MCU Park

A regular professional ball field at Coney Island
would pay in July and August for exhibition games;
but it would cost a good round sum to construct
such a ground properly.

-- Brooklyn Eagle, September 14, 1884

In 2000, nearly a century after the last of many failed attempts to bring professional baseball to Coney Island, the City of New York spent $39 million on construction of a ballpark for the New York Mets' new minor league team, the Brooklyn Cyclones of the short season single-A NY-Penn League. This was the second most expensive minor league stadium ever built, trailing only the Staten Island minor league stadium built at the same time, which cost the city $71 million.

The new ballpark was built at Surf Avenue between 16th and 19th Streets, on the former site of Steeplechase Park. This legendary Coney Island amusement park opened in 1897 and survived fires in 1907, 1936, and 1939, before eventually closing its doors in 1964. The steel structure for the Parachute Jump ride still stands, and from within the stadium appears to be almost in play in right field.

Take the Q train to Coney Island, grab a Nathan's hot dog
before the game, and catch a foul ball. The perfect night out.

The ballpark was designed from the start to appeal to two types of fan. This was a conscious decision of architects Jack Gordon Associates and designers Two Twelve. In some respects, the site evokes memories of an earlier age. The field was made noticably asymmetrical, in traditional local style. The Brooklyn Baseball Gallery, a museum which has also housed the Brooklyn Dodger Hall of Fame since 2002, was installed within the stands. Signage reflected Coney Island's history and aesthetic theme. Also, oddly, the roof along each baseline brings the Dodger Stadium pavilion to mind. No opportunity for flash or modern amenity was missed, however. The the designers added luxury boxes, a bar and other retail space on the outside of the stadium, many concession stands within, and a two level merchandise shop. The stadium lights are ringed with neon, and we believe the sound system can be heard as far away as Brighton Beach.

On January 31, 2001, the ballpark was officially dubbed Keyspan Park. Neither the Keyspan energy company nor the Mets disclosed the amount of money paid for naming rights. In February, 2010, Keyspan having been absorbed by the National Grid company almost three years earlier, the Cyclones arranged a new sponsorship with the Municipal Credit Union. Keyspan Park is now known as MCU Park.

MCU Park entrance, Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson

The New York Times was critical of Keyspan Park's external appearance: it resembles one of those newfangled, community-friendly sewage treatment plants. This did not deter fans, however, and sellouts have been routine from the beginning. To accommodate demand, bleachers were built along the right field wall in 2001, raising seated capacity from 6,500 to around 8,000. On days when all the seats are sold out, $5 buys a standing room only ticket. While the official capacity of the park is listed as 7,500, crowds of over 9,000 have been recorded.

In November, 2005, a larger than life sculpture of Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson by William Behrends was unveiled outside the ballpark entrance on Surf Avenue. It recreates a moment in 1947 when southerner Reese, in reaction to the racist catcalls of a crowd in Cincinnati, walked over to his teammate Robinson and placed his arm around the rookie's shoulders. Since its unveiling, the statue has become a destination for baseball fans, with a queue before and after every game to take photographs.

The new 2011 scoreboard shines brightly in the sunset, fans play catch pre-game in 2011

In 2011, the original scoreboard was replaced by a newer, brighter version, with a larger area for video. The iconic roller coaster atop the scoreboard remained in place.

After the 2012 season, Hurricane Sandy devastated the Coney Island neighborhood. The tidal surge flooded MCU Park, destroying everything on the ground floor level - computers, merchandise, memorabilia, and infrastructure. Perhaps worse, the field itself was poisoned by the salt and pollution from the seawater, and had to be replaced. The field was replaced in 2013, with FieldTurf instead of grass - a solution better suited to the possibility of future floods.

The first game at Keyspan Park was on June 25, 2001. After Edgar Rodriguez tied the score with a two out, two run homer in the ninth, the Cyclones went on to win 3 to 2 over the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in the tenth inning. Former Dodger pitcher Ralph Branca and surviving members of the Dodger Sym-phony were present for the grand opening.

Left field wall with scoreboard, first base line

The park has seen many exciting games already, but a few stand out as perhaps the best. On August 23, 2002, 19 year old Cyclone hurler Miguel Pinango went within one strike of pitching a no-hitter against the Lowell Spinners, eventually winning 5 to 0 and giving up just a single. On July 11, 2004, in a tense game against the Staten Island Yankees, Derran Watts tried for a bunt single in the bottom of the tenth, and got all the way home on a comical series of errors to win the game 3 to 2. On July 24, 2008, Brad Holt struck out 14 in just 6 innings in a win over the Vermont Lake Monsters.

