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Coney Island’s Team Begins Its Own Rivalry—The “Ferry Series” The sun-drenched late afternoon of Sunday, July 15, presents a Cyclone home game that has captured the city’s imagination more than any game since opening night. It’s the Staten Island Yankees’ first visit to KeySpan Park. Since the game is a 5 p.m. twilight start, the crowd near the stadium starts to morph from a beach crowd to a baseball crowd by 3:30, and it has the biggest buzz around it since the throng on opening night. Given New Yorkers’ predilection for a good rivalry, it’s no surprise that this game, and the other Yankee games on the schedule, was the first to sell out after the opener. Looking at this bustling, well-heeled crowd, theoretically the crowd that Rudy and other stadium boosters envisioned bringing to Coney Island, it’s worth asking what it would really mean if Coney Island, a place that’s been dubbed “the working-man’s Riviera,” were to be redone. Beginning in 1829, Coney Island began developing into a playground of the rich. That was when some local residents of Gravesend—named for an English town from which some of their ancestors had come—laid a path over Coney Island creek and built an inn on the sandy strip of land that is today called Coney Island. Previously, the island had mostly been cut off from the mainland by a giant marsh, and few people were attracted to the strip (today the marsh has almost been totally filled in, and “Island” seems more a figure of speech or a metaphor for the neighbor- ◆ 76 ◆ 0 0 0 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ hood’s isolation than a geological definition). To get all the way out to the area, visitors needed to travel by carriage, which was not for anyone but the upper class. So the rich folks of the time, including Washington Irving and Herman Melville, discovered the glory of sitting by the beach and frolicking in the water, and, shortly after, other inns were built. The original inn’s name? The Coney Island House. Today’s Coney Island Houses couldn’t have less in common with their ancient, unknown (to most of the residents), singular namesake, aside from being a place of youthful exuberance. These are not children of the elite, however, running around the blacktop of Nautilus playground. It’s Anthony and his boys, and while it’s no surprise that they’re playing a sport (handball) today, it is hard to believe that they seem as excited about the Cyclone-Yankee game (they have bleacher seats, as has become their custom) as they are about their own game of handball. By all the indications he gave three weeks ago, Anthony wouldn’t even be making his first trip to KeySpan until the August 13 game against the Yankees, and here he is ready to go to his third game of the season. Like his mother, Anthony is a devout Yankee fan, and even his exciting discovery of the Cyclones’ stadium isn’t going to change his rooting interests. Anthony may be picking out individual Cyclone players that he’s fond of, and he welcomes the autographs of any Cyclone, but whether the Cyclone team wins or loses is still insignificant to him. “The only team I really want to win is the Yankees. My mother pretty much got me into liking them. In this game I’m going to root for Staten Island Yankees, since they’re part of the real Yankees, but I don’t really care who wins.” Since it’s a Sunday, Anthony’s father, Anthony Sr., is free of any major obligations, and he’s outside playing handball with the group of kids. I’ve met Mr. Otero, a stocky guy who goes about 5'8", before, but only when he’s tired and just off of his job as an auto mechanic in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn. Today, Mr. Otero is refreshed and whipping these kids around the court in handball. According to Anthony Jr., his pops “taught all of us—every single kid out here—how to play handball .” This is no small thing to learn, since, in many ways, Coney Island is the handball capital of the United States, and it hosts the national ◆ 77 ◆ THE “FERRY SERIES” tournament. Mr. Otero is not...


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