Image via Brokelyn.com.
Image via Brokelyn.com.
For several years, based purely on my anecdotal observations, the most popular hat among those in the community commonly and hereafter referred to as hipsters was that of the 1979 World Series champion Pittsburgh Pirates. If their nationwide group rides are any indication, perhaps those in the fixed-gear community appreciated that team's "We Are Family" attitude. The rest may have appreciated everything Dave Parker stood for—smoking and having a beard—or were merely playing up the fact that they all looked a bit like Kent Tekulve. The hat does also have a nice-looking P on it. As there is sadly no Yahoo Answers to explain this phenomenon, we may never have an answer.
The one possibility lowest on the list was that these were displaced and long-suffering Pirates fans who spent their evenings hunched over MLB Season Ticket, painfully but patiently watching Pedro Alvarez swing through curveballs. So it seemed like a strange play when the Brooklyn Cyclones were holding "Williamsburg Night" at their Coney Island stadium, MCU Park; that the event included a beard contest and an opportunity for patrons in skinny jeans to run the infield suggested that it was some sort of elaborate neg, or a prank. Coaxing hipsters to the bottom of the city with the lure of low-level minor league baseball was difficult enough before the "… and be the butt of some very familiar jokes" aspect came into play. At least when Williamsburg emptied into MCU Park—then KeySpan Park—to see Daft Punk in 2007 or for the late Village Voice Siren Festival, they knew what they were getting into.
So what happens, then, when a short season A-ball team named after the rickety rollercoaster at a newly corporatized theme park holds a theme night. Disco Demolition Night 2.0? Ten Cent Beer Night 2: Electric Boogaloo? A rote recitation of three-year-old sub-Two Broke Girls-ian zingers? Would the place be overrun with colonial reenactors who, in keeping with their ethos, hadn't gotten the memo? I got on the train.
And stayed on it. Brooklyn is huge. Brooklyn is not "Williamsburg, Park Slope, and Bushwick"—it includes all that, but it also includes neighborhoods posh and post-apocalyptic, and has shorelines on both the Atlantic Ocean and the East River. The vastness of the place becomes apparent on the G train, which is the first part of the trip from Williamsburg to MCU Park. The G train starts in Long Island City (which is in Queens) and terminates in Park Slope. In between those stops, a portrait of Brooklyn is created. Long Island City turns into Greenpoint and Greenpoint turns into Williamsburg and nothing is really all that different. Then the train heads southwest and leaves behind the neighborhoods favored by young white people and enters Bed-Stuy, which is what realtors refer to as an "Emerging Neighborhood" and which we can less-euphemistically call "a mostly black community that has lately gotten some massive new condos and an influx of gentrifiers and which has always had problems with crime and drugs and other familiar tensions."
After Bed Stuy, the G runs through Fort Greene—where Spike Lee used to live, home now to a different type of crunchy gentrifier—and then Cobble Hill, and then into the stroller-strewn Park Slope and then you have to transfer. The F train completes the journey: through Kensington (Park Slope Lite, but with Bangladeshis), Midwood (Darren Aronofsky went to high school there!), then Gravesend (home to one of the biggest Syrian Jew populations in the country) and then Coney Island, land of Kobayashi and Starbury and other peculiar contrasts. It takes about an hour. Brooklyn is huge.
And when you're finally in Coney Island, walking towards MCU Park, where are you? People line the sidewalks hawking cheap wares, the line at Nathan's stretches far into the street and the countdown clock for next year's hot dog eating contest has a long way to go, barkers yell at you about bumper cars. Walk-up tickets for the game are available for minor-league prices, while concessions are more expensive than they would be at many Major League parks.
On the field, there is the newest, greenest minor league talent on display anywhere: players who were drafted a few weeks ago or teenagers from the Dominican and Venezuela and elsewhere and second year pros who weren't ready for Low-A for various and variously obvious reason. The players who might one day hit The Show, or at least move up the organizational ladder for a bit, are easy enough to spot, but the game play is a cavalcade of misplays, forward-facing K's and errors, broken up by the periodic 400-plus foot home run. The Cyclones' retired numbers are located above the skyboxes behind home plate. This being the only professional baseball team currently in Brooklyn, seeing the names Erskine, Newcombe, Hodges, Snider, and Robinson up there doesn't feel co-opted or false. Dillon Gee, Angel Pagan, Danny Garcia, and Brian Bannister have been similarly honored. The PA system has a plethora of audio queued up—strikeouts get the Law & Order "dun dun" sound, and it's really great each and every time—and the video scoreboard shows scenes from Stripes and Animal House just as they do at NBA arenas. The left and centerfield bleachers don't exist and are just levels of ads for everything from Caesar's to a savings and loan in Astoria (which is in Queens), but you have to look at them if you want to see the scoreboard or the name of the Cyclones first baseman who just scorched a double to center (good job, Cole Frenzel!) after using awful 2000's-generic metal for his at-bat music (bad job, Cole Frenzel!). It's a minor league baseball game.
