Brooklyn's Borough Hall
The 2017 season of the New York-Penn League -- formerly the Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York League, or "PONY League" -- gets underway next Monday night. As they have since 2001, the Staten Island Yankees and the Brooklyn Cyclones, New York City's 2 minor-league baseball teams, open their season against each other, first at one team's park, then the next night at the other's. This time, it's at Staten Island on Monday, and at Brooklyn on Tuesday. Both games start at 7:00 PM.
Before You Go. It's New York City. The weather and the time zone are the same.
Tickets. The Cyclones averaged 5,614 fans per game last season. That not only led the NYPL, but was over 1,300 more than the next-highest figure. You should order your tickets online, rather than just showing up on the day of the game and hoping forn the best.
All tickets are $17. So much for affordable family entertainment.
Getting There. It's 19 miles from Midtown Manhattan to MCU Park. If you're driving, take any route that gets you onto the Belt Parkway, then get off at Exit 6. Cropsey Avenue becomes West 17th Street, and leads right to the ballpark.
If you're taking the Subway, take the D, F, N, or Q Train to Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue, supposedly the largest subway station in the world, and celebrating its 100th Anniversary: It opened on September 5, 1917. Turn left on Stillwell, walk 1 block south to Surf Avenue, turn right, and walk 3 blocks to the ballpark. The address is 1904 Surf Avenue.
Stillwell Avenue Terminal
About 2.6 million people live in the Borough, making it, as the famous sign that used to be at the Brooklyn end of the Manhattan Bridge (now in Borough Hall) said, the 4th largest city in America. About 25,000 of those live in the Coney Island section. Landfill for highway construction turned the island into a peninsula in the 1920s. Aside from the fact that the Dutch came up with it, the source of the name "Conyne Eylandt" is in dispute. The leading theory is that "conyn" is Dutch for "rabbit," and there were then wild rabbits all over the place.
ZIP Codes for Brooklyn begin with the digits 112. The Area Code used to be 212, but in 1984, Area Code 718 was split off to serve Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. The Bronx joined it in 1992. 718 is now overlaid by 347, 917 and 929.
Going In. Named for the Cyclone roller coaster, which opened 90 years ago in 1927, 6 blocks to the east at 834 Surf Avenue, The Brooklyn Cyclones had been a Toronto Blue Jays farm team in St. Catharines, Ontario before moving to New York City. They were the Queens Kings, playing at St. John's University, in 2000 before KeySpan Park opened on June 25, 2001, giving Brooklyn its 1st professional sports team of any kind since the Dodgers packed up Ebbets Field in 1957, 44 years earlier.
The ballpark was built on the site of Steeplechase Park, the legendary Coney Island amusement park that stood from 1897 to 1964. Standing over right field is the Parachute Jump, moved there after it was used at the 1939-40 New York World's Fair. It is no longer a functioning ride, but a serious renovation has ensured that it is no longer in danger of collapsing and killing someone.
Beyond the left field fence, the Cyclone.
Beyond the right field fence, the Parachute Jump.
Beyond that, Coney Island Channel and the Atlantic Ocean.
Oddly, the baselines have zigzag roofs,
much like the bleachers at Dodger Stadium,
the Los Angeles home of Brooklyn's former baseball team.
In addition to the Cyclones, New York University (NYU, NCAA Division III) plays its home baseball games there. This year, after 4 years at Hofstra University on Long Island, the reborn New York Cosmos began playing there.
The park has also hosted professional wrestling cards. Concerts have included Phish, Def Leppard, Daft Punk Snoop Dogg, Furthur (with former Grateful Dead members Phil Lesh and Bob Weir), and Yo La Tengo, a band made up of Met fans and named for an incident with the original 1962 team.
Adjacent to the Parachute Jump is a skating rink named for Abe Stark, who rode an advertising sign at Ebbets Field ("HIT SIGN WIN SUIT -- ABE STARK -- Brooklyn's Leading Clothier") to the Presidency of the City Council (where he fought in vain to keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn) and later to the Presidency of the Borough.
Food. You would think that a ballpark in Brooklyn -- especially at Coney Island -- would have great food. Fortunately, you would think correctly. Both baselines have concession stands loaded with good stuff, including The Premio Sausage Stand behind Section 1, The Brooklyn Original Chopped Steak Sandwich behind Section 2, Arancini Brothers' Italian food, and Mini Melts -- their name for the desert sometimes also called Dippin Dots, Ittybitz or Molli Cools.
