MCU Park – Brooklyn Cyclones
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Baseball on the Boardwalk
To say that Baseball and Brooklyn go together is an understatement. The love affair with the Dodgers in the first half of the 20th century was unparalleled and when the team was moved to LA, a void would be left in the borough for decades. However, the missing summer pastime finally returned to Brooklyn in 2001, when a single-A affiliate of the New York Mets began play in the New York-Penn League (NYPL). This team coincided with a new stadium built in Coney Island and the team nickname of Cyclones, mimicking the famous roller coaster in the amusement park next door. Since inception, both the Cyclones and MCU Park have been a resounding success. Future Mets have led the team to five division championships and one shared league title, all the while fans have poured in, often on a beautiful summer night along the ocean. The ballpark is incorporated into the surroundings beautifully and various features make it one of the best places to check out a game.
Food & Beverage 4
Pretty much a requirement of attending a Brooklyn Cyclones game is eating a Nathan’s Hot Dog ($4). These beefy frankfurters got their start just down Surf Ave in 1916 and the item is featured prominently around the park, along with their Crinkle-Cut Fries (at a pricey $6). Other typical, standard offerings can be found as well, however a few new items added in 2015 give the concessions a nice Brooklyn vibe. Pig Guy NYC has brought some excellent Pulled Pork Sandwiches ($8) to go along with their unique Bacon on a Stick ($7), while Arancini Bros. have different varieties of Rice Balls available, which make for a convenient ballpark snack. El Tigre Tacos are an option too, but $9 for just a pair of tacos is a bit steep.
Local is the way to go for beer as not only does MCU Park serve Brooklyn Lager, but the hyper-local Coney Island Brewing Co. offers drafts on tap. This is a brand new microbrewery attached to the ballpark and they’re off to a good start with their Mermaid Pilsner ($8). Pepsi provides the other beverages in the park.
With the ballpark being in such an advantageous location, the designers and team could have let the surroundings speak for themselves, however thankfully for fans they did so much more to make MCU Park truly fit in with Coney Island. Throughout the stadium, there is lots of color and energy, especially in the concourse, where concession stands look like the storefronts on the boardwalk and even the elevator is designed like a subway stop. Neon light fixtures decorate the concourse ceiling and the towering light poles, while the walkway to the outfield bleachers are wooden planks, just like the boardwalk a few steps past the entrance. Meanwhile, the scoreboard is topped off by a roller coaster. All of these fantastic little touches add up to a vibrant ballpark that fits the area beautifully.
The seating bowl itself is comfortable and straight-forward as a one level set of individual green seats extend half-way into the outfield. The only minor drawback is the slight incline for each row leads to occasions where the heads of fans may get in the way of completely seeing the action. Otherwise, seats are intimate to the field and they even angle the sections further away towards the diamond. A two-tiered deck above the concourse houses luxury suites, the press box and a rooftop party area for large groups. What really sets the ballpark out from others is that view beyond the outfield. Dominating much of the skyline are the famous rides of Luna Park, including coasters “The Cyclone” and “Thunderbolt” to go along with the “Wonder Wheel.” Towering over the area in the right field corner is the “Parachute Drop,” which is vacant, but maintained as a striking visual. Finally, glimpses of the Atlantic Ocean can be seen and its presence is usually felt with pleasant summer breezes.
The game day atmosphere matches both Coney Island and Minor League Baseball quite well with multiple in-game promotions and between-inning activities. There is even a cheerleading group (Beach Bums), which is a little odd for baseball, but fits the vibe of the place. Also, a general buzz fills the ballpark both from outside noise and fans talking inside.
The Coney Island section of Brooklyn lies at the very southern end of the borough, where the ocean meets the land. For nearly a century, this has been New York’s summer playground as the beaches and amusement park entertain those from the city. In recent years, the area became increasingly seedy and the famed rides in Astroland were on the verge of closing. Then, Superstorm Sandy hit and the Island was devastated. Though many locals are still trying to recover, the tourist area along Surf Ave saw a remarkable recovery which led to a promising resurgence. Not only are the beaches packed in the summertime, but the amusement park (now known as Luna Park) is thriving.
