This offseason, the Brooklyn Cyclones experienced something that had likely never before occurred in the history of professional baseball.
Shrimp in the dugout.
This was one of many surreal and off-putting sights seen at the Cyclones' home of MCU Park this past October, as flooding from Superstorm Sandy completely inundated the facility and caused major damage. MCU Park, and its Coney Island environs in general, were hit hard by two bodies of water. Surges from Gravesend Bay, located to the north, decimated the team store and front offices while cascading waters from the Atlantic Ocean flooded the entirety of the playing field (hence, the shrimp in the dugout).
MCU Park was hit harder than any other Minor League facility that found itself in the path of Superstorm Sandy -- the Staten Island Yankees and Jersey Shore-based Lakewood BlueClaws operate in areas that were tremendously affected overall, but the stadiums themselves escaped relatively unscathed -- and the end result was a stadium in dire need of repair.
That's just what the Cyclones have been doing over the past seven months, engaging in a frenzied rebuilding effort that culminates with Tuesday's Opening Day festivities. This season marks the 13th for the Cyclones, the Class A Short-Season affiliate of the New York Mets, and given what transpired this offseason, it is sure to be a meaningful one.When I spoke with Cyclones general manager Steve Cohen in early November, he downplayed the damage that MCU Park had suffered. We were talking about a baseball stadium, after all, which was far down the list of priorities given what had just transpired.
"This is not about us and we won't make it about us," he said at the time. "Not when we have fans two blocks away who have lost their homes."
But as a sense of normalcy slowly, tentatively, returned to the area, the Cyclones began assessing just what it was that needed to be done. Cohen, the only general manager in the team's history, was well-equipped for the rebuilding task as he had been at the helm during the inaugural season of 2001.
"Without a doubt, this has felt like getting ready for the first season all over again," said Cohen on Wednesday afternoon. "But when you're building a new stadium, you have an agenda and obviously know what needs to be done. You're dealing with architects and project managers and people like that. This has been different in that respect."
Cohen said that, this offseason, "every day was like a new adventure." He and his staff worked out of temporary trailers while tackling the significant task of rebuilding the damaged areas of the stadium.
"Never in a million years did I think the cleanup process would be as detailed as it ended up being," he continued. "We were dealing with seawater and sewage inside the ballpark and had to go room to room to figure out exactly what we needed to do."
And, in many cases, what it was exactly that they were missing.
"In a lot of ways it's like going through the checklist for the first season," said Cohen, mentioning the recent purchase of easy-to-overlook items such as cash drawers, ticket window microphones and folding chairs. "At one point we realized that we didn't have laundry detergent, like 'Oh, right, those five gallon drums definitely didn't make it through [the storm].'
"We keep thinking we're in great shape and that we've got everything we need, but I won't be surprised if on [Opening Day] morning, we still have a list of things we need to run out and buy."
MCU suffered little external damage and the seating bowl is intact, so most of the repairs done at MCU Park were of the type that the average fan wouldn't notice. Areas such as the locker rooms, kitchens and front offices had to be entirely redone, but these areas are largely closed to the public at large. But what the fans will certainly notice is the completely refurbished team store and, even more so, the playing field itself.
The combination of salt water and pollutants that deluged the field during the storm rendered it permanently unplayable, and in its place the Cyclones have installed a synthetic grass surface with the brand name of FieldTurf. This surface will be able to better withstand the wear-and-tear of the non-baseball events regularly held at MCU Park (such as concerts and wrestling matches) and, more importantly, it is far more durable in the face of severe weather.
When the Cyclones kick off their home season on Tuesday, it will come during an exciting time for Coney Island in general. Three days later, on the first night of summer, the 262-foot Parachute Jump (a defunct amusement ride visible from the stadium) will debut an elaborate new lighting scheme. And the very next day is the Mermaid Parade, a day-long costumed cavalcade that attracted 750,000 spectators in 2012.
All of this goes to show that, despite the devastation wrought by Sandy, Coney Island is alive and well.
"It's a long, long process. There are still a lot of issues to deal with, and it's not like it's all just going to go away," said Cohen. "But after what's happened over the past months, I know people are really looking forward to getting out here again. I know we're looking forward to getting Opening Day in the books."