September 11, 2004 / Sports / Brooklyn Cyclones / The Play’s the Thing

Clones ride fast into the playoffs

The Brooklyn Paper
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The Cyclones’ season seems to ride along much like a trip on the roller coaster for which the team is named. There’s a long, slow ascent, as most of the future members of the Cyclones short-season team take part in extended spring training in Florida, or perform for college teams prior to the baseball draft in early June. Meanwhile, the full-season teams in minor league baseball begin their seasons in early April.

The Cyclones schedule began on June 18, and after the extended climb towards the heights of Opening Day, the early season seems like the first drop on the ride — it’s steep and fast. The Brooklyn team was scheduled for 20 straight days until the first off day on July 9, and the season races along with only two more scheduled off days during the remainder of the 76-game season.

This year, the playoffs started on Labor Day, with only four teams making the cut, with the semi-final and final series each being best-of-three affairs.

The McNamara Division champions defeated the Tri-City Valley Cats in the first game of the semi-final series at Keyspan Park on Labor Day, and the Brooks left soon after that game for Troy, N.Y., in the hope of wrapping up the series the next night.

The Cyclones were winning that game by a 2-0 score going into the bottom of the eighth inning when the amusement park cars carrying the Cyclones became stuck.

The Valley Cats would start the inning by sending up Jonny Ash, the left-handed batting lead-off man who hit .297 during the regular season. Next up was right-handed batter James Cooper, the left fielder. The third scheduled batter was Ben Zobrist, a switch-hitter who led the league with a .339 batting average, and a batter of whom Tony Tijerina said, “We want to turn him around to bat righty when we can.”

Should any Valley Cat reach base, the fourth hitter in the inning was scheduled to be left-handed cleanup man Mario Garza, who led the league in home runs, with 15, and in runs batted in with 65.

So Tijerina went to the bullpen.

The situation called for a left-hander to face Ash, Zobrist and possibly Garza. Tijerina selected lefty Eddy Camacho.

Camacho had pitched in 20 games for Brooklyn, all in relief. He had thrown 41 innings allowing 23 hits with a miniscule ERA of 1.10. Camacho had pitched in relief the day before, but pitching back-to-back games was nothing new for him.

Tijerina, a chess player, was ready for the end game, with the proper pieces in position to checkmate the Valley Cats. The Brooklyn manager had right-handed closer Celso Rondon, with 12 saves and a 1.51 ERA, ready to come in for Camacho when the Cats had moved past Garza in the lineup.

The Brooklyn manager had the Tri-City guys right where he wanted them, but it was a couple of women who would make their appearance in the series to change things. The first of these females is known as “Lady Luck,” and here’s where she came into the game.

Camacho walked Ash, and the next scheduled batter was Cooper, who hit only .232 for the season. But Cooper had injured his arm earlier in the game, a piece of seeming bad luck for the Valley Cats. The Tri-City manager went to his bench and sent up .143 hitter Mitch Einertson, a righty, to hit. But the .143 average is deceiving. Before he reported to Tri-City near the end of the Cats’ season, Einertson played for Greenville where he hit an Appalachian League-record 24 home runs this season, plus three more in the league play-offs, and his only regular season hit for the Valley Cats, in a mere seven at bats, was a homer.

Well, Einertson struck out swinging.

That brought up Zobrist who, despite being turned around to bat righty, powered a ball over the left field fence to tie the score. After Garza walked, Tijerina brought in Rondon, who got the Cyclones out of the inning without any further damage.

After Brooklyn failed to score in the ninth, Rondon had two out and two on in the bottom of the frame with Einertson at bat. Remembew what I said about his deceptive numbers? Well, this time he singled to left center to win the game.

So now Tri-City had evened the series at 1-1, and the Cyclones would simply have to board the bus for the short trip back to the team hotel, the Day’s Inn, in nearby Colonie, N.Y.

Not so simple. When the team was ready to leave for the field that day, they had already checked out of the hotel. Minor league teams aren’t going to pay for 20-plus rooms that they won’t use.

So the team had gone to the ball field that night with three possibilities. If Brooklyn lost, the club would stay in Troy and play the next day. If the Cyclones won and Auburn defeated Mahoning Valley to even the New York-Penn League’s other semi-final series at 1-1, then the Cyclones would head home right after the game, arrive in Brooklyn at around 2:30 am and wait to see what would happen in the other series. If the Cyclones won and Mahoning Valley went on to win that series, then Brooklyn would go directly by bus to Mahoning Valley, Ohio, to begin the final series on Thursday.

“Just win the game and get on the bus,” was the common sense advice that batting coach Donovan Mitchell promulgated to a few players before the game.

After the loss to the Valley Cats, the Cyclones traveled back to the Day’s Inn and checked into rooms — albeit not the ones they had left that afternoon.

Trainer Ruben Barrera, who doubles as the Cyclones’ traveling secretary, had to scramble to make sure that all the Cyclones had rooms, and the uniforms were washed and ready for the next night’s contest.

On the next afternoon, Brooklyn once again checked out of the Day’s Inn and loaded all the baseball equipment and civilian clothes onto their Academy bus for the trip to Joseph L. Bruno Stadium for the final game of the series.

Now “Lady Luck” was joined by “Mother Nature” as a possible determiner of the Cyclones’ fate.

Hurricaine Frances was moving up the coast from Florida, and the hurricane’s remnants were expected to bring rain into the Troy area that evening.

On a rainy Wednesday afternoon, the Cyclones again checked out of the hotel and bused to the ballpark.

The weather reports made the completion of a full game unlikely but, despite a drizzle, the game began at 7:22 pm. The umpires called the game because of a hard downpour, and the contest would resume from scratch on the next night, Sept. 9.

Once more, the team got back on the bus and went to the Day’s Inn — to new rooms once again.

More rain from the residue of Hurricane Frances was predicted and the rain in the morning was heavy.

In the afternoon, the Cyclones again checked out of the hotel. and headed for the Valley Cats’ ballpark. Later that evening, three things could happen: The Cyclones could be victorious and on the bus heading for Niles, Ohio and the opening round of the championship series against Mahoning Valley; they could be defeated, their season over and headed for Brooklyn; they could be rained out and headed back to the Day’s Inn.

Despite the right strategic moves of their chess-playing manager, the Cyclones were stuck in rain and a temporary

stalemate. Lady Luck and Mother Nature were making the Cyclones feel like residents of Troy.

As the Cyclones slugger Tyler Davidson said after the Sept. 8 rainout, “We want to get out of here!”

From Davidson’s tone and body language, you knew he didn’t want to leave with a defeat. After all, that would be no way to end this season’s ride.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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