By John Torenli
Xorge Castillo grounded out to shortstop Cito Culver to end the Cyclones' stirring, but ultimately heartbreaking 2011 season last September.
The final out of the third and decisive game of Brooklyn's nail-biting first-round playoff series with arch rival and eventual New York-Penn League champion Staten Island at Richmond County Bank Ballpark put an end to the Baby Bums' 10th consecutive unsuccessful bid to recapture the title they won during their magical inaugural campaign on Coney Island.
But that was the only bad news during an otherwise spectacular season at their sparkling facility by the sea.
The Cyclones became the fastest team in short-season history to draw their 3 millionth fan last summer, saw Sterling Award-winner Danny Muno establish a team record with a .355 batting average, placed seven players in the league's annual All-Star Game and made a spectacular late-season dash under manager Rich Donnelly to grap the league's lone wild card spot with an impressive 45-29 record.
After a 2-0 loss to the Yanks in the playoff opener, Brooklyn treated its faithful to a 12-5 trouncing of the perennial champs in Game 2. But the crushing 1-0 defeat in Game 3 left the Cyclones again title-less since 2001.
Fortunately for our borough's baseball enthusiasts, "there's always next year."
Let's make that this year.
The quest for title two in Year 12 begins Monday evening at MCU Park, when the Cyclones will welcome their Verrazano rivals for the opener of a four-game series, which will head to S.I. for games two and three before returning to Surf Avenue on Thursday night for the finale.
While the 2012 roster has yet to be revealed, Brooklyn fans can expect a fresh crop of draftees, organizational prospects and returness to fill the dugout at MCU Park between June and September. And Donnelly, a veteran of 27 seasons as a coach in the majors, will be back for his second stint along the third-base line. He will be joined by returning hitting coach Bobby Malek, an alum of the 2001 championship squad, and new pitching instructor Marc Valdes, who had the same job at Double-A Binghamton last season under former Brooklyn skipper Wally Backman.
"With the success that Rich and Bobby had with the Cyclones in 2011, we are glad to have them back this year," said Cyclones General Manager Steve Cohen. "We're also excited to welcome Marc Valdes to the Cyclones family and look forward to his first season in Brooklyn."
Donnelly, who worked on Jim Leyland's World Series-winning Florida Marlins staff in 1997, is also glad to be back in the fold after fulfilling his goal to develop as well as win last summer.
"I really had a good time," Donnelly said of his first summer on Coney Island. "It was the first time I managed in 30 years and it was like riding a bike. I loved it. I loved the action every night. I loved the competitiveness. I love teaching. I love being with these kids. I like seeing them grow up. They're not that far away (from the majors). Everyone who has a uniform on has a chance."
To date, the Cyclones have placed 36 players in the majors, several of whom are currently plying their trade for the parent-club Mets. During Thursday's matinee in Tampa, former Brooklyn players Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Jordany Valdespin, Lucas Duda, Ike Davis and David Murphy filled out more than half of New York's starting lineup.
One member of the Cyclones family who will be missed this summer is the team's long-time announcer Warner Fusselle, who passed away from an apparent heart attack Sunday evening. Fusselle, who called all but one of the Cyclones' games since they landed on Coney Island in June 2001, will reportedly be replaced by a collection of budding broadcasters beginning with the season opener.
“There is no one who knew more — or cared more — about baseball in Brooklyn than Warner," Cohen noted earlier this week. "His distinctive voice, knowledge and endless passion for the game enriched Brooklyn Cyclones baseball for our players, staff, and fans from day one and his presence will be sorely missed.”
The team also announced Thursday that Kimberley Locke, the third-place finisher during American Idol's second season, will be on hand to sing the national anthem on Opening Night. But that's just the opening salvo in a summer that promises to be filled with special appearances and events at the ballpark.
The Cyclones will conclude their opener with a fireworks display, and the first 3,000 fans through the gates Thursday will receive an old-school Cyclones road jersey. Also, MCU Park will host a Friday Night Music Series, not to mention their special event for Brooklyn's hipsters with Williamsburg Night on July 5.
With five McNamara Division titles, eight playoff campaigns, four NY-Penn Championship Series appearances and one title in their first 11 seasons of existence, the Cyclones have been a model of success at the minor league level.
It's hard to imagine season 12 being any different, unless of course it ends with the franchise's first-ever championship parade along Surf Avenue.