And, of course, they have the food permanently identified with ballparks, hot dogs. Of course, it's the hot dog permanently identified with Brooklyn in general, and Coney Island in particular: Nathan's Famous. I've never been a fan of Nathan's hot dogs -- or "tube steaks," as some people like to call them -- but I love their crinkle-cut French fries. Sometimes, if I'm watching the Devils at the Prudential Center or soccer at Red Bull Arena, I'll get the fries, load them with ketchup, and make a meal out of just that. The original Nathan's stand, greatly expanded from its 1916 opening, is 3 blocks east at 1310 Surf Avenue, about halfway between the Cyclone and the Cyclones.
Original Nathan's. Come in and get fat.
Team History Displays. The Cyclones won 5 Division titles in their 1st 10 years: 2001, 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2010. However, they haven't won any since. In their 1st season, 2001, they had advanced to the Final of the New York-Penn League Playoffs, and traveled to Pennsylvania and beat the Williamsport Crosscutters in Game 1. They were scheduled to play Game 2 at home on September 11. The series was never resumed, and the teams were declared Co-Champions.
That's the closest the Cyclones have ever gotten to a Pennant. There is no outward display of these honors in the fan-viewable areas.
The press box at MCU Park has a series of 10 honorees and their numbers:
* From the Dodgers: 4, Duke Snider; 14, Gil & Joan Hodges (Joan Lombardi was from Brooklyn, and because of her, Gil stayed there after retiring as a player); 17, Carl Erskine; 36, Don Newcombe; and 42, Jackie Robinson.
From the Cyclones: 6, Danny Garcia, a 2nd baseman briefly called up to the Mets in 2003 and '04, making him the 1st former Cyclone to reach the major leagues; 19, Brain Bannister, who reached the Mets in 2006, then pitched 4 years for the Kansas City Royals; 20, Dillon Gee, who pitched for the Mets from 2010 to 2015 and is now with the Texas Rangers; and 35, Ángel Pagán, an outfielder the Mets sold to the Cubs before reaching the majors, played for them in 2006 and '07, got back so he could be a Met from 2008 to 2011, won the World Series with the San Francisco Giants in 2012 and '14, and led the National League in triples in 2012.
There's also a sign honoring the Dodgers' 1955 World Series win, and a sign calling the broadcast booth "The Catbird Seat," in honor of Dodger announcer Red Barber, who called his perch at Ebbets Field that.
Previously, that press box also held a tribute to the last game at Ebbets Field, on September 24, 1957, including mentions of Danny McDevitt, the Dodger pitcher who shut the Pittsburgh Pirates out that night; and Rube Walker, his catcher, who became a longtime Met coach. That display has since been removed.
Behind the home plate entrance is a statue honoring Robinson and Harold "Pee Wee" Reese, simulating the incident in Cincinnati in 1947 where the Reese, the Southern-born Dodger Captain, silenced the rednecks by putting his arm around his teammate, the 1st black player in modern baseball. There are some who say the incident never happened, and even Jackie's widow, Rachel Robinson, believes it might not have. But the statue is there, a symbol of baseball's brotherhood.
During the Game. It's not Yanks-Sox, or even Mets-Phillies. Even for a Cyclones-Baby Bombers game, your safety should not be in danger.
The Cyclones hold auditions for National Anthem singers, instead of having a regular. Their mascot is Sandy the Seagull, possibly named for Brooklyn's greatest native baseball legend, Sandy Koufax, or maybe just for the sandy beaches of Coney Island. Previously, I thought he was an eagle, named for the long-gone newspaper, The Brooklyn Eagle. Despite the twin tragedies of 2012, Hurricane Sandy and the Sandy Hook Massacre, there was no move to change the mascot's name.
After the Game. There are lots of restaurants nearby, and gobs of food available on the Boardwalk. And, since the Subway runs 24 hours, you can take your time getting back to wherever you're going, which is unusual at a ballpark.
Sidelights. MCU Park is 19 miles from Times Square, 7 miles from the site of Ebbets Field, 16 miles from Citi Field, 20 miles from Yankee Stadium, 24 miles from the Meadowlands. The Mets, as you would expect, are more popular there than the Yankees. But despite the Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island connections, the Giants are more popular in Brooklyn, and in Coney Island in partiuclar, than the Jets; the Rangers more popular than the Islanders; and, despite having staked out the Borough as their own, the Nets are not more popular there than the Knicks.
* Barclays Center. The home of the NBA's Brooklyn Nets since 2012 and the NHL's New York Islanders since 2015 is at 620 Atlantic Avenue, across from the Long Island Rail Road's Atlantic Terminal. Accessible by the Subway's 2, 3, 4, 5, B, D, Q, N, R and W Trains.
