From his redoubt in the stands behind home plate at Falcon Park in Auburn, N.Y., Richard Malinowski stares at opposing Class A pitchers in an unpleasant, boiled sort of way: lips tight, eyes bulging in their sockets like irascible snails. Malinowski is a fan of the Auburn Doubledays, and it soon becomes apparent why he's known as Mouth. Whenever the other team's pitcher is yanked in mid-inning, Mouth emits an earsplitting howl: "WHOOP WOO! WHOOP WOO! WHOOP WOO!"� Sometimes Mouth's whooping and wooing lasts for five minutes, sometimes 10; once it went on for nearly half an hour. "Everybody gets mad at me," says the retired mill worker, who's been whooping it up at Falcon since 1980. "Umps yell, 'Hey, Mouth, shut up already.' " But Mouth keeps mouthing off for the Doubledays, the baby farm team of the Toronto Blue Jays. "Fm showing my thanks to the players and the ballpark," he says. "When I walk through the turnstile, I leave my troubles behind. Of course when the game's over and I walk back through tire gate, I pick 'em up again."
Fans tend to have serious attachments to their teams and stadiums in New York, a state whose borders enclose some serious baseball country. Besides Yankee Stadium in the Bronx and Shea Stadium in Queens, there's the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
To find the seriously serious fans, though, you have to beat the bushes. And New York has a lot of bush to beat: three Triple A teams (the Buffalo Bisons, the Rochester Red Wings and the Syracuse SkyChiefs) and one Double A club (the Binghamton Mets). But the state's most dedicated diehards—its Mouths—go to games in the New York-Penn League, the longest continuously operated Class A alliance.
Crammed with just-drafted college players, the league starts its 76-game season in mid-June and ends it before Labor Day. The seven New York teams range from Batavia, near the Canadian border, southeastward to the Big Apple. " Staten Island crowds are crazy about their Yankees," says John Belnavis, a Richmond County Bank Ballpark regular, "but we're not insane about them, like Brooklyn crowds are about their Cyclones."
Though the Cyclones have been around for only four seasons, their following is the most ferocious in the five boroughs. Since Opening Day 2001 the team named after a Coney Island roller coaster has sold out all but three games in 7,500-seat KeySpan Park "Brooklynites love the Cyclones because we grew up with baseball all around us," says Joe Guastella, the 47-year-old Coney Islander everyone calls Joe G. "My father talked about the Dodgers and the Yanks and the Giants and then, in 1962, the Mets."
A plump, short-legged retired paramedic ("bad heart"), Joe G. grew up across the street from KeySpan in a six-story tenement. Back then Coney Island was a Cote d'Azur for the masses. The slip of sand on which the stadium now squats was Steeplechase Park, a tangle of freak shows, shooting galleries and mechanical horse races. The compound closed in 1964 and became a ghostly huddle of unridden rides, then a vacant lot. Six years ago New York City's mayor, Brooklyn-born Rudolph Giuliani, gave the go-ahead for the $39 million ballpark. "I watched it go up brick by brick," says Joe G. "It took 18 months."
He swans around the House That Rudy Built in clothes the color of a ripe persimmon. He usually wears one of his 30 baseball hats ("I've got one for almost every home game") and his Cyclones jersey, the one that says NUMBER 1 FAN. "Really, all Cyclones fans are Number 1," Joe G. says. "I call them my KeySpan family."
His KeySpan relatives include Disco Maniac, Cowbell Man, Party Marty, the Beach Bums, Stanley the Seagull, Pee Wee and Monkey Lady. Like the settlers of Coney Island these Cycloniacs are a cosmopolitan bunch. "We have every possible nationality and religious persuasion," Joe G. says. "Nobody's fighting, nobody's arguing. It's one big ongoing party, and everybody watches out for everybody."
KeySpan's carnival atmosphere is as electric as a circus catch. The famous Ferris, called the Wonder Wheel, peeps over the fence in left. The 262-foot-tall Parachute Jump—Brooklyn's Eiffel Tower—looms over the wall in right. The stadium's floodlights are encircled by bright neon.
The stadium is now as synonymous with Brooklyn as Nathan's and cheesecake and Italian ices. "It's Coney Island!" exults Joe G. "It's family entertainment!"