For three quarters of a century the wooden cars of the Cyclone
roller coaster have lurched slowly heavenward, inch by ominous
inch, before reaching the ride's first precipice and descending
85 stomach-shuddering feet. The Cyclone stands as a white-knuckle
monument to grander days when Coney Island, the slender, sandy
bar that shelters Brooklyn from the Atlantic Ocean, was called
Sodom by the Sea. Most of the other amusement-park attractions,
including the Steeplechase, the Tickler, Flip-Flap, the
Insanitarium, 34-inch-tall Princess Wee Wee and 685-pound Jolly
Trixy ("So fat that it takes seven men to hug her"), have long
In 1957 the Dodgers disappeared from Brooklyn too and broke
hearts from Canarsie to Sheepshead Bay. When Ebbets Field was
torn down three years later for a housing project, fun and games
in Brooklyn amounted to playing stickball on neighborhood
streets. The Bums will never come back, but on June 25 some new
Boys of Summer played ball where immigrants once raced the
Steeplechase's horses. On that sultry night the Brooklyn
Cyclones, a Class A farm team of the New York Mets, brought
professional baseball back to the Big Apple's most populous
Though the Cyclones play in the low bushes of the short-season
New York-Penn League, their home opener, against the Mahoning
Valley Scrappers, had the tone of a family reunion. Nostalgia
washed over everything at KeySpan Park. The sellout crowd of
7,500 strolled into the new $39 million stadium, which was paid
for by New York City, talking the way people do when they revisit
an old house where they lived for years and raised their kids.
Maybe half the fans claimed to have attended the last game at
Ebbets Field, 44 years ago.
One of those who didn't was John Davenport, a 68-year-old
Brooklynite. "When the Dodgers moved west, it destroyed me," he
said. "I'm still in mourning." Davenport will never forgive the
Bums for deserting him. "I went to see them a few times at Shea
Stadium in the early '90s," he said, "but only to yell 'You are
fat!' at Tommy Lasorda."
Like the settlers of Coney Island, the Cyclones have an
international flavor: The players--none older than 26--hail from
Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Australia, the Dominican Republic, even
as far away as New Jersey. Although Carl Erskine, a superb
righthanded pitcher in the '50s for the Dodgers and now a
semiretired banker in Indiana, had lectured these Coney Island
babies on Brooklyniana, outfielder Michael Piercy seemed to be
the only one with a sense of where he was. As a kid in nearby
Hillside, N.J., he came to Coney Island with his father for the
rides and to eat Nathan's hot dogs until he threw up. "I was
always scared of the Cyclone," he recalled. "You couldn't point
me toward that coaster." Yet he called KeySpan "the most
beautiful park I've seen in my entire life." Alas, Piercy was cut
from the team two weeks after the ballpark opened.
Beyond the fences of the new stadium, the amusement rides are a
fairy tale of lights. Looming over the leftfield wall is the
Wonder Wheel, a 150-foot-high monster that predates Yankee
Stadium. Behind the rightfield stands, the gaudily painted
parachute jump--a relic of the 1939 World's Fair shut down since
'68--rises like a giant skeleton.
Before reciting the visitors' starting lineup, the Cyclones'
public address announcer proclaimed, "Starting now, we're
beginning a new tradition that says you can't boo players you
don't even know!" The crowd booed them anyway.
Fans cheered when Gil Hodges's widow, Joan, was introduced in the
pregame ceremony and when Gil's teammate Ralph Branca caught the
ceremonial first pitch from New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
They cheered louder still for manager Edgar Alfonzo and former
Mets Bobby Ojeda, the Cyclones' pitching coach, and Howard
Johnson, the team's hitting coach. However, their loudest cheers
were saved for the bottom of the ninth, when third baseman Edgar
Rodriguez poked a two-out, two-run, game-tying homer over the
leftfield wall. If the ball had sailed a little lower, it would
have struck the Garage Clothing sign (a reminder of the Abe Stark
sign in right center at Ebbets) and won Ed-Rod a free suit.
An inning later Cyclones catcher Michael Jacobs, wearing
Erskine's old number 17, hit a sacrifice fly to give Brooklyn a
3-2 victory, its first since '57. It was only fitting that Jacobs
should be the hero: His mother was a Coney Islander.
COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON High on Coney Island (from left): Ojeda, Alfonzo and Johnson.