Visitors to the area should indeed walk through Luna Park and at least reminiscence about the days of being a kid. The games and rides are expensive ($10 to ride the Cyclone!), but some are worth it, namely the Wonder Wheel that provides a remarkable view of the borough and the water. The boardwalk is always adventurous and the beach is maintained well as the ocean beckons. Often overlooked and underrated is the New York Aquarium, a great spot to include in a visit. Dining options are not all that glamorous in the area, but really how could you not make a stop at Nathan’s for a meal?
When it comes to planning a trip to a Cyclones game, make sure to utilize the whole day before the game to check out all that Coney Island has to offer.
The Cyclones are perennially NYPL attendance leaders as the fans have filled MCU Park quite well. There is decent support for a short-season “A” team, even though the paid attendance numbers can be quite misleading (the actual fans in attendance for the game I attended was about half of the announced figure). Given that this is Brooklyn, fans are certainly more vocal than your typical minor league game. This also means they are more passionate and it translates to decent cheers after each positive play for the home side. What really makes the crowd stand out is their appreciation of good baseball, even if it comes from the visiting team. Twice, I saw fans applaud spectacular defensive plays by the opposition. Sure, many in the crowd are part of the group that came to the area for a good time, but there are also some hearty fans in attendance as well. Fans from Brooklyn know and care about the sport very much and it shows.
Driving around New York City can be a stressful and arduous task, but MCU Park is thankfully not that far from a main highway for those that choose to drive. Exit 6S off of the Belt Parkway feeds into Cropsey Ave, which points right to the entrance of MCU Park. There is a parking lot next door and though beachgoers can use this lot during the day, team staff try to keep spaces available for game attendees (they were not 100% successful for the Sunday 5 PM game I attended, so it is advised to give yourself extra time). It is a straight forward drive, but that does not mean traffic around the area is not an issue.
For those looking to avoid that stress, using the subway system is a much better option. As the last stop on the D, F, N and Q trains, it is easy to utilize this route right to the Stillwell Ave. station, which is a couple blocks from the ballpark. Keep in mind that Coney Island is nearly the southernmost point of New York City’s gigantic footprint, so it does take 50 minutes for the subway to reach the area from midtown Manhattan.
Inside, the concourse is a little tight in spots, but traffic flow is typically not much of an issue. The bathroom situation could be improved as each of the three spaced out restrooms feature stalls that are quite dirty.
Return on Investment 4
Anyone who even has a lukewarm interest in baseball should attend a game at MCU Park, but it is on the expensive side for a low-level baseball league. Much of that has to do with the surrounding area as New York is a very expensive city. It starts with the $6 parking charge (much higher for all-day parking) and extends to the concessions as well. Tickets are primarily $17 with some seats a bit cheaper. There is also a $2 increase to buy a ticket on game day. However, give credit to the Cyclones for offering some better options. The bleachers in left field start at $10, while all seats in the ballpark for Wednesday games are just $10. By picking the right mode of transportation, food options and seat, it is possible for a Cyclones game to mimic prices seen in much smaller NYPL markets.
The Cyclones display honors extraordinarily well and the most visible display is a statue in front of the main gate. A beautiful depiction of former Brooklyn Dodger Pee Wee Reese embracing Jackie Robinson is a hallmark moment not only in sport, but race relations. The statue does well to commemorate that day. Just as important is the Wall of Remembrance, located on the west side of the building. Three eloquent granite displays honor the local service men and women that made the ultimate sacrifice on September 11, 2001.
Before climbing the stairs to the main concourse level, a section called “The Gallery” is tucked underneath the ballpark. Do not miss this section as there are some remarkably well done murals on the walls, geared towards the history of the Cyclones and baseball in Brooklyn. This area also contains a lounge, where fans can eat, drink and hang out.
Finally, a point goes to the innovative front office. Each year, the Cyclones find ways to keep the ballpark experience fresh. The promotions are clever too, as evidenced by the highly successful “Salute to Seinfeld Night,” where a sellout crowd included fans from 26 different states.
MCU Park in essence is the epitome of minor league baseball. Fun, wacky, colorful and local. The resurgence of the Coney Island neighborhood makes a trip to see the Cyclones a day-long affair and all the more satisfying is ending with a baseball game in a facility that fits in perfectly with the area. The stadium is designed beautifully with all the little things done right, thus making this a top notch ballpark.
Follow all of Sean’s journeys at Stadium and Arena Visits.
Food and Drink Recommendations
Sleep Inn Coney Island
2586 Stillwell Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11223