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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Cyclones Past and Present

Congratulations to Travis Taijeron, he of the almost-invariably mispronounced last name, on his first big-league hit.

And congratulations to Joey Votto for continuing to be Joey Votto. The Reds’ star demolished a ball thrown by Jeurys Familia for a home run, then gave high-fives, his bat and uniform top to a kid battling cancer. (And note how Votto gracefully handled the post-game questions.)

Beyond that, well, it was another game mercifully off the schedule. Jacob deGrom had an uncharacteristically poor day, Amed Rosario made a rookie mistake in the field, and Familia’s still shaking off the rust.

And Asdrubal Cabrera is still here, instead of airlifted to a contender in exchange for some vague prospect. (Though let’s not kid ourselves, he probably just would have become cash.) Time will tell whether that means the Mets didn’t get a deal they liked, or plan to slot Cabrera into 2018’s infield. Third base? Second base? A random selection of starts at both so both he and Wilmer Flores remain defensively out of sorts? Place your bets!

To reference a more recap-worthy game, I missed Wednesday night’s bravura performance by Rafael Montero because Joshua and I were at Coney Island to ride stuff and to see the Brooklyn Cyclones at home.

To my mild astonishment, this is the Cyclones’ 17th season by the ocean. (We don’t count the farcical summer of 2000, when the soon-to-be Cyclones were owned by the Mets, affiliated with the Blue Jays and played before basically nobody at St. John’s as the Queens Kings.)

It’s funny to recall, but the Cyclones were A Thing in the summer of 2001 — the park was invariably crowded if not sold out, and Cyclones players turned up on MTV and in cool Manhattan clubs where they could barely afford a drink even if old enough to order one.

I vividly remember two players from that team, one you’ve heard of and one you probably haven’t.

Angel Pagan was the heartthrob, a lithe, sloe-eyed center fielder with a name borrowed from a Goth band. I used to dream that one day he’d play for the Mets, and of course he did — albeit after a detour that saw him make his big-league debut with the Cubs. In fact, Pagan logged 11 big-league seasons, got a World Series ring and retired having made more than $51 million playing baseball.

John Toner played right field and had an endearing habit of paying attention whenever the girls in the bleachers called his name. Toner stalled out in Single-A in 2003, playing his last pro game as a 24-year-old. But that’s nothing to be ashamed of; something along those lines will befall most Cyclones. I like to imagine Toner remembers that summer fondly and always will.

Certainly I do — the Cyclones won the division and beat the Staten Island Yankees in a thrilling three-game playoff. They were set to play the Williamsport Crosscutters for the New York-Penn League crown on the night of Sept. 12, 2001 — a game that never took place, leaving both teams co-champions.

Five 2001 Cyclones made the big leagues — Pagan, Danny Garcia, Mike Jacobs, Lenny DiNardo, and Justin Huber. That was an intriguing part of that first season — knowing that relatively few players would achieve their big-league dreams, and trying to figure out which of the guys we were watching had a chance.

Over the years we’d learn that was more preordained than you’d like to think, a reflection of baseball’s caste system. Players start their pro careers viewed as legitimate prospects or roster fillers. Beginning as the former means you’ll be allowed to fail repeatedly; starting as the latter means having to prove yourself season after season and game after game to be thought of differently.

All these years later, when someone asks about a Cyclone’s chances, I feel bad saying that the best way to tell is to answer one or both of two questions:

1) How much money did he sign for?
2) Is he big and able to throw 95?

I’ve collected all the Cyclones’ card sets since 2001 — that was a secondary reason for our Wednesday visit. They’re in a binder, and I’ve taken the additional step of putting stickers on the players who made the big leagues. (Rehabbing Mets granted Cyclone cards don’t count.) Not every Cyclone is represented — the club has a web page for that — but it’s an at-a-glance reminder of the long odds.

Taijeron just got his sticker; so did Kevin McGowan. Right now, Michael Conforto and Rosario are the most-recent carded Cyclones to earn one — both are featured in the 2014 set, with Tomas Nido perhaps joining them in the coming weeks.

No one from the 2015, 2016 or 2017 sets has a sticker yet. But that will change. P.J. Conlon could be the first, or Justin Dunn, or Desmond Lindsay. Maybe they’ll make their debuts as Mets; maybe not. Either way, checking in with the Cyclones on Coney Island and in cardboard has become an essential part of summer. Here’s hoping it will always be so.

11 comments to Cyclones Past and Present

  • Matt

    “another game mercifully off the schedule.” Spot on.

  • Harvey Poris

    I was at the Cyclones last night, their second consecutive doubleheader. The this time the Brooklyn boys played two crisp games, won both 3-2. This moved their record up to 21-48. I also have all the Cyclones sets and some other Cyclone cards from Topps, etc. and all their publications since they started in 2001. My favorite Cyclone this year is IF-DH Walter Rasquin. He’s hitting exactly .300 in 57 games with 30 steals. He won the second game last night in extras with his first Cyclone HR. Downsides, fielding problems and hasn’t demonstrated much power. He is exciting to watch when he gets on base. David Peterson, the#1 draft choice, only pitched a couple of innings for Brooklyn this year, but I guess he is the favored one by Mets management.
    You are right about the attendance. In 2001, they averaged over 7,800 a game, and in 2002 they upped that to 8,345. By last year, they were down to about 5,600 and this year a little over 5,200. This will be the first year they will draw under 200,00 for the season. The bad team, the thinning ranks of old Brooklyn Dodger fans and the changing demographics of much of that part of Brooklyn all play a part.

