A victory ‘bigger than baseball’
CONEY ISLAND — For the first time since the Brooklyn Dodgers won the World Series in 1955, the borough of Kings has a professional sports champion.
On Sept. 10, the Brooklyn Cyclones — the Single-A short season affiliate of the New York Mets — won the New York-Penn League championship outright for the first time in franchise history. The team battled to a 4-3 victory over the Lowell Spinners at MCU Park in Coney Island.
The key word here is “outright.” To fully understand the significance of what this victory means to the team, let’s backtrack to 2001.
In their inaugural season, the Cyclones took the borough of Brooklyn by storm and advanced to the league championship series against the Williamsport Crosscutters. On Sept. 10, 2001, Brooklyn won the opener of the best-of-three series on the road, setting up the potential clincher at home the following day.
On the morning of Sept. 11, Gary Perone, then the team’s director of community relations, was filled with excitement as the Cyclones were on the verge of hoisting a championship trophy. This was the first job in professional baseball for Perone, a graduate of Bishop Ford H.S., Park Slope, and St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights, and so he was eager to arrive early to the park that day.
Then the unthinkable happened.
The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center shook New York City to its core. As Perone drove over the Verrazzano Bridge from Staten Island, he saw the flames shooting out of the Twin Towers.
“At the time, we were all confused,” said Perone, a Bensonhurst native who growing up was an altar server at St. Finbar, Bath Beach. “No one knew what was going on. Basically, everyone was wondering what would happen next. When we found out later on what had happened, then all of a sudden things started settling in.”
After witnessing the first tower fall while standing on the ballpark’s roof, Perone was no longer thinking about the excitement of Cyclones’ baseball. Instead, his thoughts immediately turned to his family’s safety and to his co-workers who knew people working in lower Manhattan.
At that point, Major League Baseball decided that the remainder of the minor league playoffs would be canceled. Though the Cyclones had a one-game lead in the series, they were declared 2001 co-champions with the Crosscutters.
After that, the Cyclones reached the league championship series three other times — 2003, 2007 and 2010 — but never emerged victorious. Until now.
All this past summer, the young Brooklyn team, under manager and former Mets fan-favorite Edgardo Alfonzo, fought through adversity to win the McNamara Division and defeat the Hudson Valley Renegades in the opening round of the playoffs.
After splitting the first two games of the championship series with Lowell, the Cyclones relied on a seventh-inning rally to come from behind to take a 4-3 lead in Game 3. With the tying run in scoring position in the top of the ninth, 22-year-old lefty Andrew Edwards struck out back-to-back hitters to bring home the championship for Brooklyn.
The time that final strikeout was recorded: 9:11 p.m.
Now 18 years after the 9/11 attacks, Perone, who’s now the team’s director of business development and assistant general manager, said he had mixed emotions. This year’s championship signified the completion of a mission started many years ago.
What’s more is that the inaugural Cyclones team was managed by Edgar Alfonzo, Edgardo’s brother. Additionally, when the Cyclones were honored on Sept. 11 at Citi Field, the Mets won the game with nine runs and 11 hits — all the more reason to believe that some divine intervention was at play.
“In the borough where I went to elementary school and attended church, all the people that we know and all the Brooklyn fans were looking down to bless this organization,” Perone said. “The borough and the fans have enjoyed this very much since it was a long time coming. I’m happy for everybody.”
Often times, the phrase “bigger than baseball” is used when individual moments transcend the routine happenings of the game.
The Cyclones winning their first outright championship on the eve of Sept. 11 at 9:11 p.m. given the circumstances surrounding their playoff run in 2001 is indeed bigger than baseball.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.