NEW YORK — Players took batting practice in puffy pirate shirts. A fan reeled in a slice of marble rye bread with a fishing rod from the suite level. George Costanza announced the third inning. And the first 3,000 attendees at the temporarily renamed Vandelay Industries Park received a Keith Hernandez “Magic Loogie” bobblehead.
All that and more celebrated “25 years of nothing” on Saturday, when, in honor of the debut of “Seinfeld” a quarter century ago, the Brooklyn Cyclones transformed MCU Park in Coney Island into a one-night shrine to one of New York’s enduring contributions to television comedy.
The communal effort by fans and the Cyclones to send up a show built on the minutia of observational humor kept most of the 8,241-person sellout crowd around through the end of the game even if it meant watching the Cyclones play their worst game of the season, an 18-2 loss to the Aberdeen IronBirds of Maryland.
The foul poles were renamed the “Festivus” poles and the information kiosk was repurposed for an “airing of grievances.” There was a “low-talker” announcer and a “close talker” mascot. The Cyclones awarded an actual latex salesman tickets and let a man actually named George Costanza, who drove down from Rhode Island, do radio commentary.
Character-inspired games included an Elaine Benes dancing contest and a competition inspired by George’s whale-rescuing heroics. Winners received Bosco chocolate syrup in honor of George’s close-kept password, and Beefareeno canned meat, which Cosmo Kramer regrettably fed to a carriage horse.
The Cyclones’ director of communications, Billy Harner, came up with the promotion and fleshed it out with five other staff members. Even some ideas that seemed laughable at first made the cut.
“That’s kind of the beauty of minor league baseball,” said Harner, 31, a native of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. “What we do as an industry is we major in the absurdity.”
The game giveaway, a “Magic Loogie” bobblehead of Keith Hernandez, is one example.
Hernandez, then a first baseman for the New York Mets, appeared in an episode where Kramer and Newman accused him of spitting on them. The scene played out as a parody of the Kennedy assassination, and Hernandez points to Roger McDowell, then his teammate on the Mets, as the possible “second spitter.”
Some men ended up waiting at the main entrance of the ballpark, scalping their limited edition figurines and quietly offering to buy others from fans.
Even Cyclones players, 13 of whom are foreign-born and none of them older than 24, reveled in the fun. Some players practiced batting in puffy pirate shirts, replicas from an episode where Jerry had to wear one in a television appearance.
“When I was younger I didn’t always know what was happening because it is a more adult show,” said pitcher Corey Oswalt, who grew up in San Diego and watched reruns with his father.
Outfielder Michael Katz is reminded of a scene every time he takes the train to the ballpark in Coney Island: Jerry once took the same ride and chatted with an overweight naked man reading a newspaper.
Pitching coach Tom Signore says he quotes Seinfeld when giving advice on the mound. One time, he walked out and told a pitcher on the verge of blowing a lead: “‘We don’t want to be ‘Even Steven,’ as Jerry would say.’ And he had no idea what I was talking about. But what I did was I got his mind totally off the game for a second.” They went on to win.
The first fans to arrive outside the ballpark gates traveled from Akron, Ohio; Alberta, Canada; and Louisville, Kentucky; showing the far reach of the event. But New Yorkers will always feel the most ownership over the show.
“There’s a lot of ‘Seinfeld’ that if you did not grow up in New York City, in Brooklyn, the jokes go over your head,” said Bill Gabriel, 53, a handyman from Bay Ridge.
When he heard about the theme night five weeks ago, he began growing a mustache. He used “Grecian formula to dye it that Keith Hernandez black.” He also donned his own puffy pirate shirt, which he purchased online for $24. He was surprised to find no other fan wearing one but loved the attention he received. He paid no attention to the loss.
“I haven’t seen a single pitch,” he said after posing with a fan for a photo.
Harner said the staff would like to turn the night into an annual promotion. They have plenty of ideas. Plus, they could put the 24 puffy pirate shirts they purchased to more use. First baseman Jeff Diehl wore one during batting practice and got three hits in the game.
“It breathes,” he said, offering Seinfeldian common sense. “It’s comfortable. I was impressed.”