Brooklyn, NY —On Monday, the sounds of a baseball game, and 65-hundred fans, will fill Keyspan Park…but right now, the air echos with the whine of drills and saws. Construction workers are doing last-minute touch-ups on the $39 million dollar city-financed ballpark. This isn't the only new ballpark in town. The Staten Island Yankees will host their first game in their new, mulitmillion dollar stadium, on Sunday. But the Brooklyn Cyclones have captured the hearts of Brooklyn baseball fans. Opening day was sold out within hours of tickets going on sale last April. Seventy percent of the tickets to the 38 home games are sold, and fans are gobbling up caps and t-shirts.
Pat Witt created a Cyclones club on Yahoo that became the network's top minor league fan club long before bat touched ball.
Witt: To be specific, it's not only the top minor league club on Yahoo, right now, it's the 39th largest baseball club on Yahoo. (Laughs) Yeah, I'm kinda suprised that there's been that kind of suppport like that.
Many young ballplayers seem surprised, too….flattered by the reporters huddled around them during a recent batting practice. Shortstop Robert McIntyer hails from Tampa, Florida, and has played minor league ball for two years.
Robert McIntyer (wearing number one, the number of Pee Wee Reese): it's gonna be a great experience, playing, for us. I mean, a lot of fans every night, a new ball park, a great city…looking forward to it.
Batting coach and former Met Howard Johnson says most Single A teams are used to playing before "tumbleweeds and dogs." He thinks Monday's game will be "like a carnival"…but he doesn't think the pressure will overwhelm the young players.
Howard Johnson; you know the way I look at it, they might as well learn now what it's like to play in front of big crowds and knowledgeable people. You know, it's not always going to be fun and games, like it's going to be for a little while. But they'll learn, they'll adjust quickly, you know, they're gonna learn from it.The love fest hasn't always surrounded the Cyclones. Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden called the project a "stadium giveaway" that will not offer lasting economic benefits. Community leaders and residents preferred a Sportsplex -- a year-round, indoor facility for amateur sports. Plans for a Sportsplex have circulated for over a decade. Marty Levine is the former chairman of Community Board 13, which had voted against the ballpark.
Marty Levine: You take something that's only going to be used for 34, 35 days a year for minor league baseball, you will have a certain amount for special events, but when you start getting into a facility that can be used 365 days a year, which is what the Sportsplex should be, then you get a package where people can get employment all year long.
Mr. Levine concedes the ballpark has spurred local improvements -- over $700 million dollars in public and private construction, including subway station renovations and a new residential complex. And the Sportsplex dream is still alive….Mr. Levine is now a member of a newly-created local development corporation, which is charged with developing a plan. The city's set aside $30 million dollars for it, along with money for boardwalk and beach improvements. But a deeper economic downturn and new faces at City Hall could create different priorities for that unspent money. Herbert Berman, the term-limited Brooklyn councilman who helped get funding for the local development corporation, says city officials must keep an eye on Coney Island.
Berman: They've got to follow up, to exercise enough oversight that what has begun continues. I mean, we have set the game plan, and the process in place. The future will have to deal with making sure that it's sustained.
Right now, all eyes are on baseball. Pat Witt sums up the mood of many Cyclone supporters.
Witt: It's fun, and it's a team that Brooklyn can call it's own. It's not a replacement for the Dodgers, but, you know, it's a start.
The Brooklyn Cyclones will face the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, a farm team for the Cleveland Indians, in the home opener on Monday. For WNYC, I'm Amy Eddings.