and the first-ever in the New York-Penn League, to reach that milestone.

What the Cyclones accomplished in a little under 15 years took the two other franchises that reached the plateau several decades to achieve.

In other words, Brooklyn fans proved then, and continue to prove now, that they are hungry, perhaps even ravenous, for a team to call their very own, even if it isn’t the beloved Dodger club they lost almost 60 years ago.

“The support that we have received from Cyclones fans over the years truly has been remarkable,” said Cyclones Vice President Steve Cohen, who has been with the team since the very beginning here in Brooklyn.

“While [the 4,000,000 fans] milestone is a great accomplishment for our franchise, and something that we are extremely proud of, it speaks more to the passion and loyalty of our fan base than anything else,” he added.

That passion has boiled over into Brooklyn becoming home base to not one, but two major pro sports franchises beginning in a few short weeks.

With the Brooklyn Nets now well-established as our borough’s NBA franchise, having reached the playoffs in each of their first three seasons here since moving into the state-of-the-art Barclays Center from New Jersey in November 2012, the NHL’s New York Islanders are slated to be co-tenants at the Barclays for the next 25 years via an iron-clad agreement signed several years ago.

“As disappointing as it is to that the [Nassau Veterans Memorial] Coliseum will no longer be our home, we are thrilled to begin playing at the Barclays Center, a state-of-the-art arena with all the amenities that Islanders fans deserve,” said Islanders owner Charles Wang, a Brooklyn Tech High School alum who is in the process of selling off his stake in the team.

“Along with [general manager] Garth Snow, my partners and I look forward to being with you in Brooklyn and bringing all our traditions to Barclays Center,” Wang added in a letter he wrote to the legion of Islanders fans who have supported the club since its inception on Long Island back in 1972.

If the Nets’ attendance numbers across their first three seasons are any indication, the Islanders should receive a significant fan boost in their first Downtown campaign.

The Nets have consistently averaged above 17,000 fans per night in their new home arena since the 2012-13 season after posting an NBA-low 13,961 fans during their final year in Jersey.

The Islanders regularly ranked close to or at the bottom of average attendance during the decade leading up to their final season at the outdated Coliseum, averaging between 11,000 and 13,000 per night.

But fans came out in droves to say goodbye to their team last season, averaging 15,334 as the Isles reached the playoffs for the second time in three seasons before bidding farewell for good to Long Island following a seven-game first-round elimination at the hands of the Washington Capitals.

“All the guys are going to miss this place,” Islanders forward Kyle Okposo admitted following the Coliseum finale.

“Going to Brooklyn, it’s a beautiful arena, but you have to get used to that too. You have to mold that into a home. It’s like buying a house, it doesn’t become a home until you’re in it and mold to it.”

The Isles figure to mold into their new digs pretty quickly, having already played two exhibition games at Barclays and their annual Blue and White scrimmage here this past July in front of a hearty crowd of 6,311.

“It’s home now,” said 2013 first-round pick Ryan Pulock, who became the first Islander to skate on the new Barclays ice for a third time during the scrimmage. “Everyone here is trying to make this home one day. It’s been fun. It’s a pretty great facility. It was good to see the support that came out today, so it’s always fun playing here.”

“It was a pretty surreal experience,” added 2014 first-rounder Joshua Ho-Sang. “It was my first time [at Barclays Center] in front of the fans. It was pretty awesome.”

What’s even more surreal is the fact that Brooklyn went from having virtually no major pro sports-affiliated franchises from 1958 to 2001 to having three arrive here over the past 15 years.

With the borough expanding its skyline seemingly every year and more and more people calling Brooklyn home, it’s getting easier to imagine an NFL or MLB franchise settling here in the years, or perhaps decades, to come.

The doubters will say that’s crazy talk, and that a single borough with competing major pro sports franchises just across the East River and beyond has no chance of becoming a four-team town with entries in the NHL, NBA, MLB and NFL.

But one look at the ever-glowing oculus outside the Barclays Center let’s those detractors know that Brooklyn is already halfway to achieving that lofty goal, and isn’t slowing down for anyone, anytime soon.

After all, that wouldn’t be the Brooklyn way.

“We want to make it a tough place to play right off the bat,” Islanders captain John Tavares said of the Barclays, which is ready to host nearly 16,000 fans per night this season on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, with the regular-season opener set for Oct. 9 against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.

See you then.

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