A year later than originally expected, the Brooklyn Cyclones are currently playing in their 20th anniversary season. For the past two decades, it’s been quite a wild ride down in Coney Island — pun intended.
Throughout all 20 seasons, two passionate Cyclones fans have taken their fandom to the next level: My aunts, Mary and Diane DeBernardo.
The youngest two of eight siblings, Mary and Diane are lifelong parishioners at Immaculate Heart of Mary, Windsor Terrace. A love of baseball runs in the family, with my grandfather Jimmy DeBernardo having played minor-league baseball with the Philadelphia Phillies and later becoming an avid Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Mets fan.
Just as the Cyclones franchise was starting to take shape in late 2000, Mary remembers standing on a long line that stretched down Surf Avenue outside the unfinished ballpark to purchase tickets. She bought tickets to a number of games throughout the summer, with the hopes of attending alongside Diane and Jimmy. Sadly, Jimmy never saw a Cyclones game — something he would have absolutely loved. He died just a few weeks before the Cyclones’ inaugural season. Yet his baseball-loving daughters would make sure that they became a staple at the new Coney Island ballpark.
Each summer, the sisters attended as many games as possible to see the Mets’ Single-A affiliate in action. Their neighbor had season tickets since the first summer season but only liked to go on the weekends, so Mary and Diane purchased all the weekday games from him.
By 2009, Mary and Diane were full-time season ticket holders in Section 2 — right behind home plate. They enjoy spending time each summer with their Cyclones family in the surrounding seats, taking in the atmosphere of one of the finest ballparks in all of minor league baseball, as evidenced by the Cyclones consistently drawing among the highest number of fans each season.
“You cannot beat the party atmosphere,” Mary said. “You’re in a party atmosphere from the minute you walk in, and then you come out and you’re still in a party.”
“With our seats, when you look to left field, I like to call that the ‘Coney Island Skyline,’ and then if you look to the other side, there’s the Parachute Jump,” Diane said. “Then there’s fireworks. It’s just a lot of fun all around.”
Becoming Cyclones fans was easy for these two. Though they never attended Ebbets Field, having a ballpark right in the neighborhood gave them a sense of what it was like to be a fan of “Dem Bums.”
“It has been very exciting,” Diane said. “In Brooklyn now, you can’t walk a block without seeing someone with a Cyclones cap on.”
“When we grew up, our summers were spent in Coney Island; that was our summer neighborhood,” Mary said. “We grew up right there … on the boardwalk, at the beach, on the rides, at Nathan’s.”
Throughout the years, Mary and Diane have made it a point to become friends with many of the players and welcome them to Brooklyn. They have hats, jerseys, and baseballs signed by the full team for each summer, and they happily provide pre- and post-game nourishment to the players in the form of chocolate chip cookies, brownies, baked ziti, ravioli, pizza, and meatball heroes.
Some of their favorite players over the 20 seasons have been Phillip Evans, Gavin Cecchini, Juan Gamboa, Manny Rodriguez, Nelfi Zapata, Cory Vaughn, Jay Caligiuri, Marco Camarena, Brian Harrison, Yeudy Colon, and Brandon Nimmo.
Of all the players, lefty pitcher Hamilton Bennett will always have a special place in their hearts. Their bond of friendship grew so strong that Mary and Diane attended Bennett’s wedding in North Carolina.
Collecting all the cool stadium giveaways has also been a pastime for these Cyclones fanatics. Both Mary and Diane have a glass case in their homes with a myriad of bobbleheads and items from the many themed nights at the park. They’ve also each thrown out a ceremonial first pitch on a number of occasions.
Following the Cyclones’ New York-Penn League championship in 2019 — a game, of course, both aunts were at — excitement was high heading into 2020. Longtime St. John’s University, Jamaica, head coach Ed Blankmeyer was set to take over as the team’s new manager. But the pandemic put the Cyclones 20th anniversary season on hold.
MCU Park — now known as Maimonides Park — served as the alternate site for Mets minor leaguers who needed to stay sharp in case the big club called. Unfortunately, that meant no baseball.
Absence has made the heart grow fonder this time around. Mary and Diane — both fully vaccinated — are back in the stands ready to cheer for the Cyclones, who are now the Mets’ High-A minor-league affiliate, meaning the season is one month longer.
The next time you catch a Cyclones game in Coney Island, look to the section behind home plate. When you see the two fans with hand-made signs, foam fingers, bells, thundersticks, and maybe even a post-game plate of cookies on deck, those are my aunts, who are very excited to be back celebrating 20 years of Cyclones baseball.
Jimmy DeBernardo would be proud.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.