“Let’s go, Staten Island!” I say. This might strike you as an unusual chant since it comes from a columnist for The Brooklyn Paper, but before I join the legions of people who have been booed by Brooklyn fans — including, if it’s not urban legend, every prominent Dodger except for Gil Hodges — let me explain.
The Cyclones and the Staten Island Yankees are in an unusual situation. They’re two minor-league teams in the same big-league town, representing boroughs who are neighbors separated by the Narrows, and whose ballparks are only a few miles apart.
Not only are these two clubs in the same division in their league, but because they are geographically so close, the league encourages their rivalry by scheduling 14 games against each other — while each plays other division foes only 10 times.
In addition, each team’s parent club is in the same city, adding to the intensity.
The 14-team New York–Penn League allows four playoff teams (the three division winners plus a wild-card).
Brooklyn, with a record of 38–18, has the league’s best winning percentage. If the Cyclones, who hold a four-game league over second-place Staten Island, go on to win the division and retain the league’s best record, then they could wind up meeting Staten Island in the first round of the playoffs.
If that’s the scenario, then the first game of the best-of-three opening play-off series will be at Staten Island, with the second game, and third game — if needed — at Brooklyn.
Wouldn’t a series against Staten Island be good for Cyclones’ fans? Not too many Brooklyn fans would drive to a playoff game in Vermont or Mahoning Valley, Ohio, but there would be up to 2,000 Brooklyn fans at a playoff game in Staten Island, if the past is any indication.
What would inspire these young Cyclone players more — half a dozen fans in Lowell, Massachusetts, or 2,000 fanatics behind first base in Staten Island?
Yes, there would also be Staten Island fans at Keyspan Park for any game against Brooklyn, but more Brooklyn fans have typically travelled to Staten Island than visa-versa, Anyway, isn’t it fun to have opposition fans at the same game, since opposing fans at Cyclones-Yankees games have been generally good-natured, yet intense, about the rivalry.
I still vividly recall these rivals in the three-game semi-final playoff series in the Cyclones’ inaugural season in 2001.
I’ve been to World Series games, but I have never felt the electricity in the stands as I did for those two playoff games in Brooklyn.
Cyclone catcher Brett Kay three times made Brooklyn fans delirious in the series finale. He caught a bouncing sacrifice bunt attempt one-handed and threw out the Staten Island base-runner who was trying to advance to third; Kay also played “dead” on a tag play at home when, until the very last split-second, he looked away from the ball, standing relaxed and fooling the Yankee base-runner into slowing up just enough to be tagged out when Kay turned and caught John Toner’s throw; and then Kay added the game’s coup de gras with a decisive homer.
Would that Cyclones’ series victory have been as exciting against another rival? Would the Red Sox playoff comeback in 2004 have been as exciting against a team other than the rival Yankees?
Now let’s look at a few of the rivals’ numbers.
With five games remaining between them, Brooklyn leads Staten Island 5-4 in the battle for the Borough Presidents’ Trophy. Brooklyn is leading the league in pitching with an ERA of 2.77. Starter Dylan Owen is 7-1 with a 1.82 ERA, third in the league, and the team has a solid rotation with a lights-out bullpen.
But the Staten Island hitters aren’t chopped liver, particularly the top and middle of the order.
Little lead off man Justin Snyder is a royal pain — in the best sense of the word. He just keeps getting on (his on-base percentage is a league-leading .488) and leads the league in hitting at .375.
Clean-up hitter and third baseman Brady Pruitt is hitting .372, with an on-base percentage of .486.
If Brooklyn and Staten Island maintain their current positions, Sept. 1-4 could be crucial for both teams.
That’s when the two clubs play each other five times in four days.
Staten Island has won the last two league championships, so never count them out — and the parent Yankees, like the parent Mets, like their local farms clubs to do well, so a little subtle player maneuvering among each farm system’s teams has left both the Cyclones and Yankees with strong rosters.
So, let’s go Staten Island!
Make the wild-card, so you can lose to Brooklyn in a tense, exciting playoff series.
Each week, Ed Shakespeare, the bard of Brooklyn baseball, will take a page from his ancient ancestor and add a bit of iambic pentameter to all our lives. This week’s contribution, “Homestretch,” is a poetic tribute to the rush to the playoffs.
From June, September hurtles into view,
The term “Short Season League” is on the mark.
A moment ago, the season started — much ado,
And now, more of the game is played in dark.
September–June, a long wait, all-in-all.
October baseball in New York could be,
But not in Brooklyn — ballpark’s closed in fall.
It’s desolate — Coney Island, empty.
Two weeks remain to cheer the team from Kings
A fortnight left to see the boys out there.
They chase the title, out to get their rings.
Fourteen days before the winter of despair.
Take note, and gather rosebuds whilst ye may,
And see the players right now — seize the day.