Views of MCU Park from overhead, and during Saturday night fireworks
Overhead photo taken from Google Maps

Less happily for the home team, on July 20, 2006, Keyspan Park saw the longest game in NY-Penn League history. Brooklyn and Oneonta finished nine innings knotted 1 to 1, and played another 16 innings without a run being scored. In the end, the Cyclones ran out of pitchers, outfielder Mark Wright was hammered for five runs in the top of the 26th, and the Tigers won 6 to 1. A week later, in classic minor league fashion, a night of promotions centered on the number 26 took place to honor the extra inning epic. The hot dog race was a 26 yard sprint, the prize for the plunger toss was 26 toilet rolls, and so on.

The view from section 2, Danny McDevitt and Joe Pignatano on 1957 Day
1957 Day photo: The Brooklyn Paper / Gary Thomas

Many former Brooklyn Dodgers have visited Cyclones games and been honored, but probably the most emotional event took place on June 24, 2007. On 1957 Day, concession prices were set at 1957 levels, a rock n roll band played 1957 hits, and pitcher Danny McDevitt and catcher Joe Pignatano, the Brooklyn raised battery for the Dodgers' last four innings at Ebbets Field, took the field in number 57 Cyclones jerseys for the ceremonial first pitch. The usual carnival atmosphere of a Cyclones game was briefly subdued, as the weight of so much history and loss resurfaced after fifty years. But the quiet moment was soon swept away by a standing ovation for two of the last Boys of Summer.

MCU Park also occasionally hosts professional boxing, for pay per view television. The first such event was on July 7, 2001. It has also been used as the final destination for Coney Island's Mermaid Parade, as well as for rock concerts. College baseball has seen the Big East and CUNY tournaments, and LIU's baseball squad plays some home games at MCU Park. In May, 2009, Baruch College rallied from four runs down to defeat Mitchell, 6 to 5, and take the CUNY title on a game ending, bases loaded walk. MCU Park hosts high school baseball, too. Each Brooklyn school is granted one home game at the park, and the PSAL Championship and the Mayor's Cup - an all-star contest between the best of the PSAL and CHSAA - are also annual events.

Charity baseball and softball is a regular event. Beginning in 2007, each June the Brooklyn Cyclones have fielded a staff team for twelve straight games, played in 24 hours from Friday noon to Saturday noon. A dozen opposing teams pay a fee which is donated to charity. In 2008, the staff won three, tied one, and lost eight, largely as sleep deprivation took its toll. The staff is a big part of the Keyspan Park atmosphere - Jay, King Henry, Sandy the Seagull and his sidekick Pee Wee, racing hot dogs, Kyle the juggling, unicycling peanut vendor, and the always smiling Beach Bums have kept the fans entertained through dramatic games and endless rain delays alike.

The fans at MCU Park can take the entertainment very seriously - Party Marty, a fixture from 2001 to 2004, carried a soft toy rally monkey in imitation of the trend set by the Anaheim Angels. Fans would scream to be given a chance to wave the monkey toy overhead. A man near us, on a warm evening in 2003, was especially loud but Marty passed him over. As the noise quieted down, we heard a solemn voice: Damn you, Party Marty. Damn you to hell.

The widest possible view
Photo courtesy Stacy Cowley

The location of MCU Park, immediately next to the boardwalk at Coney Island, can create unusual weather conditions. While a sea breeze blowing in is the norm, rendering right field a graveyard for high fly balls, there have been games played in glue-like humidity and even a deep, ghostly fog, through which the outfielders become unrecognizable and the gigantic Parachute Jump completely disappears from view. On such days, we might close our eyes a little and imagine that Carl Furillo stands in right field, with Zach Wheat in left, Adonis Terry on the mound, and "Death to Flying Things" Ferguson patrolling the infield beside Jackie Robinson and "Home Run" Johnson. But whoever is on the field, base ball belongs in Brooklyn, and we are thrilled to witness it.

Rebranded - MCU Park on opening day, 2010

Views of MCU Park in 2012
Aerial photograph courtesy Ken "Trolley Car" Schlapp is brought to you by
Andrew Ross (
and David Dyte (
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