“Da-Duh-Dum, Da-Duh-Dum,” sings Cyclones manager Tony Tijerina, as he intones the ESPN SportsCenter theme in recognition of a snappy double play turned by two women on the infield at Keyspan Park.
What was Tijerina doing on the infield with four of his players, surrounded by 46 women players between the ages of 14 and 52? He was helping to conduct the First Annual Ladies Baseball Clinic, sponsored by the Cyclones and the Ladies Home Journal, on July 17
The event began at 11 am, with a tour of the Brooklyn Baseball Gallery and then a visit to the visitor’s dugout for a brief Baseball 101 introduction given by Anna Isaacson, the Cyclones’ Brooklyn Baseball Gallery manager and community relations representative.
The women and girls were divided into three groups, and the groups rotated to three stations on the field.
At a batting tee set up to the side of home plate, Cyclones outfielder Derran Watts was teaching the fundamentals of the baseball swing. First, he told each woman to set their stance — legs apart, slight crouch — at the plate. Then he showed them how to “load” the bat, then step, use the hips and then “throw” the hands. Some of the women seemed a little tense about their turn at the tee, but Derran was an encouraging teacher, clearly explaining the fundamentals, by making positive comments and using humor. Soon all of the participants in his group seemed to relax and absorb the instruction.
Watts suggested that the batters wiggle the bat just before the pitch, both as a way to relax and as “an intimidation factor.”
“Never smile when you’re at bat, unless you know something the pitcher doesn’t know,” Watts then told the women. “Even if you don’t know something, you can smile like you do.”
“If you smile, the pitcher is going to throw at you,” interjected Dante Brinkley, disagreeing with his fellow Cyclone outfielder.
To smile or not to smile? The question floated in the air like a hanging curve.
The women moved to the plate.
Brinkley demonstrated bunting, showing the women both the drag and push bunts.
“On the bunt towards third, go right down the line, so it’s either a hit or a foul ball,” instructed the Cyclones left fielder.
“But here [at Keyspan], you have to bunt a little more away from the line because the baseline slopes towards the foul line.”
Another group of women was learning infield play. Infielder Kevin Rios and Tijerina were working with them.
“Here’s Kevin Rios, an infielder who can play short, second or third,” the manager told the ladies.
“I can play first, too,” said Rios, not so much to the women, but to his manager — because it never hurts to lobby for playing time.
Chris Warner, a participant originally from Hawaii but now living on Kings Highway, took a grounder. It was the first time she had ever played baseball and she was having mixed success, but hanging in there.
“I’m here to learn about the actual mechanics of playing,” said Warner as she got ready to field another grounder thrown by Tijerina.
Taiine Santiago, of Ridgewood, Queens, temporarily playing shortstop, though left-handed, took a grounder and threw to Tijerina at first base. Her throwing motion was smooth and her throw was hard, with a break to the ball.
“A natural cutter, like all lefties,” Tijerina said of her throw.
Unlike Warner, Santiago is no newcomer to baseball. The 20-something started playing baseball at age 6 in the Little League. She is a member of the New York Women’s Baseball Association — as a center fielder who recently began pitching.
“I’m here today because to practice with these guys [Cyclones] and get some advice from their manager is just awesome,” explained Santiago.
Meanwhile, in the outfield, Cyclones employee Rob Field was instructing, and Cyclones lefthander Evan MacLane was teaching pitching. One of MacLane’s students was Staci Bromberger.
“I finally learned how to throw a two-seam fastball,” said a beaming Bromberger. “I learned to keep my fingers on the seems, keep the fingers on top of the ball and release it with a snap of the wrist.”
Bromberger viewed the situation from the players’ points of view.
‘I think they’re having a lot of fun, too,” she noted. “Going over the basics is taking them back to when they began in the minors. We asked them to start at the beginning.
“So Derran [Watts] held up a Louisville Slugger and said to us, ‘OK, this is a bat’,” Bromberger said with a laugh.
Many of the women in attendance were far beyond needing that fundamental tidbit of Watts’ instruction, since they were players in the New York Women’s Baseball Association.
The co-founder of the league, Susan Winthrop, was a participant in the clinic, and she pointed out the dozen or so women from her league who were at the clinic.
“I came out to support the Cyclones’ efforts to promote women’s baseball,” she noted. “Our league plays the game of baseball with the regular rules of the game, just like the men.
“We like the challenge of baseball,” she explained.
The Cyclones instructors tried to help the women meet that challenge.
The women received excellent instruction and enjoyed a day in the sun at the ballpark.
Was the day a success? Everyone left smiling, looking forward to another clinic, and more women’s baseball.
The many faces of Tony
Tony Tijerina has a Marine haircut, an athletic grace and a boyish, Huck Finn grin. Judging by appearances, he seems to be an outdoors guy who is perfectly at home on a ball field concentrating solely on his job as the Cyclones’ manager, right?
Well, not so fast.
While Tijerina does paddle around Keyspan Park like a duck in water, and baseball is on his mind most of the time, this guy is no one-pitch wonder.
Tijerina loads more than his clothes, athletic gear and a computer when he boards the Cyclones bus. He also takes along a chess set.
“I love the strategy of chess — the way you have to plan ahead to set up your future moves,” says the Clones leader.
Tijerina has played coaches and players in his past stints as a minor league manager, and he recommends the game to his current charges.
“Players can learn about thinking ahead from playing chess,” he says.
Chess isn’t the only other game that Tijerina enjoys. He plays bocce, which he learned to play at family gatherings.
“I used to play Tim McNabb in double-A and triple-A, right on the field,” explains Tony. “We’d get to the field early and set up a game on the [warning] track.”
It’s not only games that interest Tijerina. He’s also got a thing for penmanship. Peer into the Clones’ dugout and you can see the Brooklyn line-up card posted on the dugout wall. Tijerina neatly writes all of the players’ names in Old Roman script.
“I took a calligraphy course in high school and I’ve enjoyed it ever since,” points out the manager.
“Fans ask for the lineup cards as souvenirs, and I try to oblige them,” he says.
So, if you ever need someone to play chess with, seek a bocce baller in a pinch, or maybe want to have you wedding invitations hand written, Tijerina just might be your man.
But he might be busy managing Brooklyn’s baseball team.
July 24, 2004 issue