We Take Ourselves Out to the Ball Game

On a Thursday night, you really have no better place to be than Coney Island.

Two people in hot dog costumes racing, a soft pretzel sign, a view of a baseball game. On a blue background.
The Atlantic

Kaitlyn: I need to be careful so you don’t think I’m speaking hyperbolically. These are my real feelings: Coney Island is heaven on earth. I think if “they” ever touched it—if they ever tore things down and put boring things in their place—that would be it for me. My heart would be broken. The boardwalk, the ocean, the hot dogs, the old women running the ring-toss and balloon-dart games who are still allowed to smoke cigarettes while they’re working, while they’re handling money and prizes for children: This is what keeps us alive and kicking. Catching a first sight of the Wonder Wheel from a mile away as the Q train crawls south above 15th Street—as Stephanie wrote in a famous tweet, “That’s the stuff.”

Recently, our friend Abbey was visiting from Los Angeles to attend Ashley’s birthday party and also to box up the rest of the things she had left behind in New York. I was nervous to talk to her, because I take it hard when people move to California. But she said she had something specific in mind. She needed a change of scenery for just long enough that she would be able to come back to New York and see it again with fresh eyes and a new sense of wonder. She had calculated that this would take one to three years. “When you come back, you should go straight to Coney Island,” I told her. Obviously.

Coney Island has what Tamar has called “the forever vibe.” With this, she is riffing on the rumors about how Gen Z is newly obsessed with piano bars, churches, martinis, and red sauce. It’s not that mysterious; it’s just the classics. It was her idea for us to become baseball girls.

Lizzie: Baseball: a girl’s perspective. Kaitlyn is a romantic. I like Coney Island, sure. Where else could you see a man hammer a nail up his nose and ride a roller coaster so bumpy it’ll bruise your ass and (until 2017) stop by Mark Wahlberg’s hamburger restaurant? My main connection to Coney Island is that it was once the home of Siren Fest, the free annual music festival run by The Village Voice that I went to every year from 2006 to 2010, when it ended and they started doing a smaller, shittier version of it at the South Street Seaport. In 2010, I barfed during the Screaming Females set because it was so hot. Then I ate a hot dog. Every summer I still get a little sad that it’s not happening.

I was a “baseball girl” as a child, having grown up in a baseball family, but a lot of my knowledge of the sport is from two decades ago. Still, I could tell you what a balk is, why the National League fans are mad about designated hitters, and who Paul O’Neill is. And going to a game is always fun, so when Kaitlyn suggested that we go see the Coney Island Cyclones play the Hudson Valley Renegades, I was in.

Kaitlyn: Lizzie claims to know the name of every single 1997 Yankee, so if you see her, you should quiz her. Anyway, as we all know, Brooklyn used to have a different baseball team: the Dodgers. (I say “we all,” but I mean all of us except for the mayor of New York City and former Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.) Tamar is working on a campaign to get them back from Los Angeles, but in the meantime we have the Mets’ farm team, the Brooklyn Cyclones, who play at Coney Island.

The Cyclones’ debut season was in 2001—I am sorry to say that it was Rudy Giuliani who brought them here. We won’t go into that! Sadly, my first Cyclones game wasn’t until this April. Now I want to go all the time. Last week, on Thursday night, it was just as good a night as any to see a Cyclones game. So, I took the Q down early and picked up the tickets for all the girls.

Lizzie: I left my office right before 6, took the one-hour-and-one-minute train ride, and landed at Surf and Stillwell just as the game was starting. The sun had finally come out after a day of rain, and I got hit with a little bit of Kait’s Coney Island beauty filter on the walk to the stadium: I really do love the sound of seagulls! Kaitlyn and Tamar were already there waiting outside, and Stephanie showed up right after me. Katie was going to be a little late, so we left her ticket at the box office and headed inside for our free shirts.