Which means that the entire experience is geared towards what happens when the game isn't happening. The team's dance squad is called the Brooklyn Beach Bums, and hail from the Leggz Ltd. dance studio in Rockville Centre, on Long Island. A boy who looks to be about four races a Seagull mascot named Sandy and hot dog mascots race each other and a nine-year-old from Flatbush handles the PA duties for an inning and does about as well as a nine-year-old can in that situation. Workers and fans smoke unapologetically on a concourse behind the bullpen and a man bangs a tambourine and informs everyone nearby that there are a certain number of outs. A man called King Henry is our host, and he dances with the Beach Bums, rides a scooter around the warning track and then down the foul lines, stopping to throw t-shirts into the crowd; he chooses the winner of the Applebee's Quesadilla Scream, does play-by-play for a dizzy bat race sponsored by the NYC Department of Transportation. He maintains a positive attitude, somehow, in that crown, and in that heat.
What doesn't happen—what is maybe the only thing that doesn't happen—is anything that seems to have anything to do with Williamsburg, either the neighborhood as it exists elsewhere in Brooklyn or as it exists in the background for sneering skinny-jeans jokes. The music played over the PA system is the music that usually plays over stadium PA's; one player coming to the plate to "Niggas In Paris" is the closest we get to hearing something that would be played at a loft party. The Beach Bums dance on the field to "Any Way You Want It," not Holy Ghost or Sebastien Tellier or whatever. Williamsburg gets a shout-out from the PA man at 8:43 during the Cha Cha Slide portion of the evening, but besides the PA instructing everyone to play skeeball at Full Circle Bar (in Williamsburg, duh) after the game for Brewskee Ball (probably exactly what it sounds like) and a man named Nooch or Noug winning a Cyclones flag, that was about that. As Chadwick Matlin noted in New York, the planned Skinny Jeans Dudes Run The Bases post-game event was apparently cancelled. Even the scoreboard's Williamsburg Night poster features nothing more than the night's name overlaid on a picture of what I'm pretty sure was actually the Brooklyn Bridge. There was the sense that it could and maybe would be re-used, again, for Bay Ridge Night or Sheepshead Bay Night or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens Night.
Which makes sense, given that inviting people to spend the evening at your place and then charging them not-at-all-inexpensive prices for beer and making fun of them all night is not a good look. Whatever the buzz-grabbing idea behind the evening, the Cyclones seemed most interested in trying to give everyone a nice night at a baseball game, and most everyone in attendance seemed interested in that. The few people in attendance who could be filed under hipster looked for the most part like baseball fans—albeit ones with calf tattoos and/or big glasses—at a baseball game. Anyway, Williamsburg is not only or even mostly about hipsters or hipster jokes. The Italian music that played throughout the game recalled Williamsburg's Feast of the Giglio—in which Italian strongmen lift a humongous, 80-foot tall statue for hours, among other street festival wonders—which was maybe intentional and maybe unintentionally the point.
Where the team could have had the beer vendors wear non-prescription glasses or made the hot dogs raced on fixed-gear bikes or something similarly inane, the Cyclones implicitly sent a different message. Paraphrasing roughly, it was: "Williamsburg, like Brooklyn, is a combination of things, and that's fun to celebrate. And also, you probably traveled close to an hour to come watch some not-so-great baseball, which means you probably are a baseball fan, and it doesn't matter if you went to Pratt or haven't paid for internet access in years because you live above a coffee shop and got their wireless password the day you moved in and they haven't changed it. Baseball, like Brooklyn, is for everyone, and that's pretty terrific, isn't it?"
Beyond being savvy, this also happens to make sense: hipsters are not a magical other that exists entirely outside the world so much as they are young people who participate in a certain nebulously defined culture. There are divey sports bars in Williamsburg that aren't forcing the issue, and there are people in them who know what their not-necessarily-ironic Chris Webber jersey means. Sports are fun and young people like fun and a lot of young people get classified as hipsters, and this is all very easy to figure out, really.
After the game, Surf Avenue was lively, because Surf Avenue is always lively. Nathan's had a very large crowd for that time of night. Many of the ostensible hipsters from the game had donned their complimentary Cyclones jerseys and joined the line for the Cyclone rollercoaster. I took a blurry picture that I later deleted to commemorate the event; there are plenty of other images to commemorate the night, don't worry. "Sure, a bunch of hipsters would love the Cyclone, it's really vintage," some asshole might joke. "The Cyclone is really great, too," is probably the only acceptable reply. It's so obvious an answer as to make you wonder why anyone would even ask the question.