By being across from the Atlantic Terminal and on top of a major Subway junction, it would have eliminated what was, along with the limited seating capacity, the biggest problem with Ebbets Field: Only 750 parking spaces. With so many Dodger fans having come back from World War II and gotten housing loans on the G.I. Bill, allowing them to move out to Queens and Long Island proper, instead of having to drive in to Flatbush, they could drive to their local LIRR station and take the train in, thus being able to celebrate their Dodgers in Brooklyn without having to "be in Brooklyn."
But Robert Moses, New York's construction czar, didn't want a stadium there -- probably because it wouldn't have been "his stadium," it would have been O'Malley's. He wanted one out in Flushing Meadow-Corona Park, across from the site of the 1939-40 World's Fair he designed, to correlate with the 1964-65 World's Fair he was planning. O'Malley had a point: If the Dodgers were going to go to Queens, they wouldn't be the Brooklyn Dodgers anymore. Their identity would be gone. They might as well leave The City, they might as well leave the East Coast. And they did.
To make matters worse, Moses never offered his Flushing Meadow stadium to the Giants, who had better reasons to replace the Polo Grounds than the Dodgers had to replace Ebbets Field: Although it had the largest seating capacity in the National League at the time, it, and its neighborhood, were falling apart.
So while the move (some would say "theft") of the Dodgers was O'Malley's fault, first and foremost, Moses was, however indirectly, an accomplice. Some blame him more than O'Malley, which is stupid. He can be blamed 2nd, but not 1st.
* Site of Ebbets Field. It's hard for those of us under the age of 65, who have no memory of the Dodgers in Brooklyn or the Giants at the Polo Grounds, to realize that Shea Stadium, Dodger Stadium and Candlestick Park have all now lasted longer than Ebbets Field did (47 years) -- and that Dodger Stadium has now surpassed the final version of the Polo Grounds in age as well (53 years).
Ebbets Field gets romanticized by all those Dodger fans who made it big in media and entertainment, all of them now old or dead. The Giants don't get remembered as well because nobody wrote a book about them the way Roger Kahn wrote The Boys of Summer about the 1950s Dodgers, and because, while the Mets replaced the Giants as a representative of all of New York, there is no representative specifically of Brooklyn. (Had the Mets' permanent stadium been in Brooklyn instead of Queens, it might have been another story.)
Yes, that's a real color photograph of Ebbets Field.
It only had 31,497 seats and 750 parking spaces, and it was a 6-block walk from the closest Subway stations -- now serviced by the B and Q to Prospect Park, and the 2, 3, 4 and 5 to Franklin Avenue. And if you've ever been to Fenway Park or Wrigley Field, with narrow iron seats and narrow rows, not exactly built with 21st Century tushes and legs in mind, you'll get an idea of what it was like to sit through 9 innings there.
But also had an intimacy that few ballparks had, even then. Most of the players lived not that far from the ballpark, instead of in Manhattan high-rises or on New Jersey or Long Island estates, as present-day Yankees and Mets tend to do these days. The furthest seats were close enough to see the players' facial expressions. The fans felt that they knew the players, and that the players knew them. And the characters, from noisy bleacherite Hilda Chester to the awful musicians that Dodger broadcaster Red Barber named "the Dodger Sym-Phony Band, with the emphasis on the 'Phony'!"
My grandmother was a Dodger fan from Queens. She told me that the Polo Grounds was a dump, but that, despite O'Malley not spending any money on upkeep -- aside from being naturally cheap, what did he need to do that for, since he was going to be out by the 1960s anyway? -- Ebbets Field was not falling apart, even toward the end. I asked her, point-blank: If the price for keeping the Dodgers in Brooklyn was building a modern ballpark, and sacrificing your beloved Ebbets Field, would you have paid that price? Without hesitation, she gave me an emphatic, "Yes." She would have liked Citi Field, the Mets' new ballpark, with its exterior designed to look like Ebbets Field, and its home-plate rotunda, designed to resemble the one at the Flatbush ballyard.
The Dodgers left after the 1957 season, and demolition began on February 23, 1960. Four years later, on April 11, 1964, the same demolition company used the same wrecking ball, still painted to look like a baseball, to begin tearing down the Polo Grounds.
In 1962, the 25-story Ebbets Field Apartments opened on the site. Low-income housing, and long noted for drug sales, it's liveable again, although I would suggest visiting in daylight. 1720 Bedford Avenue, bordered by Bedford, Sullivan Place, McKeever Place and Montgomery Street. (The McKeever brothers, Ed and Steve, along with Charles Ebbets, owned the team in the 1910s and '20s.)
From Bedford Avenue, where the right field wall
and the bleacher entrance once stood.
