Bachelors Play Ball

Genna Brown applied lipstick in the driver’s seat of her white Toyota and peeked into the rear-view mirror at her friend, Magda Rogala, who was poised eagerly in front of the Brooklyn Cyclones players’ entrance at KeySpan Park in Coney Island.

“She thinks she’s going to meet them, go to the bar with them, whatever,” said Ms. Brown, a 19-year-old Brooklyn College student, as a half-dozen members of the New York Mets’ minor-league affiliate streamed into the parking lot. “I’m staying in the car, ’cause nothing’s gonna happen. If she wants to stay over there, let her have her dream.”

Hovering by the guard rail, Ms. Rogala, blond and wearing jeans and a little T-shirt, smirked and said, “I just like the game.”

Ms. Brown shook her head. “They might be in the minors, but these guys can have any girl they want, and they know it,” she said.

Actually, they don’t.

“I don’t think anyone’s met a girl here,” said Tanner Osberg, a rangy 20-year-old right-handed pitcher from Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, as he gestured around the Cyclones locker room. “The girls in New York aren’t digging us.”

Of course, it’s hard stockpiling female devotees when you’re five rungs from the majors and living a heavily supervised dorm life in Polytechnic University’s residence hall, a glass-and-concrete structure located in back of the Brooklyn Marriott.

“No girls or alcohol in the rooms,” said Roger LaFrancois, the team’s first-base and hitting coach. “It might be frustrating if you’re 22, but they have to set their priorities. They’re here to play baseball.”

In the Mets’ organization, the Cyclones are second from the bottom, just above the Rookie League squad in Kingsport, Tennessee. The Cyclones play what is known as “Short-Season A Ball,” beginning their schedule in June and ending in early September. Lucky players will graduate to “Low A” competition in Columbia, S.C., followed by “High A” in Port St. Lucie, Fla., Double A in Binghamton and Triple A in Norfolk. The players on the Cyclones have an estimated 1-in-10 shot of making it to the Mets.

Still, they are employed as professional baseball players in the city of New York, a status which might be expected to confer some Derek Jeter–like swagger. But the Cyclones live a scaled-down, abstemious lifestyle. Vans shuttle the athletes to the ball park in Coney Island; some players opt to take the subway. There are no group jaunts to Orso, Cheetah or Scores. Instead, the guys accept invitations from fans to eat at Clemente’s in Sheepshead Bay or at Slices and Ices, just downstairs from the stadium. And should one of the ballplayers find himself late one evening discussing the infield-fly rule with Magda, the odds are still against him: Mr. LaFrancois, Cyclones trainer Reuben Barrera, and strength and conditioning coach Roger Scott periodically patrol the three floors the team inhabits, on the look-out for females or any other eruption that might threaten a good night’s sleep.

The repercussions for breaking the rules are severe; the team imposes a $150 penalty on anyone wandering into the dorms more than three hours after a game.

“When you’re only making $850 a month, that’s a huge hunk of change,” said Shane Hawk, 21, a southpaw from San Antonio.

That said, the Coney Island experience is memorable. The grandstand has views of Nathan’s original hot-dog emporium and the Cyclone roller coaster, while a mile or so down the road, Third Avenue in Bay Ridge still pulsates the way it did in Saturday Night Fever days. And on any given night, the stands are filled with indelible images of Lubavitchers, Haitians and Muslim women in head scarves reaching for foul balls.

Because the players come and go, Cyclone fans are often more familiar with the people in the stands, such as Marty Haber, a Brooklyn Cyclones account executive who, as his alter ego Party Marty, runs around the stadium wearing a jersey labeled “2 Much Fun” and waving a stuffed monkey.

“Party Marty has like 1,000 girlfriends,” said one vendor, who requested anonymity. “Are you kidding me?! He’s a celebrity!”

Between innings, Marty dances the “Cha Cha Slide” with fans on the dugout roof and hosts a version of The Newlywed Game . During a recent showdown between Brooklyn and the Staten Island Yankees, Marty asked an elderly Italian man about his wife’s favorite dish.

“Veal and peppers,” he replied.

Marty looked out at the crowd. “You said veal and peppers,” he blurted. “But the answer is-chicken parm!”

Then there’s Nick Mongo, now 57 but in the 1970’s a fixture on the disco floors of Bay Ridge. When KeySpan Park opened in 2001, he transformed himself into “Cyclone Disco Maniac,” sliding from side to side in the aisles, moving his shoulders up and down and spinning.

“This type of dance, it’s called the Harlem,” he said. “They do it on Soul Train .”

There are the inevitable injuries. Early in the season, Pee Wee-the smaller companion of the team’s mascot, Sandy the Seagull-was dancing in the dugout when he suddenly slipped. “I didn’t see where I was going and fell on my good friend, Con Crete,” said the man inside the costume, James Inzeo, a 23-year-old religion and philosophy teacher at Cathedral High School in Manhattan.

A more serious incident occurred in mid-July, at an away game just across the Verrazano Bridge. With two outs and nobody on in the top of the sixth, Cyclones infielder Andy Wilson was in the batter’s box, facing Yankee pitcher Matt DeSalvo.

“He let a fast ball go right at my head,” said the 22-year-old Mr. Wilson. “I turned, and the ball hit the back of my helmet and cracked it.”

He went down, popped up and charged the mound as the benches emptied.

“My main objective was getting the pitcher,” he said. “But I couldn’t find him, so I swung at a few other guys.”

Before the skirmish ended, Yankees righty Brad Blackwell was battered enough to require a stitches session in Staten Island University Hospital, and police from the 120th Precinct made an appearance.

