- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 26, 2001

BROOKLYN, N.Y.— The tall man in the gray jacket and black slacks stood in the midst of a media mob near home plate and described the momentous occasion better than anybody else was doing.

"It's a rebirth, a birthday for baseball in Brooklyn," Ralph Branca said. "I loved being in Brooklyn, I loved playing in Ebbets Field. I loved being a Dodger. And the fans loved us. It was a mutual admiration society. They were the greatest forget Muhammad Ali."

And if those old Brooklyn Dodgers fans loved Ralph Branca, they would have loved anybody. Nearly 50 years ago, on a cool October afternoon in the Polo Grounds, he threw a high fastball to Bobby Thomson of the New York Giants, and a pennant flew away into the left-field stands. But, hey, no hard feelings. We're witchoo, Ralphie baby.

"They understood, and they were supportive," Branca said softly. "Besides, the Giants shouldn't have even been in the playoff, because they were stealing all those signs. I knew it, but I had to hold my tongue for all these years because I didn't want to be a sore loser. Now everybody knows [after the Wall Street Journal broke the story in January]."

Whatever, Ralphie baby. But nobody cared very much about the 1951 National League playoff last night at sparkling new KeySpan Park at Coney Island, and to prove it not a boo ensued when he threw out one of the ceremonial first pitches.

This was a new Brooklyn team, the Cyclones in the short-season Class A New York-Penn League about as far as you can get in Organized Baseball from the majors. But so what? As Branca put it: "Good competition is good competition."

It remains to be seen how good this competition will be, but the 7,500 fans who packed KeySpan for the first of the Cyclones' 38 home games seemed to have no complaints especially since the Cyclones defeated the Mahoning Valley Scrappers 3-2 in 10 innings.

In case you're wondering, Mahoning Valley is in Ohio. What's an Ohio team doing in the New York-Penn League? Well, this is the bushes, folks, so let's give them some leeway.

The great moment for Flatbush, as the radio comics used to call Brooklyn, came at 7:15 p.m., when a Brooklyn pitcher named Matthew Peterson threw a fastball to a Mahoning Valley batter named Maximo Made to the accompaniment of flashing cameras all over the place. Forty-three years, nine months and one day after the Dodgers' last game at Ebbets Field, the Borough of Churches was a baseball town again.

Presently, Made grounded out to second base, and for just a second I could have sworn I saw Jackie Robinson dive to make the play.

Was that Duke Snider in center field, Billy Cox at third base, Roy Campanella behind the plate? I guess not. Memories playing tricks again, no doubt.

Before the game, they introduced Joan Hodges, widow of Gil, who played for the Dodgers and managed the Washington Senators and New York Mets with distinction. New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani also took a bow, and naturally some leather-lunged lout bellowed, "How'd you find your way to Brooklyn, Rudy?" Probably it was fortunate that the junior Senator from Noo Yawk by way of Washington, Hillary Herself, was nowhere on the premises.

Actually, Giuliani deserved a hand, even if he is a politician. The city spent $118 million to help fund nifty new digs for the Cyclones and another New York-Penn League team, the Staten Island Yankees. KeySpan is a $39 million jewel beyond which the Atlantic Ocean, beach and such famous Coney Island landmarks as the Parachute Ride and Cyclone roller coaster rise in mute tribute to nausea. Coney Island has gotten dingy and often deserted in recent decades, and the thought is that the new ballpark will attract respectable citizens to other activities there as well.

"This is important," resident David Beck told the New York Post. "Coney is getting seedier every year. When a place starts to run down, it attracts a lot of people who may not be as desirable. It has nothing to do with what group they are. It has to do with whether they are homeless, or drunk, or do drugs."

The Cyclones are a farm club of the Mets, which explains why the CEO is Jeff Wilpon, son of Mets owner Fred Wilpon. This is one Class A team that could be, probably will be, a gold mine. Cyclones memorabilia already is selling heavily, and not just in Brooklyn. The links between the Dodgers and Cyclones are not exactly being downplayed. The new team's cap is virtually a copy of the old Brooklyn "B," with a red "C" added for good measure. The outfield walls are covered with advertising, as at Ebbets. A local merchant even has a sign promising a free suit to any player who hits it, reprising Abe Stark's old ad at Ebbets.

Despite the hysteria, nobody really thinks the Dodgers are back. These players, most in their teens or early 20s, are more like the Infants of Summer. In fact, renowned author Roger Kahn, whose "Boys of Summer" in 1972 immortalized the 1950s Dodgers, wants nothing to do with the Cyclones. Says he: "It's like bringing back Camelot and discovering that you've got a lot of dwarves sitting around the table."

I guess Roger is old enough now to qualify as a curmudgeon, but who needs him? Baseball's return to Brooklyn should delight fans everywhere, because if we can't treasure and preserve our national pastime's tradition and history, what else matters when it comes to affairs of horsehide?

And, of course, we have the right to be a bit selfish, as well as jealous. After all, if Brooklyn has regained its baseball birthright, can Washington be far behind?

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