Last night, I sojourned with FOS and SOFOS to Citi Field, where we enjoyed a Mets' win on an altogether perfect night for baseball. My thirst for the sport, though, was not quite slaked (in fairness, the Mets have a recent history of leaving their fans unslaked--I didn't even get to see David Wright!). So today I took in my first ever minor-league game (yes, yes, "except for the Mets! heh, heh, heh"--bite me) at the Coney Island home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, a "short-season A-ball" affiliate of those same New York Mets.
Walking down the boardwalk to MCU Park, I passed a family--mother, father, two kids--who were also heading to the game. I discovered this by overhearing their conversation. I also discovered that they were British. And I'm not talking football-hooligan-oy-give-us-a-pint-mate British; these were Colin Firth and Emma Thompson in Timon of Athens Brits! The little boy, maybe six years old, asked, "Daddy, whom are we rooting for?"
"We're rooting for the Brooklyn Cyyy-clones, Dear."
"Whom are they playing against?" (I swear to GOD I am not making this up!)
"Erm. . . The 'Connecticut Tiii-gers.' Yes, I believe they're from the upstate portion of New York."
Then the mother chimed in, "No, Darling, Connecticut is another state."
"Oh, I see. Well, Kevin, I'm afraid I have given you some incorrect information."--VERBATIM!--"It seems that the Connecticut team is not from New York ahfter all."
All I could think at this point was, "Oh, please God, let these people be sitting next to me!" Alas, they were not.
The stadium is, as you might expect, a fraction of the size of Citi Field, seating about 7,500 people as opposed to 40,000-plus. I had a great seat: twelfth row, right behind home plate, but really nobody is terribly far from the action. Considering how close I was to the field, I was struck by how normally proportioned the players were: These were clearly kids, all a ways off from the Major Leagues. The average age was about twenty, and the average build was high-school basketball benchwarmer; no hint of steroid abuse here. But once the game started, it was baseball. The pitchers may not have been throwing 98-mile-an-hour fastballs and 12-6 curves, but they threw hard; the hitters made contact (or not), just as Major Leaguers would. And in the end, the Cyclones won, so the day can be considered a success.
But most notable was the atmosphere. Whereas at Citi Field--or any Major League venue--everything is slick and highly polished, at MCU Park, everything was just a bit tackier. It was "Camp Day" at the stadium, referring to the numerous day camps from around the Tri-State area making field trips to the game, but "camp" might just as well have referred to the ironic fidelity to minor-league spirit manifested by the game's incidentals.
First, the game had a sort of master of ceremonies, the "King of Kings County," a tummler of Kramdenesque proportions. In a blaring red vest and pants and wearing a red velvet crown, the King exhorted the crowd to cheer ever-more lustily for the hometown team. He also presented festivities between innings, including a three-legged race between two fans and two members of the Brooklyn Beach Bums cheering squad (yes, cheerleaders!); a "dizzy race," involving two fans racing after spinning around with their foreheads on bats; a baserunning race between a young fan and the Cyclones' mascot, Sandy the Seagull.
(DIGRESSION: Isn't there something unfortunate about a boardwalk-based entertainment outfit presenting anything named "Sandy"? EOD)
There were also the requisite t-shirt launches--I still have never caught a t-shirt at a sporting venue, so, y'know, my life remains empty--and dance routines. The hot-dog race was exciting (Mustard won in what must be considered a major upset to anyone who follows the snack-and-condiment racing circuit). The Cyclones also employ a young man, the Brooklyn Buccaneer, who wears a pirate outfit and runs screaming down the right field line waving banners every time the Cyclones score--because, obviously, when you think of Coney Island, you think of. . . pirates. . .?
I don't know whether the whole sideshow is typical of a minor-league experience. It felt authentic--in a thoroughly kitschy sort of way--but that could just mean my resistance to irony has been hopelessly depleted.