BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Wait ‘till next year was the rallying cry for countless baseball fans in Brooklyn when the Dodgers played at Ebbets Field. The local fans yearned for the day that “Dem Bums” would finally beat their rivals from the Bronx. Championship dreams, at last, became a reality when Johnny Podres shut out the Yankees in Game 7 of the 1955 World Series. It was the lone outright title won by a professional sports team calling Brooklyn home for more than a half-century.
Fans of the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Dodgers’ spiritual successors, also had a burning desire to see their club win a title they could call their own. The short-season affiliate of the Mets nearly made it happen in their inaugural season in 2001 when future Red Sox pitcher Lenny DiNardo pitched them to victory in Game 1 of the New York-Penn League Championship Series on Sept. 10, against the Williamsport Crosscutters. The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, effectively ended the season with both participants earning co-championship honors.
Until the 2019 season, the Cyclones had claimed the division title five times but not an outright championship since arriving in Coney Island. Under first-year general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, the Mets drafted a bevy of seasoned college prospects, such as Southeastern Conference stars Jake Mangum and Antoine Duplantis, that would begin their pro careers in Brooklyn. While the Cyclones remained in the wild card hunt for much of the season, their playoff aspirations weren’t a certainty until their Labor Day victory over the Staten Island Yankees clinched the division title, which was their first since 2010.
“It was very special, and no matter where you play, you do it for your teammates,” Cyclones pitcher Frank Valentino said after pitching the division clincher. “You do it for the guys in the clubhouse that were there for every game. That means the most to me. (Winning the division) speaks volumes about the guys we have in here. It was the toughest division I’ve been a part of in baseball. We showed some true character and won when we needed to.
After dropping the first game of their playoff series to the Hudson Valley Renegades on the road, the Cyclones returned to Brooklyn with 12-year major league veteran Jed Lowrie, who joined the club on a late-season rehab assignment. Lowrie’s presence was the difference for Brooklyn when his fourth-inning home run evened the series. The Cyclones clinched a spot in the New York-Penn League Championship the following night on a game-ending double in the bottom of the ninth inning by Ranfi Adon.
“It was a first-pitch changeup up over the plate that I put a good swing on it that went out (of MCU Park),” Lowrie said after the game. “It’s certainly nice to play well in these rehab games and go about my business.”
“I thought we all competed as a whole, and it was really good to go out there and do well for the team,” said Cyclones pitcher Nathan Jones following Game 2 against Hudson Valley. “You try to ignore the pressure of a playoff game and do your best to compete just like any other day. I just wanted to stay focused.”
In the championship series, the focus was on the Lowell Spinners, a team that featured six top-30 ranked prospects in the Red Sox organization and won the Stedler Division by eight games. Brooklyn and Lowell split the first two games of the series to set up a decisive Game 3 in Coney Island on Sept. 10, 2019. It marked 18 years to the day of the Cyclones’ first championship game appearance.
The Spinners were nine outs away from the title after a Marino Campana solo home run cleared the left-field wall to give Lowell a 3-2 lead in the seventh inning.
A comeback did not seem likely for Brooklyn against reliever Yusniel Padron-Artilles, who had not allowed an earned run in nine postseason innings. Padron-Artilles kept Brooklyn scoreless in relief of starter Jay Groome but started to show signs of fatigue. Mangum singled with one out in the seventh inning, and Duplantis tripled into the right-field corner to drive in Mangum. Yoel Romero followed with a single up the middle to score Duplantis, and the Cyclones seized control of the game, 4-3.
“Antoine and I played against each other for a very long time,” Mangum said. “We were friends through all of that. Just to end our first year with the same team on a high note was a lot of fun. During the first two games of this series, I was struggling. I wasn’t doing what I needed to do at that plate, but before this game, I got here early and straightened up my swing. Our goal was to just compete for nine innings.”
Reliever Andrew Edwards helped preserve the lead with a scoreless eighth inning and clinched the Cyclones’ first outright championship in franchise history when he struck out pinch hitter Alex Erro with two outs in the ninth inning.
Next year finally arrived for the Cyclones at 9:09 p.m. on Sept. 10, 2019, with fans and teammates celebrating a goal that only one team can attain each season. The players hoisted the championship trophy on the field before continuing the celebration in the clubhouse.
“It was pretty incredible since it was the first time I was that situation to close out a championship game. It was a pretty special moment for me,” Edwards said. “We had the utmost trust and faith in one another. Nobody knew each other when we first arrived in Brooklyn, but as the season progressed, we built a special bond with these guys that I will never forget. Being able to win a championship in my first professional season is a very special moment.”
“It was the whole team winning,” Mangum said. “It took everyone. “When I first got to Mississippi State, I promised that we would bring the first national championship there, but we fell short in back-to-back years in Omaha. Just to win the last game for the first time since high school is a really cool feeling. You see guys in their first pro years go through ups and downs, and to see them celebrate as a team is awesome.”
The Cyclones’ run to the New York-Penn League title also held meaning for manager Edgardo Alfonzo, who took over a club that finished last in the McNamara Division with 24 wins two years prior. Alfonzo grew with the job and did his part to develop the Mets’ prospects since his arrival in the 2017 season. He joined his brother, Edgar, as the only other manager to guide the franchise to a share of a championship since their inception in 2001.
“We went through some tough times and tough years, but finally, we had a great group of guys that could compete and learn how to win championships (while developing as prospects), Alfonzo said after the clincher. “I felt so proud to be the manager of this group of guys this year. I hope these guys keep that feeling because it’s a great feeling to win a championship. It’s a big part of development for any organization.”
The end of the 2019 season marked the end of the current structure of Minor League Baseball with the expiration of the Professional Baseball Agreement and the COVID-19 pandemic canceling play in 2020.
MLB intends to downsize the minor leagues to 120 teams, likely signaling the end of the New York-Penn League after 81 years. Although future changes will alter the landscape of Minor League Baseball, the Cyclones’ 2019 championship forever endures in Brooklyn’s memory, as fans wait ‘till next year.