Coney Island's MCU Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, was a hub of frenetic activity Thursday morning. However, none of the energy pulsating throughout the facility's corridors was directed toward typical Minor League offseason concerns such as cold calls, season-ticket renewals and the planning of the promotional calendar.
Instead Cyclones staff members and a small army of contracted crew workers were engaged in the formidable task of assessing, cleaning and repairing the stadium. Superstorm Sandy had wreaked havoc upon Coney Island the week prior, and MCU Park was hit by surges from two nearby bodies of water: Gravesend Bay from the north and the Atlantic Ocean from the south. The front offices, dugouts and clubhouses were flooded with approximately four feet of water, leading to surreal sights such as floating merchandise in the team store and shrimp making a temporary home in the dugout tunnels.
Though the stadium escaped major external damage, it will nonetheless take months for MCU Park to be fully repaired and for the team to resume normal operations. But, of course, the inconveniences faced by a Minor League Baseball team are a proverbial drop in the bucket when compared to the devastation that the storm wrought upon so many in the region. Cyclones general manager Steve Cohen is well aware of this, remarking "This is not about us, and we won't make it about us, not when we have fans two blocks away who have lost their homes. [MCU Park] is just our office. There is so much going on that's more important."
"Our approach has been family first, because that's the most important thing," continued Cohen, whose own home suffered significant storm-related damage. "We've had several staff members affected, and they've needed to be home working on their houses or helping in the community. Sharon [Lundy-Ross], my admin assistant -- she had her house ruined. But she's been helping at her church and was working there on Election Day helping voters. I admire her, as she has not thought about herself throughout this whole process. ... This whole thing is a balancing act."
A similar balancing act is being undertaken by the Staten Island Yankees, who, like the Cyclones, are a New York-Penn League club operating in a region that was significantly impacted by Sandy. In an email, team president Jane Rogers wrote that Richmond County Bank Ballpark suffered water and wind damage and that the club is currently "waiting for results on field samples to see if salt water/drudge caused major damage to the field."
But again such concerns pale in comparison to the peril faced by those in Staten Island who lost their homes. As such, the team turned has turned its energies away from the stadium and toward the community.
"[We] are preparing to distribute food and beverages to those in the most damaged areas through the island," Rogers wrote. "We are committed to the Staten Island communities and are proud to assist during this most difficult time. After surveying the damage across the island, it will take a long time to recover and rebuild."
The Jersey Shore-based Lakewood BlueClaws reacted similarly, releasing a heartfelt statement Tuesday that attempted to connect afflicted fans with the team's philanthropic partners. The BlueClaws noted that the parking lot of their FirstEnergy Stadium is being used as a staging ground for out-of-town utility companies working to restore power and closed with the observation that "Our front office has been out in the streets since the day after the storm just lending our efforts as individuals, as a group, or any way we can."
All for one
The altruistic spirit is in plentiful supply throughout the Minors, as evidenced by the extent to which the rest of the New York-Penn League has rallied behind Brooklyn and Staten Island. Last week executives from the State College Spikes and Williamsport Crosscutters teamed up to deliver a truckload of gasoline, generators and extension cords to Brooklyn and Staten Island. The Connecticut Tigers, Lowell Spinners and Hudson Valley Renegades have since followed suit.
"I think our league, as much or perhaps more so than any other league, has a lot of people within it who have been around for a while," said Crosscutters vice president of marketing Gabe Sinicropi. "We're all very close, and that naturally makes us all ready to pitch in and jump on board."
The Renegades were able to procure a league-funded rental car for Cyclones assistant general manager Kevin Mahoney, whose family had lost both of their vehicles in the storm.
"We were almost too close [to New York City], as that was the only car we could find in the area," said Renegades general manager Eben Yager, whose team plays approximately 75 miles north of the city. "Same with gasoline, as it was a challenge to find that even here."
Yager and Sinicropi credited NYPL president Ben Hayes with creating a culture of camaraderie and charity in the circuit, through regular league-wide meetings and the establishment of the non-profit New York-Penn League Charitable Foundation. Hayes has sent out an email to all other league presidents, listing the variety of supplies needed in New York City and soliciting donations to the NYPL's foundation that will then be routed to Sandy relief efforts. (Hayes' call has since been heeded from as far away as San Jose).
"We were the first league in Minor League Baseball to establish a foundation, and we're always striving to do special things in our communities," said Hayes. "I don't see these sort of efforts stopping, we're just going to continue to do the work that we do."
Business as usual, eventually
At the moment the 2013 season couldn't seem further away, and it will still be some time before teams affected by Sandy return to a business-as-usual offseason approach. On Thursday Cohen remarked that this is the time of the year when the team's sales staff would be doing cold calls, and this realization led to a moment of gallows humor in that "the people we'd be calling will actually be cold. They don't have the heat back on!"
Nonetheless, few entertainment entities can offer the sense of camaraderie and community afforded by Minor League Baseball, and it is important for teams operating in devastated areas to provide an escape come summertime.
"On Opening Day we're going to be good to go and we're going to make it awesome," said Cohen. "The Cyclones will be a rallying point for the start of summer, when hopefully we'll be able to enjoy our beaches that got washed away a little bit this past week."
But even the superstorm won't be immune from a little Minor League-style promotional irreverence, given that the Cyclones' mascot is a seagull by the name of, um, Sandy.
"I guess now the big question is whether our mascot should change his name," said Cohen. "I can see us doing a 'Sandy Says He's Sorry' night."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MLB.com.