Edgardo Alfonzo looks to return the Brooklyn Cyclones to the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
The night is showery — damp but snug. The smell of hot dogs and the sound of the ocean fills the air. It’s baseball season on Coney Island, as a sellout crowd of 7,271 endeavors to drown out the noise of the local beachgoers.
“Welcome to MCU Park,” the ushers’ bellow. “It’s an exciting time to be a Brooklyn Cyclones fan.”
Who could blame them? It is Edgardo Alfonzo’s first season as manager of the Cyclones, where he once played as a wide-eyed 19-year-old en route to a successful 8-year stint with the New York Mets. He was a beloved member of those early 2000 teams, earning a Silver Slugger Award in 1999 and an All-Star bid in 2000.
Just the previous Monday, the Mets introduced their 2017 Draft class, including Kennesaw State’s Tony Dibrell and Stanford’s Matt Winaker and Quinn Brodey. With an influx of young talent and Oregon State’s David Peterson (2017 first round) on the way, the energy is high, and the expectations even higher.
Only one thing is missing on this perfect night — a winning product.
That was last season — this season hopes to go differently.
In 2017, the Brooklyn Cyclones had the worst season in franchise history. In 76 games, they managed only 24 wins, while scoring a league-worst 3.17 runs-per-game and recording a league-high 4.18 earned-run average.
In a sport of ups and downs, where you’re never as bad as your worst day and never as good as your best day, the Cyclones were, in fact, as bad as their worst day.
It isn’t hyperbole to call the 2017 Cyclones season an unmitigated disaster. “We didn’t have many players to step up and do the job,” says Alfonzo, who began his second season as Cyclones skipper on Monday.
Alfonzo was inducted into the Latin American Baseball Hall of Fame over the weekend, a welcome change from the blunt questioning of the Brooklyn media. He is eager to put last season’s struggles behind him, opting instead to focus on the campaign at hand.
“I expect better than last year,” Alfonzo told members of the press.
In 2018, Alfonzo will be dealt nine of the Mets’ 40 draft picks — including infielder Chase Chambers, who set the Tennessee Tech record for RBI in a season, with 84. Chambers made his professional debut on Monday night, going 2-for-4 with a ground rule double.
“I liked him,” Alfonzo told reporters. “He showed great composure at home plate and I’m looking forward to seeing more of him.”
Chambers and his fellow infield draftees — Manny Rodriguez (10th round, Cincinnati), Brian Sharp (26th round, Missouri) and Chandler Avant (30th round, Alabama) — seek to help a young pitching staff improve on a dismal 2017 showing. The ‘Clones had an NYPL-worst 1.408 WHIP and 5.13 RAvg last year.
Nicolas Debora is one of the returnees from that 2017 staff. He went 1-4 with a 2.33 ERA and 9.3 strikeouts-per-9 innings, as he won the Mets’ Sterling Award for best Single-A minus player in the organization.
Alfonzo is confident that this year’s staff will be more effective than last year’s. “The good thing about this year is we have a lot of guys we can play around with on the pitching staff.”
Noting how important pitching is in the New York-Penn League, Alfonzo says, “We have a great group of guys who can do the job.” That includes seventh-round pick Kevin Smith and eighth rounder Tylor Megill.
In just four games, the Cyclones have already shown signs of improvement. Over the weekend, Brooklyn won the opening series over the Yankees for the first time since 2015. In the third game of the season, Debora tied a career high, striking out eight batters over 4 ⅔ innings of work.
“It’s a different team from last year,” Alfonzo said. “The attitude and the atmosphere should be different when you have a team that can compete… We have a great team, we’ve gotta compete, and hopefully, we’ll stay together.”