  • Chris Slowik

    Lenny DiNardo appeared in 24 games for the 2004 Boston Red Sox, compiling a 4.23 ERA over 27.2 innings with no decisions and no saves in low-leverage situations. He spent the second half of the season on the DL and was not named to the roster for any postseason series.

    Of course the 2004 Boston Red Sox won the Word Series, breaking an 86-year franchise drought, the subject of millions of words worth of babble and bile.

    On Opening Day 2005 – on my birthday, no less – I stood with a delirious Fenway crowd, and a dugout full of sullen Yankees, to watch the 2004 Sox get their World Series rings. Lost among my memories of Papi and Pedro and Nomar and Tek from that day is any thought of Lenny DiNardo, who seems to have been one of forty-odd 2004 contributors to get a ring. In what I thought was a classy way of doing things, the ringees -whether still with the club or not – were introduced in reverse order of their service time with the club. Lenny, who had been on the roster for some length of time, surely got his ring somewhere in the middle of the pack. I don’t remember him. A Google search and a brief viewing of the ceremony on YouTube shows no trace of Lenny, although I didn’t look that hard.

    When the Sox put Lenny DiNardo on waivers in 2006 – or as the British so deftly put it, was made “surplus to requirements” – and was claimed by the A’s – an online Red Sox wag (not me) posted, in a discussion thread entitled “Thank You, Lenny DiNardo” in recognition of his contribution to the pennant run:

    “I hope someday you come back to the Red Sox, but wherever you end up, I’ll always be happy to buy you a domestic beer or go halfsies with you on a pizza or something.”

    Lenny – by all accounts a swell guy – made 21 more appearances for the Red Sox over the next two years, and then logged three more seasons in the uniforms of the A’s and Royals – where the nondescript go to evade further notice.

    He was out of baseball at the age of 29.

    It takes some doing to string together a six-year major league career with as few consequences, for good or ill, as Lenny DiNardo – except for that 2004 Boston Red Sox World Series ring.

    And if the Devil had appeared over the shoulder of 21-year-old Cyclone Lenny DiNardo, on a bus-rumble to Batavia or Utica or Burlington, and offered him that career, and that ring, in exchange for his soul – would he have taken it?

    Like you need to ask.

  • Steve D

    On this date in 1975 Tom Seaver became the first pitcher to strike out 200+ batters 8 years in a row! I was there in the upper deck. I met Seaver a few years ago. I said “I was there when you struck out 200 batters…” he cut me off and said “in one game?”

  • Kevin From Flushing

    Thanks for inspiring me to check out the boxscore of the lone Cyclones game I’ve been to in 2014. It was Seinfeld Night, and despite showing up early, the Keith Hernandez Magic Loogie bobbleheads were all spoken for.

    Also, this is unconfirmed, but Rosario was pulled due to Game Situation. With Brooklyn down 16-0 in the 5th, Amed was done for the night. That game was the only time I saw a passed ball/wild pitch where the runners didn’t even budge. It was quite literally pitiful. But hey, I saw Amed before Amed was cool (really, Brooklyn is quite a fitting place for minor league baseball).

  • eric1973

    Wow, Jason, certainly I remember John Toner, as that first year, and for years after, they were the hottest thing around! I used to go to one game a year, up until a few years ago, and the atmosphere could not be more warm, cozy, and inviting.

    Got a foul ball, too, hit by Corey Coles, on SEP03, 2004, needed to reach under the seat in front of me. That’s the only one ever, so I’ll never be confused with Zack Hample, and it was quite a thrill.

    Everyone should go, and make sure you get the Lobster Sandwich at Nathan’s beforehand. 

  • My attempt to popularize the nickname Cartridge for John Toner never went anywhere.

  • Dave

    Kevin – I was at that game, and as I recall, the first batter up hit the ball right to Rosario and it proceeded to go right through the wickets. My wife said “this is the hot prospect you wanted to see?”

  • Jacobs27

    He could have gotten an endorsement with W.B. Mason!

    Probably the most memorable thing I ever saw at a Cyclones game was not directly gamed-related. One fine summer night in 2001, a drunk, shirtless fan ran out onto the outfield. A bunch of paunchy security guards started to approach him. I say approach because ‘chase’ would falsely imply some speed or urgency…

    Anyway, the guy, being on a baseball field, decides to run the bases. So he rounds second and the security guards still aren’t particularly near him. He rounds third, and the players are just ignoring him. Finally he gets to home plate and Mike Jacobs, then a catcher, is waiting patiently there. Jacobs takes one look at the guy and in a short, quick movement does a kind of chest bump or body check, laying him out. Boom. It was so surprising and so comical-looking that we almost didn’t know how to react. But after a moment’s hesitation, loud cheers. At that point, the sprawled gentleman was finally recovered by security and escorted off the field. It was something.

  • Jacobs27

    “Baseball’s caste system” — yeah, that’s a good way of putting it, Jason. It’s a moment of disillusionment about the Minor Leagues when you realize that it’s not really a meritocracy or a level playing field. Your T.J. Riveras are the exception.