Cyclones celebrate 20th anniversary
It was as if the circus had come to town and everyone wanted to see the new baby elephant. After a winter of built-up expectations in 2001, fans were finally going to see the team they named the “Cyclones” in the Daily News and WFAN preseason contest. On June 25, 2001, a sold-out house at KeySpan Park cheered professional baseball’s return to Brooklyn 44 years after the Dodgers left for Los Angeles after the 1957 season.
Built on the footprint of Coney Island’s famed Steeplechase Park, and in the shadow of the landmarked Parachute Jump, KeySpan Park was quickly expanded to 7,500 seats to meet the growing ticket demand for opening day. On hand for the home opener were Joan Hodges and her son Gil Jr., along with popular Brooklyn pitcher Ralph Branca, who was one of a handful of Dodgers who attended the 1960 wrecking ball demolition ceremony at Ebbets Field.
Bridging the gap of the Dodgers’ era to the present, Mayor Rudy Giuliani and New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon welcomed fans to a new, exciting era of minor league baseball. Opening night turned out to be an extra-inning comeback win as the Cyclones thrilled the crowd in dramatic fashion against the Mahoning Valley Scrappers.
Down 2-0 in the bottom of the ninth inning with a runner on first and two out, Edgar Rodriquez hit a soaring home run over the left field wall to tie the game at 2-2. Mike Jacobs then followed with a sacrifice fly in the 10th inning to win the game 3-2, setting the tone for the team’s magical 52-24 first place division finish.
Guided by 1986 World Champion Mets Howard Johnson (hitting coach) and Bobby Ojeda (pitching coach) along with manager Edgar Alfonzo, the Cyclones won a very close semi-final series over the Staten Island Yankees. They were a game ahead of the Williamsport Crosscutters when the New York Penn League Championship series was canceled after the 9/11 attacks, resulting in a co-championship designation for both teams.
Popular first baseman Jay Caligiuri was the team’s batting leader (.328), while pitchers Harold Eckert and Ross Peeples each won nine games. Second baseman Danny Garcia was the first Cyclone to reach the Mets, in 2003, and first baseman Mike Jacobs was called up to Flushing in 2005. Other Cyclones who made the majors are pitcher Lenny Dinardo for Boston in 2004, and catcher Justin Huber for Kansas City in 2005. Center fielder Angel Pagan debuted with the Chicago Cubs in 2006 but made his way back to the Mets in 2008.
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