The home-plate entrance was at McKeever and Sullivan. Across McKeever is an intermediate school named for Ebbets Field, formerly named for Jackie Robinson. A playground named for Jackie is just to the north of the school, behind where the left-field stands used to be. (At roughly the same spot in comparison to the Polo Grounds Towers is a playground named Willie Mays Field).
* Site of Washington Park. The team now known as the Dodgers -- previously known as the Grays; the Bridegrooms, because 3 of their 1880s players got married in a single off-season; the Superbas, after a circus troupe, Hanlon's Superbas, due to their manager being name Ned Hanlon; and the Robins, in honor of manager Wilbert Robinson -- played in 2 different places named for George Washington. (Ironically, Los Angeles also had a baseball facility named Washington Park.)
The 1st Washington Park was bounded by 3rd & 5th Streets, and 4th & 5th Avenues, in the Gowanus neighborhood. The property contained an old building then called the Gowanus House, which stands today, albeit largely reconstructed. It was Washington's command post during the Battle of Long Island. The proto-Dodgers began here in 1883, and won the American Association Pennant in 1889 and the National League Pennant in 1890.
The 2nd, which the club began using in 1898, opened at 1st & 3rd Streets, and 3rd & 4th Avenues, on the opposite corner of 4th Avenue from its predecessor. There they remained until 1912, winning Pennants in 1899 and 1900 -- Brooklyn's last "world championship" in baseball until 1955. Although its 18,800-seat capacity was big for the 1890s, the ballpark building boom that began in 1909 made it completely inadequate, and Charlie Ebbets began buying up lots in Flatbush where he built the stadium that would bear his name.
* Site of Union Grounds. Built in 1862 as the 1st enclosed baseball ground, and named for the country in that time of Civil War, this was the home of several amateur teams that helped to popularize the game, who were actually "clubs," just as the early soccer teams in Britain still are, and, unlike today's baseball teams, which only call themselves "ballclubs," still have "Football Club" as part of their official names: The Atlantic, the Excelsior, and the Eckford among them. In the winter, it was flooded, and turned into an ice rink.
The 1st baseball stadium, the Elysian Field in Hoboken, New Jersey, was designed for cricket rather than for baseball, and was never enclosed. It did not last long, being demolished in 1883.
* Site of Capitoline Grounds. Named for a famed hill in Rome, this 5,000-seat wooden stadium opened in 1864, meant to rival and surpass the Union Grounds. The Atlantics made it their home, and it was here, on June 14, 1870, that, in the first "greatest baseball game ever played," they ended the 89-game (or 130-game, depending on whose records you believe) unbeaten streak of the 1st professional baseball team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings.
* Brooklyn Paramount. Opened in 1928, this 4,084-seat theater was a major jazz venue in the 1930s and 1940s. But it was the late 1950s that imprinted it on people's memories: Alan Freed, and later Clay Cole, hosted 10-day Christmas-season rock-and-roll festivals, featuring all the legends and semi-legends of the era. If you've ever seen the film La Bamba, about Ritchie Valens, one of these shows was depicted. (Although they probably had to use, ironically for Brooklyn, a Los Angeles theater as a stand-in for filming it.)
Like its contemporary, the Paramount Theater in Manhattan's Times Square, it still stands, but is no longer used as a theater. Rather, in 1962, it was converted into the gymnasium for Long Island University. Now named the Arnold and Marie Schwartz Athletic Center, the LIU Blackbirds played basketball on the stage once rocked by Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly and Dion, until 2005, when they moved into a new gym.
The building is still used for sports, and the LIU Student Union is next-door. 1 University Plaza, at Flatbush & DeKalb Avenues, in the Fort Greene neighborhood, just east of downtown. B, Q or R train to DeKalb Avenue.
Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn is where you can find several early baseball legends, including "The Father of Baseball," Henry Chadwick, America's 1st great sportswriter. (But not, as was long believed, the inventor of the box score.) His gravemarker is one of the more elaborate you'll ever see. So is that of James Creighton, the early player who appears to have been the first pitcher to purposely throw hard, thus inventing the fastball. He was the 1st real baseball superstar, but no sooner had he achieved that status than he died of causes still debated -- at age 21, in 1862. Charles Ebbets, Brooklyn Dodger owner and ballpark builder, is also buried there.
