Read my homage to the Brooklyn Dodgers, a team I never knew...
When the Dodgers broke their bat on Brooklyn’s heart and deserted New York for better weather, prettier people and oranges in the backyard, I wasn’t even born, but I ache. And I’m not alone. Robert Moses wanted to move the team to Queens, but owner Walter O’Malley had an even more dastardly plan: move them out entirely. Sports columnist Jack Newfield was right when he fingered the three most evil men of the 20th century: “Hitler, Stalin, and Walter O’Malley”. Looping around a Los Angeles freeway once, I passed a turnoff for Dodgers Stadium. A sign framed by Pasadena palms rubbed it in: Dodgers’ Stadium, the Home of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
On hot July nights in South Brooklyn, the not-so-pretty old timers sit on their stoops in wife beaters and tune in the Mets—their team by default—on transistors. “Ahhhcch…” Babe Ballirano, my old landlord would complain, “They shud neva have left!” “We all loved Duke Snyder. He was sooo handsome!” his sister Nancy would add, grinning so her Dentyne showed. Babe hasn’t set foot in a ballpark since 1957. 1957—the year they left us, and one decade after Jackie Robinson, “the Pride of Brooklyn,” broke the color line as the first black ballplayer in the major leagues. (Well, since the 1800s anyway). Once Babe even showed me his cup of sod, labeled like a tombstone:
Four years ago though, professional baseball returned to the City of Churches. After forty-four years of silence, the crack of a bat was once again as much a Brooklyn reality as Junior’s strawberry cheesecake. Keyspan Park spans three beach blocks along Surf Avenue in Coney Island. The Brooklyn Cyclones, a single-A franchise for the New York Mets, cinched the minor league championship in their first season, and have played to a sold-out stadium ever since. The box office reserves 200 bleacher seats to sell the day of the game, and I was banking on this when I strode up to the ticket booth one muggy June morning in the second season. Only sixty tickets remained to the match up between the Cyclones and the Mahoning Valley Scrappers from Cleveland. I paid fifteen bucks for me, my husband and sister-in-law then we killed the afternoon on the Cyclone, the seventy-eight-year-old roller coaster with the familiar first drop that relocates your stomach to the space between your shoulder blades.
In the bleachers for the first pitch, I wrapped myself in a beach blanket against the breeze coming off the ocean. To our left loomed the parachute jump— parachute-free since the seventies — now repainted in primary colors and landmarked, but the Thunderbolt roller coaster, which had stood just north of the new stadium, was gone. It had ceased to thrill in the early eighties and was covered in creeping vine until 2000, when it was demolished overnight in a stealth maneuver by the city. If only it could have held on like the parachute jump. There it would be now: in sherbet colors, minor league pennants flying from its rails.
The Cyclones were playing lousy ball that night, three up three down, again and again. Between each inning, a fuzzy mutant Muppet with obscene appendages ran onto the field and stirred up the crowd not unlike , I imagined, how the Sym-phony orchestra entertained Dodgers’ fans by striking up Three Blind Mice when the umps walked on the field. In the fourth there was a race between Ketchup, Mustard and Relish, three condiment heroes sponsored by Nathan’s, but the between inning diversion that scored extra bases in my heart happened when one fan’s jalopy flashed on the giant video screen: Congratulations, the owner of this Oldsmobile Delta 88 has been selected the dirtiest car in the parking lot. Please report to the courtesy desk after the game to claim your prize: a gift certificate to Oakley’s Car Wash, the official car wash of the Brooklyn Cyclones!
After the fourth inning we moved down to the first base line in time to see a batter finally make contact and wind up on second with a standing double. For this feat—the best Cyclones hit of the night—we were treated to a video clip of the seagull mascot having his gizzard relocated to his wing tips on the Cyclone roller coaster. The sun finally fizzled about nine. Floodlights, sitting atop high poles, and circled in colored neon clicked on like heavenly lollipops. Merengue music floated up from the pier. A real seagull flew overhead. Nostalgia, I realized, plays a major role in this minor league seaside stadium. The nostalgia has even worked its way into the Cyclones’ logo: a big B with a small C hooked into the design. If you look at a Cyclone’s cap from, say, about the distance of home plate to first base, all you really see is the B — B for ‘dem Bums’ that is.
We lost, but fans filed out overjoyed, as if they’d just witnessed a walk off home run instead of what really happened--the bottom of the order was retired one, two, three. It wasn’t about winning. Winning has never gotten Brooklyn fans anywhere. The Dodgers finally beat the Bombers in that unforgettable subway series of 1955 and look what it it got us: The Ebbets Field Apartments. Cyclones fans don’t hate the Staten Island Yankees the way Dodgers’ fans hated the Bronx Bombers, or even the way Mets fans hate pinstripes. What matters to us is that a professional baseball team is home, in the bottom of Brooklyn this time. I rode the elevated F train home thinking about my team, fumbling on that field of dreams. I thought about Carl Furillo, Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snyder and all the Boys of Summer. I even thought about my mother as a teenager on the parachute jump, her sundress blowing up over her face. We’re grateful, too grateful to really care who wins or loses—it’s where you play the game that counts.