In This League, the Yankees are the Runts

Brooklyn Cyclones general manager Steve Cohen surveyed his team’s sold-out ballpark from the terrace above home plate during the season

Brooklyn Cyclones general manager Steve Cohen surveyed his team’s sold-out ballpark from the terrace above home plate during the season opener Tuesday night with a look of general satisfaction on his face.

“It’s great, fantastic,” Cohen said about the day. “We’ve got a couple of things we’ve got to fix. Little operational things, things some people wouldn’t even notice. We’ve got to get the lines down for food, thin out the crowds in the concourse a bit.”

Of course, “crowded concourses” is as fantastic a complaint as any baseball team’s GM can hope for. The club, a minor-league affiliate of the New York Mets, has had few if any actual problems since moving to Brooklyn in 2001.

The Cyclones’ charmed existence stands in sharp contrast to that of their 76-game season New York-Penn League rivals, the Staten Island Yankees. Indeed, it is the Yankees who have played the little brother to the Cyclones in this rivalry – despite the fact that both teams have enjoyed success on the field. (Since 2001, the Cyclones have won two league titles, while Staten Island has three).

The Yankees have battled dwindling attendance, a law suit from the city that the team settles this week by paying out more than $1.4 million, and operational problems stark enough that the New York Yankees purchased majority rights to the team following the 2006 season, turning over the promotion of the club to Mandalay Baseball, a company that has helped a number of other teams become profitable.

Staten Island General Manager Jane Rogers did not return numerous calls and e-mails seeking comment following the Baby Bombers’ first-ever sold out Opening Day on Wednesday.

In an interview earlier this year, she lamented the frequently drawn contrast between her team and its intra-city rivals.

“I was a little disheartened that the fans wouldn’t come, and that we’ll always be compared to Brooklyn,” she said. “The ownership came in with new success stories and has implemented them here.”

Since 2001, when both Brooklyn’s Keyspan Park and Staten Island’s Richmond County Bank Ballpark opened for business, the Cyclones have drawn a total of 1,783,258 fans for regular season games, an average of 297,210 fans annually. Meanwhile, Staten Island saw just 951,993 fans pass through the gates over that span, an annual average of just 158,666. Even worse, that total dropped to just 115,395 last season—Brooklyn brought in 289,323 fans in 2006.

One common reason cited for the disparity in popularity between the two teams is the rich baseball heritage in Brooklyn, the former home of the beloved Dodgers and Ebbets Field, while Staten Island is, well, the birthplace of former Mets and Brewers manager George Bamberger.

But it’s been a long time since the Dodgers left Brooklyn. 2007 represents the fiftieth anniversary of the exodus, and though the Cyclones are honoring that milestone (a 1957 night featuring Danny McDevitt and catcher Joe Pignatano, the pitcher and catcher of the Dodgers’ last Ebbets Field pitch) the team is not surviving on the former devotees of the Bums alone.

“It’s definitely changed,” Mr. Cohen said of the crowd makeup, “even since 2001. I think we’re seeing a significant change. That generation that grew up with the Dodgers is getting older. Here at the park, it’s now a ‘family-four’ atmosphere. Of course, we still have people who remember. But people realized right off the bat that we had a great product here.”

In This League, the Yankees are the Runts