The altercation reminded Cyclones pitcher Shane Hawk of one of his favorite movies, The Warriors , the 1979 cult-classic film about a Coney Island gang. “Here we are, riding the same subways as they did,” Mr. Hawk said. “Except we’re the Cyclones.”

But the Cyclones don’t prowl the streets, and their accommodations at Polytechnic are relatively deluxe. Two players often share a suite, with a common living-room area, couch, refrigerator, stove and, occasionally, a television.

“The beds are the biggest problem,” said Taylor George, a clean-scrubbed right-hander from Long Beach, Calif. “I’m 6-foot-1, so I fit. But my friend is 6-foot-7, and he’s struggling.”

Mr. George is the only Cyclone with a car. The rest of the guys generally stay close to the dorm, except for excursions to Luther’s Fried Chicken and 99-Cent City on Willoughby Street, and Cellular Island and Thai Cheong Salad Plus in the Fulton Mall.

“The city’s so big that we never run into the Mets,” said right-handed hurler Greg Ramirez. “But maybe we will. Maybe we’ll run into them in a restaurant and they’ll pick up the tab.”

-Keith Elliot Greenberg

Barbie: Slut? Lesbian?

Over a year ago, Natalie (Nicky) Young, now 14, did something that was, for her, unusual: She went to school dressed like a typical, suburban teenage girl-wearing a close-knit black T-shirt and tight jeans. Well, almost typical: Her T-shirt read “Barbie Is a Lesbian.” Without hesitation, administrators suspended Ms. Young from Middle School 210 in Queens and phoned her mother, Kathleen Hodges. Ms. Hodges was given an ultimatum: Either bring your child a new shirt or we’ll send her home.

“It was just something I wanted to wear,” said the spry Ms. Young of the incident that made headlines internationally. “I just saw it and my eyes lit up. It was like, the moment you see ‘lesbian’ on a shirt and you’re a lesbian-you just want to get it. Just because it’s different.”

Ms. Young, also known as “Noodles,” doesn’t need a shirt to be unique. At 5-foot-8, with a light-brown complexion, dark braided hair and clear gray eyes, she’s an exotic-looking 14-year-old girl. But she’s no debutante: A collection of almost 60 basketball and baseball trophies (her favorite player is Mike Piazza) monopolize the bookshelf that stands in the corner of her family’s small Richmond Hill, Queens, living room. A mention of the trophies makes her cheeks flush; she dreams of playing in the WNBA.

When she was 12, around the time when other girls are trading secrets about their crushes, Ms. Young told her friends that she was a lesbian.

“I didn’t even tell my mother I was gay. She found out through one of my friends,” she said. “And she started crying. And I felt bad, and I was like, ‘Is there something wrong?’ But she was like, ‘No, no, there’s nothing wrong with it.'”

On a recent afternoon, Ms. Young appeared shy when being questioned, covering her smile with her fist, preferring to draw instead of looking a reporter in the eye. But as she began to relate the events that led up to her one-day suspension back in the spring of 2002, and the subsequent legal action her mother has brought against the City of New York and the Department of Education, she became animated and ran into her room to retrieve the infamous black garment.

“My sister wore a shirt to school that said ‘Barbie Is a Slut’ [on the same day],” Ms. Young recalled, holding up the shirt that may become a piece of evidence in the lawsuit. “And my mother thought she was going to get a phone call home-and I wind up calling the house saying, ‘I need a change of clothes.'”

Her mother had other plans: She brought Fox 5 News. Her daughter had told her about daily harassment from her peers and verbal slights from the teachers, and Ms. Hodges had had enough.

“I was teased a lot,” said Ms. Young. “They’d call me ‘Leslie.’ They called me ‘lesbo.’ I don’t even pay attention, anyway.”

According to Ms. Young, a counselor at M.S. 210 told her that she wasn’t normal, that it was wrong to ask out girls and that she should “seek further counseling.” According to Ms. Young, she also overheard a teacher telling another student, “All gays are going to go to hell.”

Ms. Young went back to school the day following the T-shirt flare-up; the teasing lessened, and she didn’t transfer schools. In fact, one of the school’s security guards was also gay and could relate to Ms. Young’s experience.

“She told me how her lifestyle was and she got teased too, but it was nothin’,” said Ms. Young.

Her mother, however, didn’t find the harassment to be “nothin’.” Upon hearing pony-tailed attorney Ron Kuby discussing the T-shirt flap on his WABC radio show, Ms. Hodges hired him. Mr. Kuby thought they had a case against not only the city’s Department of Education, but also against about 20 city employees, including M.S. 210’s principal, for violating Ms. Young’s First, Fourth and 14th Amendment rights, among others. Mr. Kuby has since filed papers and is still awaiting the city’s reply. Jerry Russo, a spokesman for Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.

“I do expect that the city will settle this fairly soon,” Mr. Kuby said, “because they’re utterly without a defense.”

If successful, the litigation may help the family financially. But is there a sufficient emotional reward for a girl who had to endure daily harassment from her peers? By now, everyone is familiar with the Harvey Milk School, the headline-making, gay-friendly East Village high school. It would seem like a perfect fit for Ms. Young, who was actually aware of the school before it became tabloid fodder.

“Well before the burst of publicity, she had looked at the possibility of attending,” said Mr. Kuby.

The idea of the Harvey Milk School does indeed appeal to Ms. Young, who is currently attending John Adams High School in Queens.

“I would go to H.M.I. in a heartbeat,” she said, “if they had a basketball team.”

-Jake Brooks and Elon Rafael Green