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September 22, 2003 / Sports / Brooklyn Cyclones / The Play’s the Thing

For Clones, a classy exit

The Brooklyn Paper
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When the Brooklyn Dodgers won their only World Series, in 1955, there were celebrations all over the borough, with a joyous parade that still lingers in the memories of many Brooklynites today. But by 1958, the team was gone.

When professional baseball returned to Brooklyn in 2001, the Cyclones won the McNamara Division, beating the Staten Island Yankees in the semifinals of the playoffs.

But because of the events of Sept. 11 that year, the championship round of the playoffs was canceled, and the Clones were name co-champs with the Williamsport Crosscutters. In Brooklyn — and everywhere else in the country, for that matter — no one wanted to celebrate.

This year, the Cyclones made it to the finals against the same Williamsport Crosscutters. But they were swept two-games-to-none, losing once on the road and, one night later, in heartbreaking fashion at Keyspan Park.

With the score tied at 2 and Bryan King on the mound in the 10th inning last Wednesday, a neighborhood guy, Anthony Bocchino, led off for Williamsport. The only problem Brooklyn fans have with Bocchino, who grew up in Bensonhurst, is that he plays for Williamsport. Oh, and he kills Brooklyn. This year, he hit .500 against Brooklyn during the regular season, with 14 hits in 28 at bats.

Bocchino pushed a bunt past the pitcher toward shortstop and the Bensonhurst belter reached first. After a strikeout, a groundout moved Bocchino to second base. Then catcher Milver Reyes singled to left, scoring Bocchino with the lead run.

In the bottom of the 11th, the Clones’ Blake Whealy popped out. Tyler Davidson, playing first because of an injury to Ian Bladergroen, struck out, and then Stacy Bennett popped to first. The season was over.

The Crosscutters poured onto the field and celebrated, spraying Champagne all over themselves as they cheered wildly. Meanwhile, the Cyclones went into their dugout and then through the tunnel to the clubhouse.

Some Brooklynites were really crushed by the loss. Most were, at the least, very disappointed.

Down in the Brooklyn clubhouse, the players were silent. They sat or stood at their lockers, packed and changed from their uniforms, all without a word. Some players quietly padded toward the showers. They weren’t surly or sulky. But this clubhouse wasn’t a happy place. Boy, did they want to win. Sometimes it’s a long time between chances to win a professional championship. Sometimes it never happens again.

Over at Jon Slack’s locker, he packed his bats in a cardboard shipping box, sealing the box with tape. His grandparents had been staying with a friend on Long Island and had been following the team’s fortunes for the past two weeks, attending most games, home and away. Now, both Slack and his grandparents would be going home to Las Vegas.

Earlier in the week, Slack had made a Willie Mays-like, over-the-head catch against Oneonta, saving that series and allowing the Clones to play another day. Slack doesn’t take losing easily. But he answered reporters’ questions politely.

Across the room was Ian Bladergroen, the first baseman who set a consecutive-games-played record for the Cyclones at 74. The irony: the Cyclones’ iron man broke the thumb on his right hand in a first base collision with a runner earlier that night. He had left for the hospital during the game, but returned to root on his teammates in the final innings.

“I had wanted to be out there at the end of the game,” he said as he looked at his broken right thumb. Because of his injury, his scheduled stint in the fall Florida Instructional league was up in the air. But Bladergroen seemed more disappointed about the series loss.

Outside of Keyspan Park, near the players’ entrance on the first-base side, fans were still gathered an hour after the game. As each Cyclone would exit the stadium, the fans would cheer. Chuck Monsanto, from Williamsburg, who rooted his heart out from section 14 during the game, was one of them.

His team had lost, but there he was clapping and offering praise for “his guys” as they came out to the sidewalk.

Marty Bromberger was there too, but that wasn’t as surprising because he lives right there in Coney Island. He cheered as each player exited, despite the loss.

“Of course we cheer now,” he said. “We’re Brooklynit­es.”

Second baseman Blake Whealy came through the players’ exit. The fans cheered.

Whealy turned around and went back into the clubhouse. He came out with baseball caps for the fans. Soon, he’d be back home in River Forest, Ill.

Outside, on the sidewalk in front of Keyspan, Downtown’s Patrick Witt, the fan who organizes bus trips for the Peggy O’Neill’s Restaurant adjacent to the park on Surf Avenue was hanging around. Pat was feeling down about the Cyclones loss. He roots to win.

He also took a loss on the bus trips this year — a financial loss. He organizes the trips for the sheer enjoyment of doing it, but it would be nice if he didn’t lose money on it. Still, even after such a letdown — and the money out of his pocket — he’s going to run them again next season.

Up Surf Avenue at Nathan’s, the Crosscutters bus was parked next to the curb. Inside Nathan’s, the team was lined up in three rows to order their bags of hot dogs, cheeseburgers and fries for the four-and-a-half-hour ride back to Williamsport. Here were the newly crowned champions of the New York-Penn League, and they were quiet. Euphoria — like that seen drenched in Champagne on the field a few hours back — lasts only so long. Soon you’re at the back of a slow-moving line at close to midnight, and nobody, except your teammates, knows you’re there.

“Winning isn’t everything,” a short, stocky catcher from Sheepshead Bay once said, “but wanting to win is everything.”

The Cyclones lost the final playoff game on the field, but there was plenty of winning behavior off the field. Plenty of heart from Brooklyn’s temporary Downtown residents like Robert Paulk, Ian Bladergroen, Jon Slack, Blake Whealy and the rest. Plenty of soul from fans like Marty Bromberger and Chuck Monsanto, who stayed after a loss to cheer their team. Plenty of determination from fan Pat Witt, who’ll keep running trips for the fans.

So who was that catcher from Sheepshead Bay? Well, the aforementioned quote came from a guy didn’t have the eyesight to hit well, yet played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Brooklyn Football Dodgers. He is most famous for saying, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” But more importantly, Vince Lombardi later explained, he admired the will to win.

Keyspan Park was now deserted. Radio announcer Warner Fusselle and a couple of writers walked downstairs from the press box to Surf Avenue. It was a cool evening. The lights on the Coney Island rides were darkened, and there was a full moon high over centerfield. It had been an exciting playoff run, an exciting game and season.

But now it was after midnight. It was no longer Sept. 10. And everybody was safe.

There will be another chance to win a championship next year.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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