It's been a week since superstorm Sandy left a nearly unfathomable swath of destruction along the Northeast coast, and among those now beginning to assess the damages are the region's Minor League Baseball teams.
Two of the hardest hit areas of New York City were Coney Island and Staten Island, both of them home to New York-Penn League clubs. Monday marked the first day in which Brooklyn Cyclones staffers returned to MCU Park, where a dispiriting sight awaited them. Billy Harner, the team's director of communications, reported that, though the oceanside ballpark held up structurally, there is nonetheless a significant amount of internal damage.
"It's going to take a lot of work to get things back to the way they were," said Harner. "The seating bowl, suites, and concourse held up okay, but the clubhouses, front offices and team store aren't in good shape at all. And the field is damaged as well, because of the amount of salt water."
The storm has crippled the Cyclones' ability to conduct business as usual, and power has yet to be restored to the area, but such inconveniences pale in comparison to the devastation wrought upon the region. FEMA has set up an emergency distribution center in the MCU Park parking lot, and as Harner spoke he was observing a line "20 rows deep" of local residents waiting to receive essential items such as food, water, clothing and blankets.
"We consider ourselves lucky, especially seeing what everyone else is going through," said Harner. "Seeing these disaster relief trucks out here and people scouring through bins of clothes to get warm puts everything in perspective."
Richmond County Bank Ballpark, home of the Staten Island Yankees, is a waterfront facility that offers a view of the Manhattan skyline. The team is still in the process of assessing the harm done to the ballpark, but it appears to have escaped major structural damage. Mike Katz, the team's director of entertainment, was reached by phone Monday afternoon.
"There was a lot of water pushed on to the field, the wall pads are blown off and the dugouts are flooded," said Katz. "Cleaning up will be a bit of a mess. ... But structurally we're fine. We're still standing."
Another team located in the heart of Sandy's path is the Lakewood BlueClaws, the lone Minor League team to play in a Jersey Shore market.
"[FirstEnergy Park] is fine, no major damage," wrote BlueClaws general manager Geoff Brown in an email. "The area is a disaster."
Brown's emphasis on the area surrounding the ballpark speaks to a larger issue, which is that Minor League teams play significant roles in their communities and as such can provide both material and emotional support in the challenging months ahead. This was something that was already on Harner's mind as he spoke on Monday afternoon.
"There's going to be a comeback feel to this whole year, and we want to make that a theme," he said. "Sports does bring people together, and the summers in Coney Island are something that people really look forward to. Once we get going [in June], it's going to be a celebration of eight months of hard work and getting everything back to normal."