Non-baseball personalities buried there include composer Leonard Bernstein, longtime New York Governor and Senator DeWitt Clinton, sewing machine inventor Elias Howe, Constitution signer and 1st New Jersey Governor William Livingston, legendarily corrupt New York political boss William Tweed, painter and telegraph inventor Samuel Morse, abolitionist preacher Henry Ward Beecher, artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, both Nathaniel Currier and James Ives, Louis Comfort Tiffany, mobster Albert Anastasia, actor DeWolf Hoppper (whose onstage recitation, in those days before most people had record players, popularized "Casey at the Bat"), Wizard of Oz portrayer Frank Morgan, piano manufacturers Henry and William Steinway, and songwriter Fred Ebb, who wrote the lyrics to "Theme From New York, New York." (You know: "Start spreadin' the news... ") Also the parents, uncle and first wife of President Theodore Roosevelt. And the namesakes of 2 of the major components of New Jersey's Rutgers University: Revolutionary War hero and philanthropist Henry Rutgers, and educator Mabel Smith Douglass. 500 25th Street, Brooklyn. N train to 36th Street.
Cypress Hills Cemetery straddles the Brooklyn-Queens "border." It is the final resting place of Jackie Robinson. An earlier Brooklyn baseball star buried there is Bob Ferguson, who, by the standards of his time, was such a good fielder he was known as "Death to Flying Things." It's also where you can find late 19th Century heavyweight champion Gentleman Jim Corbett, jazz pianist Eubie Blake, and actress Mae West. In case you want to "Come up sometime and see me," it's at 833 Jamaica Avenue. J to Cypress Hills.
The Borough has its own world-class Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, at 200 Eastern Parkway at Washington Avenue. 2 or 3 train to Eastern Parkway-Brooklyn Museum. It's at the top of Prospect Park, a 5-minute walk from the Brooklyn Public Library and Grand Army Plaza, with its impressive Civil War Monument. Prospect Park (designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, who also designed Central Park, Fairmount Park in Philadelphia and Boston's "Emerald Necklace") also has a famous carousel, the Prospect Park Zoo and the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.
From 1929 until 2010, the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower -- unlike the Brooklyn neighborhood, and the historic Virginia city of the same name, it has an H on the end -- with its Art Deco stylings and its clock tower, was the tallest building in the Borough, at 512 feet. 1 Hanson Place at Flatbush Avenue, on the other side of the Atlantic Terminal from the Barclays Center.
It has now been surpassed by a few buildings, the tallest being The Hub, a 610-foot-high apartment tower at 333 Schermerhorn Street at Nevins Street, in Fort Greene, 4 blocks from the Barclays Center. 2, 3, 4 or 5 train to Nevins Street.
Plenty of movies have been set in Brooklyn, including the 1950 The Jackie Robinson Story starring the man himself, and the more recent 42 starring Chadwick Boseman; Dog Day Afternoon, the Al Pacino film about a real-life 1972 Brooklyn bank heist gone wrong; The French Connection, also based on a true story; Saturday Night Fever, based on a real Brooklyn disco; Sergio Leone's gangster epic Once Upon a Time In America; some of Spike Lee's films, including Do the Right Thing; and the gang film The Warriors, which concludes on the Coney Island boardwalk. Can you dig it?
TV has also used Brooklyn, no show more famous for doing so than Jackie Gleason's groundbreaking
The Honeymooners. The address for the Kramdens and Nortons, 328 Chauncey Street, is real, off Howard Avenue, although it's in Bushwick, not Bensonhurst like the show claims. C train to Ralph Avenue, which may be where Gleason, who grew up at 358 Chauncey, got the name for the character. In contrast, Gary David Goldberg's 1990s show about growing up in 1950s Brooklyn, Brooklyn Bridge, really was set in Bensonhurst.
The Patty Duke Show of the 1960s and The Cosby Show of the 1980s were both set in Brooklyn Heights, although both were taped in Los Angeles, and the townhouse used as the exterior for the Huxtables' home is actually in Manhattan's Greenwich Village. New Utrecht High School was used as the exterior set for both James Buchanan H.S. on the 1970s sitcom Welcome Back Kotter (series star Gabe Kaplan was both a graduate of, and a teacher at, that school before hitting it big as a comic) and Millard Fillmore H.S. on the 1980s sitcom Head of the Class, both on ABC. 1601 80th Street. D train to 79th Street.
Williamsburg was the setting for 2 Broke Girls, Greenpoint for Girls, and the police comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine in, as the title suggests, the 99th Precinct. New York cop shows usually use precincts that don't exist in real life: Barney Miller in the 1970s used the 12th, as did the recent Castle; Life On Mars used the 125th (the highest-numbered in real life is the 123rd), and the film Frequency (which, like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, featured Andre Braugher as a detectives' squad leader) used the 74th.
Baseball is back in Brooklyn, although it's 5 steps beneath the major leagues. But it can still be fun, and it's a lot cheaper than at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field. Youse gotta check it out, come on!