Every summer in Coney Island, the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Single-A short season affiliate of the New York Mets, provide an entertaining and competitive brand of baseball right in the borough of Kings.
And though it’s hard to believe, the franchise will begin its 15th season in Brooklyn on Saturday, June 20.
The Cyclones have had 51 players reach the big leagues, including current Mets Lucas Duda, Daniel Murphy, Juan Lagares, Dillon Gee and Wilmer Flores.
But aside from producing quality ballplayers, the team has thrived as a whole for 15 years based on the dedication of everyone involved with the franchise.
From day one, Gary Perone, a Bensonhurst native who grew up as an altar server at St. Finbar, Bath Beach, has infused the spirit of Brooklyn into the Cyclones. He’s Brooklyn through and through, having played baseball as a second baseman for Bishop Ford H.S., Park Slope, and then earning a psychology degree with a minor in business from St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights.
In January, 2001, Perone became the Cyclones’ director of community relations, which made him the first director of a professional Brooklyn sports team since the Brooklyn Dodgers left for Los Angeles following the 1957 season.
“That position was probably the best position anyone could ever have at the time because you were automatically in the forefront of bringing sports back to Brooklyn since the Dodgers,” Perone said.
He was a natural fit for the role, having already previously established the Long Ball Club, New York City’s first-ever off-season baseball program for kids. The 20-week program educated youngsters about the game and organized field trips to baseball landmarks, such as the National Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, and the Yogi Berra Museum in Montclair, N.J.
Word spread quickly of Perone’s passion for the game of baseball and ties to the Brooklyn community. He had met Cyclones’ general manager Steve Cohen at baseball’s winter meetings a few years before the Cyclones’ first season and came highly recommended for the job.
Soon, Perone served as director of marketing and sales, and he is currently the team’s director of business development as well as assistant general manager. But it’s almost not even worth pinning him down with one or two titles, since he’s always looking to do more for the Cyclones’ franchise.
Cornerstone of Revitalization
Perone and the handful of Cyclones’ staff members that have been there since the beginning were excited to begin 2001 with a clean slate. There was a feeling of walking into the unknown, but they have taken that opportunity and run with it, with the results being evident when looking at the Coney Island community today.
“Building this ballpark became the cornerstone of the revitalization of Coney Island,” Perone said. “If it succeeded for five years, everything else around it would succeed, and I think that’s a true fact because everything right now in Coney Island is vibrant.”
For all 14 seasons in franchise history, the Cyclones have led all of Minor League Baseball in attendance. Considering the team only plays 76 games each season – and only 38 of which are on their home turf of MCU Park – leading every year in attendance is a testament to the atmosphere the franchise has created on and off the field.
“We built a sustaining relationship with the community that is now still sought out 15 years later,” Perone said. “We made this place feel more like home to the community. MCU Park is a community park. MCU Park is Brooklyn’s playground. That’s the way I like to look at Coney Island today.”
It’s that community feel that has kept the fans coming back every summer, as well as the various promotional nights throughout the schedule. There are always plenty of fun events planned for the whole family.
“I think what we’ve done over time is identify that we have something for everyone,” Perone said. “There’s not a day that goes by and not a season that goes by that we don’t touch on one point.”
Over the last 15 years, the franchise’s business model has of course changed with the times. However, the one constant that has kept the franchise going strong is the people involved staying true to the emphasis on community.
“This organization has definitely stepped up in different areas in different ways,” Perone said. “This is real Brooklyn people with Brooklyn roots, and I think that’s what we need to look at moving forward.”
The Cyclones open their season on the road Friday, June 19, against the Staten Island Yankees. The home opener is the following day against the Yankees at MCU Park.
With the continued dedication of Perone and the rest of the Cyclones’ staff, we’re in store for another summer of fun down in Coney Island for the 15th-straight year. Go Cyclones!
Contact Jim Mancari at email@example.com.