Oh yeah—the free shirts. Like at many sporting events, the Cyclones often give out free stuff to some percentage of ticket holders—this time it was a blue Hawaiian shirt made out of what feels like airplane-blanket material with little graphics of Coney Island–themed things on it: a hot dog, a Ferris wheel, a bench. A bunch of people in the stands were already wearing their new shirt outside their other clothes—I shoved mine in my bag for later. The next order of business was food. If you want a little “how the sausage is made”: We were told by Kaitlyn’s Atlantic editor that we could each expense a hot dog, a drink, and an ice cream as sustenance. We each got a hot dog and a Coke but passed on the ice cream.

Hands holding up bag of Cracker Jack at the baseball stadium in Coney Island.
Cracker Jack, at the ball game. (Courtesy of Lizzie Plaugic)

Kaitlyn: My editor also told me that he had been to a wedding at the stadium, sponsored by Entenmann’s, 1-800-Flowers, and the Staten Island Hotel. When I passed a link to the New York Times coverage of that event along to the group chat, Stephanie said “i would one hundred percent get married there,” and Tamar said, “those are the exact sponsors I would want.”

Speaking of products: We opted for a bag of Cracker Jack instead of the ice creams, as the night was rather cool and Cracker Jack is even more classic, from a certain perspective. When we got to our seats, Tamar watched me open the bag and pop a kernel in my mouth. “When you’re doing that, do you think, I’m making money for The Atlantic right now?” she asked. I said yes, I think that all the time. I’m a company woman! We settled in to do basically nothing for the next two and a half hours.

Baseball is pretty boring, which is great. You can talk during it. “Golf is for catatonics, football’s for adrenaline junkies,” I read recently in a baseball-themed installment of the Alice from Queens newsletter. (It was a quote from Alice’s dad.) “Some of us are in between. We need to idle after work, but we’re not ready to let go of all the day’s tension.” I identify with this. There is nothing like an uncomfortable plastic seat and a cold Coca-Cola to help you stay wired while you unwind.

Also, a minor-league-baseball stadium is a scene rich with inscrutable characters. There is Sandy the Seagull, the wordless mascot, and Pee-Wee, the other wordless mascot, who is also a seagull and “Sandy’s adopted son,” according to Wikipedia. There is King Henry, the longtime stadium emcee, who wears a red suit and a crown and behaves theatrically, sometimes playing an air trumpet, other times pretending to take personal phone calls in the middle of a conversation with a child.

Lizzie: At one point Kaitlyn thought she saw Bill de Blasio up in the box-seats section of the stadium, but he turned out to just be a man wearing a baseball cap.

Kaitlyn: I’ll admit, the body proportions ended up being wrong. I had thought it might be him because he was posing for a lot of photos.

We haven’t been around long enough to know all of the noisy regulars yet, but there is one guy with a big white beard who goes by Wolf—a few weeks ago, I heard King Henry say “None of that, Wolf!” when Wolf was having a bad attitude about a mysterious fog that had rolled into the stadium. Another wears a jersey that says Amendment 1 on the back, and he gets really angry with the team when they make mistakes. On Thursday, he yelled “We’re not pitching to win!” and then Stephanie noticed the pitcher walk in a sad circle around the mound, tossing the ball up for himself in tiny tosses. “Oh, he’s having a little catch,” she said sympathetically. King Henry had to tell Amendment 1 to calm down.

The first half of the game was uneventful—no runs, hardly any hits. We listened to the loudspeaker announcements and wished a happy 41st anniversary to Natalie and Frank, and we clapped as requested to welcome some local unions and the staff of a medical center to the stadium. “If you want an Applebee's gift card courtesy of Applebees, let Brandon the intern hearrrrr youuuuuu,” King Henry yelled. Lizzie let Brandon the intern hear her. However, King Henry gave the Applebee’s gift card to Wolf.

