New York, New York. Brooklyn. Staten Island. Two boroughs of the five which comprise New York City are separated by just 17 miles and 40 minutes. Their history and distinctions differ greatly and contribute to the fabric of the city. Brooklyn evokes memories of Coney Island, Flatbush, Bensonhurst, and the origins of the Dodgers organization. If recognized as a separate municipality, Brooklyn would be the fourth largest U.S. city. By contrast, Staten Island boasts the smallest population of New York City’s five boroughs, connecting to the outlying areas by the Verazano Narrows Bridge and the Staten Island Ferry. Difficulties in garnering support from their brethren in the region has led to a perception of Staten Island being “the forgotten borough” and an afterthought in the landscape of one of the world’s largest cities.
The battle between the superior and the inferior also extends between the white lines on the field, where the Brooklyn Cyclones and the Staten Island Yankees quite possibly form the greatest rivalry in minor league baseball. Separated by just the Verrazano, the two teams form an adversarial connection, akin to Louisville vs. Kentucky and Ohio State vs. Michigan in collegiate sports. With the fervor of their allegiances, there is no love lost between the fans of each club, eager to point out the shortcomings, flaws, and difficulties of each side, despite residing in leagues designed primarily for player development. The feud even extends to social media, where the Brooklyn Cyclones outnumber the Staten Island Yankees by nearly 9,000 Twitter followers. The Baby Bombers are looking to eat into the total and generate some buzz with a #BeatBKLYN night aimed at putting their own stamp on a rivalry dating back fifteen years and popularizing Minor League Baseball in New York City.
The Staten Island Yankees were founded as part of a deal brokered by former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani in 1998 to bring minor league baseball to Brooklyn and Staten Island. The Baby Bombers began play first at the College of Staten Island, gaining a two year head start over the Cyclones in inception, before moving to Richmond County Bank Ballpark in the St. George section of Staten Island. Names such as Andy Phillips, Chien-Ming Wang, and Robinson Cano would make their professional debuts with the club and eventually become part of the New York Yankees at the tail end of the Joe Torre era. Reliever Jason Anderson became the first Baby Bomber to reach the Bronx on Opening Day in 2003 against the Minnesota Twins, better remembered for Hideki Matsui‘s grand slam off Joe Mays. The Staten Island Yankees would emerge as one of the most successful teams in the New York-Penn League, winning the hearts of fans with six league championships, the most recent coming in 2011 with Mason Williams and Cito Culver leading the way. First round picks Eric Jagielo, Ty Hensley, Kyle Holder, and Eric Duncan all spent time on St. George, with the latter becoming the team’s batting coach during the 2015 season. Under new CEO Steve Violetta, the Staten Island Yankees are continuing to make improvement around the ballpark and market to a widespread populace.
While the Staten Island Yankees boast the most New York-Penn League championships since inception, the longest period of sustained excellence belongs to the Brooklyn Cyclones. Entering the 2015 season, the Cyclones are one of just three teams in professional baseball to have a record at or above .500 in every season since 2001, their inaugural one in Brooklyn. The origin of the Cyclones was the brainchild of New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon, who grew up with the memories of the long relocated Brooklyn Dodgers adorning Flatbush. 43 years after the Dodgers caught the last train for the coast, the Cyclones debuted in Brooklyn and proceeded to claim a share of the New York Penn-League championship. Second baseman Danny Garcia would become the first Brooklyn Cyclone to reach the major leagues in 2003 and be succeeded by Mike Jacobs, Scott Kazmir, Lucas Duda, and Ike Davis. Players on major league rehab assignment also made appearances in Brooklyn, including Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran. Coney Island, the home of the infamous July 4th Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, is the backdrop for the club, pacing the league each season in attendance at MCU Park. Events such as “Salute to Seinfeld Night” have garnered national acclaim and provide an experience unique to the New York-Penn League and professional baseball.
The 2015 season sees the Brooklyn Cyclones and the Staten Island Yankees in a dogfight for the McNarama Division lead, separated by just a single game, with each club contributing to the cause in an inverse manner. The Brooklyn Cyclones, led by manager Tom Gamboa and pitching coach Dave LaRoche, have sixty years of experience between them, leaning heavily on a pitching staff that ranks second in the New York-Penn League with a 2.47 earned run average and a league leading four shutouts. Matt Blackham, a 29th-round pick by the Mets in 2013, paces all pitchers with 30 strikeouts and, along with teammate Tyler Badamo, creates an impenetrable 1-2 punch of the starting rotation, shortening games for their bullpen. By contrast, the Staten Island Yankees are third in the circuit in batting with a .255 average and over 100 runs batted in. Seventh-round pick Jhalan Jackson is powering the club with four home runs in just over fifty at-bats. Complementing Jackson are three .300 hitters, led by the recently promoted Griffin Gordon, who had a .342 average prior to his call up to Single-A Charleston. Skipper Patrick Osborn, in his freshman season with Staten Island, is a newcomer to the managerial office in just his third pro season, after being a 27th-round draft pick for the Cleveland Indians in 2002. The Baby Bombers are winning games in an understated manner and within striking distance of Brooklyn for the division lead during the first third of the season.
Win or lose, the Brooklyn Cyclones and the Staten Island Yankees provide a viable alternative for fans unable to attend Major League games. Players such as Jhalan Jackson and Matt Blackham are viewed in the same light as Carlos Beltran and Matt Harvey despite lesser credentials. The New York-Penn League plays a short season of 76 games, meaning every game within the division holds greater importance, absent of postseason tiebreakers. As the players, coaches, and organization strictly view these leagues as development, the importance of winning games is placed in the hands of the public, who believe the next homegrown superstar resides within the shadows of Yankee Stadium and Citi Field. For all the differences between Brooklyn and Staten Island, the commonalities of the national pastime evoke the fervor and alacrity of the game’s biggest stage at closer proximity and the odds of the future at stake.