BROOKLYN—Steve Cohen heard the non-believers who said baseball in Brooklyn will never succeed again—and that was before the first pitch was thrown at MCU Park in 2001.
“People said to me every day that no way a team is going to do well in Brooklyn," said Cohen, the Cyclones' general manager since the team made its New York-Penn League debut. “They said the neighborhood is not good. The transportation isn't good. People aren't going to get there easy.
“And people in New York City are not going to accept minor league baseball over the Yankees and the Mets."
They have not only accepted the Cyclones, a short-season affiliate of the Mets, but fans in New York City's largest borough have supported them.
The Cyclones have led the league in attendance every season since their inception. This year, the Cyclones are averaging 6,022 fans per game and recently attracted 7,230 fans for their second New York-Penn League all-star game at MCU Park, which is adjacent to the iconic Coney Island amusement park and the original Nathan's, the home of the annual Hot Dog Eating Contest.
“When we opened up that helped open people's eyes that there a lot of opportunities in Brooklyn," Cohen said. “I certainly don't think there would be the Nets and the Islanders if it weren't for the success we've had with the Cyclones."
There were no professional sports' teams in Brooklyn since the Dodgers left in 1957. The Cyclones filled that void in 2001, then the Nets moved from New Jersey to the Barclays Center in 2011. The NHL's Islanders are expected to move to the Barclays Center in 2015 from Long Island.
“Having the ballpark at Coney Island ended up completely changing the borough," Cohen remarked. “But it wasn't just us. There's so much going on in Brooklyn, with concerts and museums."
Recognizing that Citi Field and Yankee Stadium are less than a half-hour from MCU Park, Cohen and his staff have brilliantly scheduled a variety of out-of-the-box promotions. “Seinfeld Night" drew over 8,000 fans earlier this season. A few seasons ago, the team changed its name to the “Baracklyn Cyclones" for one game in honor of the president, with fans receiving an Obama bobblehead.
And then there was the “Salute to Pregnancy," otherwise known as “bellies and baseball" by a front office staff member. The night included a “seventh-inning stretch mark" and a “craving station."
In 2006, more than 10,000 fans came out to what was supposed to be a rehab start for pitcher Pedro Martinez, but he wound up pitching for the Mets that game.
Because the New York-Penn League doesn't start until mid-June and there is no chance to market the Cyclones players, Cohen places a greater emphasis on promotions to attract fans.
“Everything we do (for promotions) is vital," Cohen said. “People realize the value of what we do and they have a fun night out."
Life After Sandy
MCU Park sustained more than $5 million in damages after Hurricane Sandy devastated the New York metropolitan area in October 2012. The water that flowed in from the Atlantic Ocean reached the third row of seats in the ballpark and a swell of five feet of water covered the field. Fish were seen swimming in the dugouts.
Cohen's first reaction to the damage was that it might be minimal.
“I was naïve enough not to bring a flashlight with me," he recalled. “I saw the window offices and just thought we would need to do some gutting and re-carpeting."
A few days later Cohen saw the enormity of the storm.
“It took 70 people in hazmat suits to clean up the place," he said.
The Cyclones staff returned to their offices in May 2013 and miraculously the season started on time with a new FieldTurf surface.
“It was a scary situation with a lot of serious damage," Cohen said. “We were lucky to get through it with some good people helping us."