Lizzie: There was a lot of advertising during the Cyclones game. In between innings, King Henry would take the field with a Cyclones fan and instruct them to play some kind of branded 30-second game in the hopes of winning a prize. Like, at one point, a guy named Jonathan had to race Larry the Lobster down the third-base line for the chance to win a free lobster dinner courtesy of Nick’s Lobster House. He lost. We were also told near the end of the game that if the Cyclones got one more home run, everyone in the stadium could get a free lobster bisque with their meal at Nick’s the following night. We wondered, Would we take the trip back to Coney Island tomorrow just for free lobster bisque with purchase? Our assumption was no, but we never had to decide since there were no more home runs. Another of these branded games consisted of throwing plungers into a Utica Avenue Plumbing Supply–branded toilet bowl. Green Mountain Energy’s game involved asking a child to sort recyclables.

I didn’t mind these games too much since, like Kaitlyn said, there wasn’t a lot of action happening on the field, baseball-wise. At one point I said, “Have there even been any hits yet?” to which Kait replied, “Yeah but they got caught,” I guess assuming that any bat/ball contact constituted a hit, even if it resulted in an out. An expansive definition by normal standards, but the Cyclones could’ve used it. The first run came in the fifth inning from the Renegades, who stayed on top until the end.

Two Brooklyn Cyclones jerseys—one blue, one pink, on display.
More prizes we did not win. (Courtesy of Kaitlyn Tiffany)

Kaitlyn: Lmao! Lizzie is already teaching me so much about the game. Our new favorite baseball player is Brooklyn Cyclone Joe Suozzi. (“What a name!” Lizzie exclaimed when it was shown on the screen. “Two Z’s and three vowels …”) He made an amazing catch in the back corner of the outfield. We went wild. He also hit the lone home run but we didn’t see it happen because Katie was telling us a story about a horrible-seeming woman who recently posted an Instagram story of herself grinding (grinding!) on somebody’s ex-boyfriend, tagged the somebody in the post, and captioned it, “Eat shit.” (Then she started selling baseball caps that say Eat shit.) That story involved infidelity and a boys’ trip to Las Vegas (clearly), so we also got onto the topic of “boys’ trips” and “girls’ trips,” and the stylistic differences between the two, and the unavoidable tropes that surround them.

This conversation was long and may also have been the reason that we missed crucial context about why the Hudson Valley Renegades outfielder Aldenis Sanchez was designated “the villain of the game.” Each time he stepped up to bat, the announcer would say “It’s the villain of the game!” and then play a few bars of some haunted-house music.

Lizzie: Apparently “the villain of the game” is also advertising. It’s part of a partnership between the Cyclones and St. Mark’s Comics. If the “villain” (randomly selected, I think) strikes out three times during a game, everyone sitting in a certain section of the stadium gets a free comic book, or rather, a coupon for a free comic book.

I found a clip of Souzzi’s home run, but for me, the most exciting moment was when the Cyclones’ Matt O’Neill got a bottom-of-the-ninth double after someone in the stands yelled “You gotta swing in the ninth!” and then he did. The fans were committed to the potential of a win, even though it seemed out of reach at this point. The energy in the stadium spiked briefly but crashed when the inning ended with a strikeout.

Kaitlyn: I had a blast even though we were losing almost the whole time, including at the end, and I was often confused. I don’t know a lot about baseball right now, but I’m going to learn everything. Stephanie is a former Ohio softball star, so she is helping. Also, a couple of months ago I read Jimmy Breslin’s 1963 book, Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?, about the Mets’ first season. Everyone was so sad that the Dodgers were gone. They were heartbroken and they were disgusted. Then they got this new team that wouldn’t stop losing in spectacular fashion. They were like, “Regardless, we will live and die for the Mets.”

When the game was almost over, Lizzie and I went to the team store to warm up and I explained to her how I want to buy a Brooklyn Cyclones hat but I can’t decide on which color scheme I like the best, and I think there is something wrong with their logo—the B looks like bones. They also sell Brooklyn Dodgers hats in the Cyclones’ team store, so this is the internal conflict I’ve been having: The Dodgers hats are aesthetically better and a cooler reference. I might like to have a Dodgers hat instead. Well, as I was describing it to Lizzie, I resolved my rather low-stakes problem … We do deserve to have the Dodgers back. But! You have to love the one you’re with, don’t you?

Lizzie: I think probably not. That’s why they made divorce.

Kaitlyn: Go Cyclones!