The Cheap Seats

Can’t afford tickets to see the Yankees or Mets? Try a minor league game instead.

So you couldn’t afford those $55,000 seats the New York Mets were offering up at newly minted Citi Field. Well, even Bernie Madoff had to eventually turn his—and himself—in. Speaking of rip-off artists, the $5 bottled water at the reincarnated Yankee Stadium ain’t much better.

And let’s not get into how much the Yankees ponied up for three free agents this offseason. For the record, slugger Mark Teixeira and pitchers C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett netted a combined $420 million. Ka-ching!

Then there is the eww factor. A-Rod’s steroid scandal. Roger Clemens’ petulance in denying ever using performance enhancers. A-Rod’s messy divorce. The Mets refusing to drop the toxic naming rights deal with bailout boy Citigroup. A-Rod’s twisted fling with Madonna. We love to hate A-Rod. The list goes on.
Yet there is an alternative universe where the grass is just as green, the crowds manageable, prices downright cheap and the outrageous acts are choreographed. We’re talking minor league baseball, of course, where the boys of summer never grew up.

The Mets and Yankees ensured New York remained a minor league dead zone for decades. Then in 2000 came the independent Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League, along with New York-Penn League franchises in Brooklyn and Staten Island. In fact, 18 minor league teams lie within a four-hour drive of Long Island.

Each has parks filled with character and teams populated by characters. Where else can you see rising stars and venerable veterans take hacks from just five rows away? Views of the Coney Island boardwalk and the New York City skyline—from Brooklyn and Staten Island, respectively—are breathtaking. And the promotions—from the sensible all-you-can-eat plan in Staten Island to regular fireworks displays courtesy of Grucci after Ducks games and the Lamaze-inducing “salute to pregnancy” night in Brooklyn—offer something for everyone.

The money you spend on gas will be more than offset by the price of admission. And the experience? Priceless. Road trip anyone? Start with these three local gems:

Long Island Ducks
Where: Citibank Park (seats 6,002) in Central Islip.
When: 70 home dates, April-September.
Cheapest Ticket: $10.

The Skinny: Baseball might lay claim as America’s pastime, but for cash-strapped Long Islanders, the Ducks offer an affordable alternative to the pinstriped barons in Flushing and the Bronx. Despite having appeared in just one championship series since the team’s inception in 2000, the Ducks have consistently been one of the top draws in the minors. Citibank Park may have an unfortunate name, but it’s easy accessibility and great sight lines make it family-friendly. For the more adventuresome, go see the Ducks in Bridgeport. The Port Jefferson Ferry docks next to the ballpark of the rival Bluefish. The caliber of play in the Atlantic League is generally considered somewhere between Double- and Triple-A. But you never know what will happen, such as the August 2007 day when former All-Star Jose Offerman charged the mound and attacked the pitcher with his bat. Offerman was banned from the league, but former Mets great with an occasional bloated ego Gary Carter has signed on as the new Ducks manager.
Player Watch: Follow Ducks outfielder Preston Wilson, 34, as he tries to work his way back to the bigs. The former Met farmhand and stepson of New York icon Mookie Wilson slammed 36 homers for the Colorado Rockies in 2003. MLB teams regularly dip into the Atlantic League talent pool to sign players with a hot hand, a fact Wilson is banking on.
Best Promo: Ehy! Italian heritage night celebrates the Island’s preeminent culture from a flag giveaway to food, music and more. June 13 vs. Newark Bears.

Brooklyn Cyclones
Where: KeySpan Park (seats 7,500) in Coney Island.
When: 38 home dates, June-September.
Cheapest Ticket: $8.

The Skinny: This short-season Class A affiliate of the Mets is where top draft picks usually get their first taste of pro ball. Connected to the boardwalk, and with the Wonder Wheel and the Coney Island seascape as the backdrop, this picturesque park has one of the best atmospheres anywhere. Start in the neighborhood. The oldest continually-operated aquarium in the United States is the nearby New York Aquarium. Get a hot dog at the original Nathan’s Famous a block away. Hit boardwalk staples such as the paintball-charged “Shoot the Freak.” Take a tour of the Brooklyn Baseball Gallery and Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Fame housed at the park. Perhaps even spot a former Dodger great signing autographs. But the best part of the Cyclones experience is their free-spirited promos, from a Barack Obama bobblehead to a pot-luck “Garage Sale” giveaway. Oh, and there’s the beach. Whatever your excuse, the Cyclones are a must-stop on any minor league tour.
Best Promo: “A salute to pregnancy” featuring pre-game Lamaze in centerfield, a craving station of pickles and ice cream, and many other tie-ins. And if you agree to name your child Brooklyn or Cy, the team promises free tickets for life. July 19 vs. Auburn Doubledays.

Staten Island Yankees
Where: Richmond County Bank Ballpark (seats 7,171) in St. George.
When: 38 home dates, June-September.
Cheapest Ticket: $6.

The Skinny: The Yankees have won four New York-Penn League titles since relocating to Staten Island in 1999. The short-season Class A affiliate of the Yankees has cultivated a fierce rivalry with the Cyclones. Like Brooklyn, Staten Island is usually the first stop for touted Yankees prospects. Robinson Cano and Chen-Ming Wang are two current big leaguers who started off as Baby Bombers. Take the scenic route to the game: The Staten Island Ferry terminal is next door. The dense neighborhood has also been designated a historic district. Season ticket holders get all-you-can-eat concessions, and by season’s end begin resembling the mascot, Scooter the Holy Cow. Cross the Verrazano at your own risk, but the park is worth a visit.
Best Promo: The Yankees put on a fireworks display after each game. And with the Statue of Liberty in the distance—who could ask for more? For an unforgettable seat to the Independence Day fireworks over New York Harbor, get tickets to the July 4 game against the Lowell Spinners.

Road Trip
Minor league baseball is thriving in the Northeast and within an easy drive of Long Island. Most are within three hours, including several Yankees and Mets affiliates. So hit the road and see tomorrow’s stars today. The list:

Triple A—International League
Team Location Affiliate ?
Pawtucket Red Sox Pawtucket, RI Boston
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees Moosic, PA Yankees
Lehigh Valley Ironpigs Allentown, PA Philadelphia
Syracuse Chiefs Syracuse Washington
Rochester Red Wings Rochester Minnesota
Buffalo Bisons Buffalo Mets

Double A—Eastern League
Team Location Affiliate
Binghamton Mets Binghamton Mets
Connecticut Defenders Norwich, CT San Francisco
New Britain Rock Cats New Britain, CT Minnesota
Trenton Thunder Trenton, NJ Yankees

Class A—South Atlantic League
Team Location Affiliate ?
Lakewood Blue Claws Lakewood, N.J. Philadelphia

SS Class A—New York-Penn League
Team Location Affiliate ?
Brooklyn Cyclones Coney Island Mets
Staten Island Yankees St. George Yankees
Oneonta Tigers Oneonta Detroit
Tri-City ValleyCats Troy Houston
Batavia Muckdogs Batavia St. Louis
Hudson Valley Renegades Wappingers Falls Tampa Bay

Independent—Atlantic League
Team Location ?
Long Island Ducks Central Islip
Bridgeport Bluefish Bridgeport, CT
Newark Bears Newark, NJ
Somerset Patriots Bridgewater, NJ
Camden Riversharks Camden, NJ

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jason molinet

Jason Molinet spent three years at Patch.com as regional editor and was a reporter at Newsday for a decade. He is a four-time Press Club of Long Island award winner. Molinet celebrates his Cuban heritage, reads Ernest Hemingway and roots for the Miami Heat.