Last night, our minor-league ballpark tour took us to MCU Park on Coney Island, where two Cyclones pitchers combined for a three-hit shutout of the Batavia Muckdogs, in a game that lasted just two hours and three minutes. But in those scant 123 minutes, it became clear that between the Cyclones and the Staten Island Yankees, the clubs within the city proper know how to do minor-league baseball right. But does MCU Park top Richmond County Ballpark in our standings? On to the rankings!
Venue: MCU Park, Brooklyn
Team: Brooklyn Cyclones
Ticket Price: $17, for Row L behind home plate
Facilities: Part of us wants to take down MCU Park for having the most shameless policy toward advertisements we've ever seen at a non-NASCAR event. EVERYTHING here is sponsored by somebody, and it's rather unceasing. We'll say this: This was without question the first time we'd ever seen an official sponsorship of a broken bat. (A video for Modell's plays every time a player needs some new lumber.) We want to punish MCU Park for this. And then we see the lovely way they've incorporated the amusement park into the whole design, and the roomy concourses with enough concessions to avoid any lines, and the bar outside actually built into the park for pregaming, and the slightly asymmetrical design, and the fact that you can see the freaking ocean past the right-field fence ... and we forgive, we forgive it all. Grade: 9/10.
Quality of Play: Like the Staten Island Yankees, this is short-season A ball: Most of the players on both the Cyclones and Muckdogs will be fortunate to end up as organizational filler and chum. (In the ten years since the Cyclones began, their best players are Scott Kazmir, Angel Pagan, and Ike Davis.) So we're not even dealing with Sidney Ponson quality here. Still, the Cyclones are consistently one of the best teams in the New York–Penn League (they're comfortably in first place now), and you can tell there's real talent here. We were particularly impressed with starting pitcher Yohan Almonte and center-fielder Darrell Ceciliani. There's also an enthusiasm among these players we hadn't seen at a lot of other places. Not only are they striving to move up the ladder, but they're also playing in front of a devoted fan base that knows their names. And their uniforms are terrific, with a Mets patch on the left arm, as if to constantly remind them what they're playing for. That little difference counts. Grade: 5/10.
Promotions: No team we'll see all year is as devoted to their promotions as the Cyclones. Highlights include a "Jersey? Sure!" reality-TV-related jersey giveaway, a "sleeved blanket" giveaway, a "salute to pregnancy" night, and, our favorite, "Medieval Times" night. (Alas, we missed Ike Davis's inventive bobblehead by one night.) We showed up on The Office night, in which they played various "Office Olympics" games, including the great Flonkerton — just like we'd hoped! — and showed clips of the show in between at-bats. Good ones, too. Clearly, the Cyclones take this business seriously: We, frankly, were pretty surprised they didn't have Toby or Darryl show up. Grade: 8/10.
Adorability: Last night was certainly the first time on our tour that we've seen two fans have to pull out their tickets to determine who rightfully belonged in a certain seat. The reason for this: There are lots and lots of people at Cyclones games. Many of them are adults — let's just say we didn't spot anyone wearing a WikiLeaks.org T-shirt when we visited Augusta, New Jersey — but the Cyclones strike a nice balance between amusing grown-ups (with nights dedicated to NBC prime-time mockumentaries) and kids (inviting dozens of them onto the field for the national anthem). And those Office-themed games described earlier were contested by children (one of whom was disqualified during the Flonkerton race — or as they called it, for some reason, the "paper box race" — for improper form, in accordance with the bylaws of the International Flonkerton Racing Association). The problem, again, was the advertising: Unofficial mascot/on-field personality King Henry is essentially a walking billboard, and one of the (non-Office-themed) games involved throwing a ball through the dot over the "i" in Dime, as in the savings bank. Grade: 4/10.
Miscellaneous: The tickets are the priciest we've encountered so far, and cheerleaders always seem out of place at baseball games. Plus, the random sound effects (the Law & Order ka-chung, notes from the Jetsons theme, a "Flavor Flaaaaav" soundbite) can make the stadium feel like a radio station morning zoo. (Also, at one point, someone in a pink gorilla costume was firing Applebee's T-shirts out of a T-shirt cannon from high above the seating bowl, which sounds more like a Conan O'Brien sketch than a thing we actually witnessed with our own eyes.) Having said that, there's a ton to like about MCU Park. For example, when they pick a theme, they really follow through: Office cast members' photos appeared alongside the Cyclones players' when they batted, and strikeouts were met with Michael Scott's "Boom! Roasted." soundbite. That's a lot of preparation for a one-night-only promotion, and it didn't go unnoticed. But most important, look again at that picture above! The Muckdogs have an outfielder named Jon Edwards, and the Cyclones had some fun at his expense by using the disgraced, similarly named politician's photo every time he came to bat. Just brilliant. Also, four words: juggling, unicycling peanut vendor. Grade: 6/10.
Total: 32. MCU Park is the new leader, with three venues — all in New Jersey — left to go. Our next stop: August 18 at FirstEnergy Park, home of the Lakewood BlueClaws.