Friday, August 7, 2009

BK Back in BK

One of my favorite people ever associated with the Cyclones makes a return trip to Brooklyn today -- Brett Kay.

Brett was the catcher on the 2001 inaugural team that not only brought baseball back to the borough, but set a franchise record with 52 wins (55 if you count the postseason), authored a thrilling playoff series win over the Yankees (more on that later), and won an NYPL
Co-Championship (that, too).

Brett was more than just the team's catcher, though. He and a handful of others -- Ross Peeples, Jay Caligiuri, Frank Corr, Robert McIntyre, John Toner, Harold Eckert, Joe Jiannetti (just to name a few) -- gave the team its personality, and became the face of a new generation of Brooklyn baseball.

Brett was (as he liked/still likes to say) the most media-savvy of the bunch. His dad played in the NFl, his brother does public relations for the Angels, and he played in college at a national powerhouse -- Cal-State Fullerton. So he had been around the block a bit, in terms of media and fan interaction, and it showed. Smart, funny, and honest, Brett became a favorite of front office staff, fans, and reporters alike. And he was my go-to guy for a good interview and a good quote. In fact, radio voice Warner Fusselle credits Kay with one of the best lines he's heard in over 30 years in the business. Brett mentioned that in a takeoff on Ringling Brothers' famous slogan, the St. Louis Rams had dubbed themselves The Greatest Show on Turf. Noting the ballpark's location, he then declared that the Cyclones should be known as The Greatest Show on Surf! (We've been using that in marketing materials ever since. Thanks, BK.)

From an appearance on MTV's
Total Request Live (before it was known simply as TRL) to photo shoots for Japanese sports magazines, to meetings with Spike Lee, Brett became one of the most recognizable faces on the team. He was even the subject of a book, titled The Brooklyn Cyclones: Hardball Dreams and the New Coney Island, written by Ben Osborne. He started wearing hipster horn-rimmed glasses, and moved into an apartment in downtown Manhattan. The kid from California was truly soaking up the Big Apple. (And although he likes to pretend it came easily, I will never forget the terrified look on his face the first time he took a ride on the big, bad, F train. Classic "Welcome to New York" moment.)

And, oh, by the way, he was pretty good on the field, too. BK hit .311 that year, belted five home runs, and had 16 multi-hit games. But he really cemented his place in franchise history in a postseason elimination game -- Game Three of the '01 playoffs against the Staten Island Yankees. Brett made two spectacular defensive plays -- a "dead man" decoy tag on a throw from left fielder John Toner, and a bare-handed, off-balance play on a bunt -- and then drilled a two-run home run over the left-field wall in the eighth inning to put the game (and the series) away. Brett was officially a Cyclones legend. Anyone who was at that game still talks about it as one of the most electric atmospheres they've ever been a part of, and Brett's performance as one of the best they've ever seen.

It may sound cheesy or corny, but that summer was truly magical. Brooklyn baseball was new again, and it was a season of firsts for everyone involved. Players, coaches, front office, fans, media, mascots, ushers, vendors...everyone. We were all really young, and were all caught up in the fun of the being a part of history. That Game Three September night seemed like a culmination and a coronation. The Championship Series was still to be played, but everyone in the league that year knew that it would come down to the Cyclones and the Yankees. Those were the two heavyweights, and Brooklyn had delivered the knockout blow. All that was left was to finish up what seemed like a foregone conclusion.

We loaded up for Williamsport, won Game One of that series, and headed back home giddy about the fact that we had to win just one of the next two games to win the league championship and cap off a storybook summer. No one knew that in the days that followed, that magical summer would be tragically cut short, and baseball would be the last thing on anyone's minds. That was the night of September 10th, 2001.

The terrorist at
tacks of the next morning ended the season, and brought everyone back to a harsh reality of a world outside of Brooklyn baseball. Brooklyn and Williamsport were declared Co-Champs. Brett and Jay Caligiuri came into the office for a conference call with the media who had covered the team. The following day, the entire team gathered briefly, and everyone said their goodbyes.

In the years that followed, Brett made his way up the ladder in the Mets' organization, before finally deciding to end his playing career and begin a new chapter as a coach. In fact, in his third year as the varsity head coach at JSerra Catholic High School in California, Brett led the school to its first-ever playoff victory (sound familiar?) and was named the Orange County Baseball Coach of the Year by the OC Register. (He even got to participate in another photo shoot...and got to model his "I'm a tough-guy coach all dressed in black" look.)

Over the years, we've stayed in touch, re-hashing the "Glory Days" of 2001, giving updates on mutual friends, and moaning about getting older. I've tried to get BK back to Brooklyn several times, but his fear of flying and busy work schedule kept him anchored in Cali. Until now. He made a cross-country drive, and marked off Coney Island as his ultimate destination.

On Saturday, he'll throw out a first pitch before the game, check out his old digs, say hello to some old friends and familiar faces...and I'll probably twist his arm into doing an interview or two, just for old times' sake.

It'll be great to have Brett back where it all started...for him, and for the Cyclones.

Welcome back, BK. It's about time.

-- Dave


CraftyLefty said...

I just finished reading that book last week; and wondered what happened to Kay. Great to hear.

anthony0358 said...

It was so wonderful to see Brett Kay at the game last night!
I have such great memories of the 2001 Cyclones team!
We went to so many games and it was so exciting!
Waiting in line at Kings Plaza for tix
The game tying home run opening night
All those games with Staten Island
the long home winning streak
waiting in on Labor Day for playoff tickets
the 3 game series with the Yanks

That was a great team and a great bunch of guys

All those memories came back last night

Anonymous said...

What ever happened to Frank Corr? Last thing I could find on him was playing for the St. Lucie Mets in 2003. Can't find anything else about him.

Mom said...

Frank Corr is married and has four little girls. He is doing very well. Frank and partners have started baseball lessons,camps,etc here is Florida. Working full time and loving life. His best memories are with the Brooklyn Cyclones and their fans. He still talks about those days with everyone. Thank You