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Tijerina keeps Clones cool — by taking them to Coney Island

The Brooklyn Paper
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On the day of the Cyclones’ playoff opener at home against Tri-City, the team checked out of their temporary quarters in a Bay Ridge hotel. It was around 11 am, and the Clones had a window of a few hours before they had to report to Keyspan Park for that evening’s game.

Did manager Tony Tijerina call a team meeting to go over strategy? Did he try to get his players psyched for the post season?

No, that’s not the manager’s style. Tijerina believes in letting the players relax before a game, especially — a playoff game.

“If you start yelling and screaming before a big game, and telling the players they can’t play ping-pong in the clubhouse, all it does is make the players nervous because you’re acting differently than you’ve acted all year,” said Tijerina, a six-year minor league managing veteran at only 34 years of age.

So the Cyclones manager lets the players relax. How?

“We shuttled everybody over to the ballpark and six players and myself rode the Cyclone and shot the freak, and then we walked the boardwalk,” said the Cyclones leader, describing some of the attractions along the boardwalk.

“We were screaming a lot on the Cyclone,” Derran Watts said of his first ride on the classic coaster, “I’ll admit that.”

“Dante Brinkley said he was going to shoot the freak [a popular Boardwalk amusement that allows players to shoot paint pellets at a man regaled in anti-paint pellet equipment] and he did just that,” said an admiring Watts.

Warming up by firing a toy rifle at the human target called “The Freak” might have been better than batting practice for Brinkley. He was on base after each of his four at bats in the game that night against Tri-City with two walks, two hits and a run scored.

Should the Cyclones win their semi-final series against Tri-City, expect more Cyclones on the Cyclone and shooting the freak before their next home game.

And their manager might be with them!

Brooklyn connection

Duke Davis was a spectator at this year’s first playoff game in Tri-City. Davis lives near Binghamton, N.Y., and he was a catcher in the Brooklyn Dodgers farm system.

Back in 1943, Davis was working for IBM. He grew up in the Binghamton area, and he used to catch batting practice for the Binghamton Triplets.

“The Dodgers Jake Pitler knew me from my playing ball in Binghamton, so he got the Dodgers to offer me a bonus of $500 if I’d sign,” relates Davis. He was 4F for the military draft, and he signed a contract with Brooklyn.

In his first season, Davis played for Olean in the PONY League (So named because it consisted of teams from Pennsylvania, Ontario and New York), the forerunner of the Cyclones’ New York-Penn League. Batavia and Jamestown are cities represented in the PONY League in Davis’ day that are now in the New York-Penn League.

In fact, when Davis was in the Dodger organization, he played on the same team in Olean as George Shuba, the Dodger outfielder better known by his nickname: “Shotgun Shuba.” In fact, Davis was on the team when Shuba earned his famous moniker — for uplifted “shotgun” shots into State Street over the 250-foot right field fence.

In 1944, Davis once caught Hall of Fame hurler Cy Young when Young, long past his playing days, was an instructor at Erie demonstrating proper pitching techniques.

Davis never made the Brooklyn Dodgers, but after his playing days were over, he visited the Dodger front office at 215 Montague St. to get a ticket to see a game at Ebbets Field.

“My name was still listed on one of the blackboards that the Dodgers had on which they kept track of every player in their farm system,” said Davis.

“That was in the movie about Jackie Robinson,” he noted. “If you look at the blackboard in the Dodgers’ offices, there’s my name.”

Just deserts

Another Brooklyn fan present at the first Cyclones game at Tri-City was Jack Kraft, known as “The Desert Viking” because Kraft lives in Las Vegas and claims to be a descendant of both Leif Ericson and King Harold III.

“I’m a direct lineal descendent on my mother’s side of Leif Ericson and on my father’s side of King Harold III, the Viking king,” he claims

But Kraft’s more recent background shows that he’s a Brooklynite who attended Brooklyn Technical High School.

Kraft loves minor league baseball, and he has seen games in over 60 minor league cities. He flew all the way from his Nevada home to Albany so that he could see the first Cyclones playoff game at Troy.

“I grew up with the Dodgers,” stated Kraft. “The first Dodgers game I went to was in 1946, and I was in Ebbets Field when Jackie Robinson played his first game in 1947, and I was present for Thomson’s home run in 1951 when they lost it all, and I was in Yankee Stadium when the Dodgers won it all in 1955.”

Jack Kraft even shows that he and other Dodger fans have a forgiving nature. When Kraft attended the first-ever Cyclones game at Keyspan Park, Ralph Branca, who gave up Thomson’s famous “Shot Heard ’Round the World,” was there to throw out a ceremonial first pitch.

“We applauded him,” said Kraft. “Fifty years is enough!”

Brinkley goes batty

The Cyclones had clinched the McNamara Division title, and they were playing out the string at Hudson Valley.

Dante Brinkley was in left field and Derran Watts was in center, and Watts noticed that Brinkley was edging towards the left field line.

“Dante kept moving more and more towards the line, more than he should for the batter that was up,“ said Watts. “I called out to him and asked him what he was doing and at first he wouldn’t answer,” recalled his friend and fellow outfielder.

“Finally, he yelled back to me and said, ‘Bats!’ ” recalled Watts.

Brinkley quickly scooted into foul territory, time was called, and eventually a pair of bats was removed from the field.

Brinkley stands in against a ball thrown at over 90 miles per hour, but he was one of a select few players ever brushed backed by a bat.

September 11 , 2004 issue  

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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