Tony Tijerina had never been to Brooklyn before last week.
Now the 14-year veteran of the New York Mets farm system finds himself living in Bay Ridge, dining at restaurants like Casa Calamari on 86th Street, and managing the most popular sports team in a borough that loves its baseball, the Cyclones.
“I am ecstatic about living in Brooklyn, being able to walk the streets — it’s been great,” Tijerina told The Brooklyn Papers. “I am so excited about having the season start.”
Tijerina was named Cyclones manager in late spring after the man originally tapped for the 2004 campaign, Leon Lee, resigned. Lee had been charged with two counts of indecent exposure.
Prior to being named manager, Tijerina had been the Mets’ assistant field coordinator and catching coordinator, serving in outposts like upstate Binghamton.
He inherits a short-season, single-A roster that is in constant flux — there is no starting lineup and not only is there no pitching rotation, but with just a week to go, he doesn’t know who his starting pitcher will be for the season opener on June 18 at Williamsport.
Baseball’s annual free agent draft finished a week ago, and some players have signed with the Mets and are already in Brooklyn while others have signed with the Mets and are in Florida. A draftee such as Jim Burt, the son and namesake of the retired New York Giants’ Superbowl-winning offensive lineman, for instance, is playing for the University of Miami in the College World Series. He is not allowed to sign a contract until the conclusion of his college career.
As Dave Campanaro, the Cyclones’ media relations manager explains, “The signings from the draft create a domino effect on all the Mets minor league rosters.”
At press time, the Brooklyn roster features nine players with previous Cyclones experience, all playing for the Cyclones last season, with Ryan Danly playing for Brooklyn in both 2002 and 2003. The others are pitchers Ryan Danly, Carlos Muniz ( on injury rehab) and Tim Worthington; catchers Stacy Bennett and Danilo Reynoso; infielders Travis Garcia and David Housel; and outfielders Corey Coles and Derran Watts (on injury rehab).
“Right now, we don’t know if we’re going to sign Bryan Zech, a second baseman from Florida State, or Ryan Coultas, a shortstop [from the University of California at Davis] or even Aaron Hathaway [a catcher from the University of Washington],” explains Tijerina.
“I’m going to start Travis Garcia at third and I’m going to count on him to be the leader of the infield,” the freshman manager explains. “We are debating with [William] Psomas — he can play second or short depending on whom else we sign. Stacy Bennett has improved defensively at catcher and we also have Danilo Reynoso, a good defensive receiver.
“The players are excited. We’ve had to drive up to St. John’s [University] every day to workout,” he says, noting that Keyspan Park has been undergoing preparations for a Phish concert, “and we’ve spent about an hour to an hour and a half [traveling] each way.
“The players seeing Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty as we go — that’s been exciting for them.”
June 19, 2004 issue