Sunday, March 16, 2008

We See Them First

It's one of the rites of spring (Spring Training, that is). Inevitably, some player without a name on his jersey -- you know, the ones numbered in the 80s and 90s -- will come to the plate in a key situation.

And at that moment, fans, reporters, coaches, and broadcasters alike start scrambling to find out who this guy is. How do you pronounce his name? Where is he from? What position does he play? Is he righty or lefty?

That's when being a Cyclones fan makes you look like a genius.

When #94 entered the game for defense for the Mets on Sunday, Brooklyn fans knew it was none other than Jake Eigsti, an All-Star for the Cyclones in 2007, and one of the most clutch, dependable players on the squad. When Jake made a crucial play at second base to hold the go-ahead run at third and keep the game tied, Cyclones fans knew that Jake had played virtually every position on the infield, and had the quick instincts to man the hot corner, so second base would be a breeze.

And when he stepped to the plate in the 8th inning of a tie ballgame with the go-ahead run on second base, Cyclones fans knew that Eigsti was one of the top run producers on the team last summer, and they knew he had a chance to put the Mets ahead.

Eigsti tucked a two-run double inside the third-base line to give New York the lead, and eventually the win, capping what was probably the best inning of his professional life (and those of us who know Jake couldn't be happier for one of the best guys ever to wear the Cyclones uniform).

I remember when I met Jake in 2006 -- a quiet, unassuming, almost shy, small-town kid from Eureka, IL (which he told me had a total population of less than half of how many people filled KeySpan Park each night for a Cyclones game). I remember taking Jake and Jeremy Hambrice into Times Square for a segment on SNY, and seeing the awe in their eyes as they walked the streets of Manhattan.

The following year, in 2007, Jake became a leader both on and off the field for the Cyclones. He carried the first-place club for about a month, notching RBI in 11 straight games, I believe (I'll check the stats in the office tomorrow). And teammate Will Morgan called him "the best third baseman I've ever played with." (Morgan even hung one of Eigsti's baseball cards in his locker, and called him "my favorite Cyclone.")

There are hundreds of stories like this one -- stories of Cyclones fans watching young men (and future stars) grow up before our eyes. It's one of the benefits of being a Brooklyn fan.

So next time you're watching a game this spring, and a player walks to the plate in a big situation, and you see everyone scrambling to figure out who he is, let them in on the secret. Tell them "I know who he is." "I saw him first in Brooklyn, because I'm a Cyclones fan!"

-- Dave

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