New York is fortunate to not only have two Major League Baseball teams, but two Minor League teams—the Mets-affiliated Brooklyn Cyclones and the Yankees-affiliated Staten Island Yankees. The latter is based right near the Staten Island Ferry in St. George, and for 15 years, it’s been a team for Yankees players who are tuning up after rehab or future Major League players to get their start. Unlike the Major Leagues, the SI team has a shorter season that runs from mid-June until September, and the focus at games is all about the entertainment factor. This is where John D’Agostino comes in.
John grew up a Staten Island Yankees fan, but now serves as the team’s Director of Entertainment, where he’s responsible for making sure every game has a range of fun programming that gets fans laughing and cheering. 6sqft recently spoke with John to learn all about baseball on Staten Island and why more New Yorkers should hop on the ferry and head to a game!
Minor League Baseball doesn’t always get its due. What makes it special?
Minor League Baseball is such a crazy thing because there’s people who will travel to every Minor League park, and there are people who don’t know that Minor League ball is a thing at all. Family-friendly entertainment is what Minor League Baseball is all about. You’re coming for the experience of being at a baseball game, but still being heavily entertained by everything happening around that. The crowds are obviously smaller than the Majors because the stadium sizes are smaller, but the energy from the crowd is still like any other level of the sport. You can have more fun with this because there are crazy themed nights, like Star Wars, that attract people who aren’t here just for baseball.
What’s the connection between the Yankees and Staten Island Yankees?
We’re here in case the New York Yankees need a rehab for some reason. Back in the day, when I was still coming as a fan, I watched El Duque (Orlando P. Hernandez) pitch here when he was on a rehab start. So there’s occasionally a time when a New York Yankees player will be hurt and want to get back to game shape. They’ll come down to the Minors to play a couple of games.
Or if we’ve got a star player who’s hitting home runs every time he’s at bat, he’ll move up to the next step, which is the Charleston RiverDogs. From there, he may move on to the Trenton Thunder, and then Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, and then if he’s Major League level, he’ll move up to the New York Yankees. We’ve had some New York Yankees come out of our team, like Brett Gardner and Robinson Cano. In 2011, the Staten Island Yankees was the championship team, and Mason Williams got called up. Just a month or so ago, Ben Gamel did too. We’re sending talented prospects up pretty often!
Are a lot of New Yorkers surprised to find out there’s baseball on Staten Island?
Everyone says Staten Island is the forgotten borough, and it couldn’t possibly be more true. The people who do find out we have a team here are blown away by the view, the entertainment team, and the promotions that are going on. A lot of people who travel from Manhattan take the ferry over and then get right back on, but the ones who stop off here are often surprised by what’s right next door. We actually get a lot of tourists who either aren’t familiar with baseball or are excited to kind see what the liveliness is about right next to the ferry. But a lot of our season ticket holders are Staten Island residents.
You do a lot of themed games, what are some of your favorites?
We try and include a wide variety of things for adults, kids, and families. Last year, for example, we did a Game of Thrones theme night, where we were the Staten Island Dire Wolves. It was the biggest crowd we’ve ever had here. You try to add a little bit of something to every part of the fans’ experience, whether it be an autograph signing up on the concourse or asking them to come down to the field to be part of a dizzy bat race, you create memories that they wouldn’t get anywhere else.
There’s a lot of development happening along the waterfront. Do you think this will affect the team?
In the next year or so, we’re going to have the New York Wheel and the Empire Outlets popping up around us, and hopefully that makes this entire area what they’ve been wanting for the past 15 years the Yankees have been here. They want to revitalize St. George. They want to make it a destination for tourism. With these two big projects next to us, hopefully it will become a venue you want to come to year round.
Next season, the team will have a new name—what inspired this?
A lot of tickets guys here call around and say, “Hey, we’re with the Staten Island Yankees,” and then they spend a few minutes explaining who we are because everyone hears Yankees and go, “Oh, you mean New York Yankees.” The rebrand is something that a lot of teams have done. They want to get their own identity away from their parent club.
We went through a name submission phase that ran from late June to July 5th, and we’ve received thousands of them. I haven’t even seen the full list myself. We’re working on the finalists internally right now, and once we get all those votes tallied, we’ll have a public vote.
For New Yorkers who have never attended a Staten Island Yankees game, what would you say to get them to come out?
It’s not just a baseball game you’re coming to see, it’s the entire experience. The view is remarkable with the Freedom Tower in the back. The site of watching it get built and that skyline coming to life was tremendous. Every night at sunset, you’re watching the sun reflect off the Tower and bounce off the water, and that is one of the best moments of being at the ballpark. We’ve also got one of the best voices in PA, Jeff Fromm. He also does the New York Road Runners. So as soon as you walk in the gates, you’re hearing this voice, you’re seeing the beautiful site, you’re seeing the energy of all these people!
[This interview has been edited for clarity]
- New Yorker Spotlight: Guy Zoda – a.k.a. King Henry – Entertains Brooklyn Cyclones Fans
- Spotlight: The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Gay Talks Sports and Rules for Life in NYC
- Spotlight: New York Croquet Club’s Peter Timmins Brings the Game to Central Park
Photos via Allyson White
Neighborhoods : Staten Island