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Mudville: June 18, 2024 7:20 pm PDT

It’s Time To Soar

Starting a pro baseball team from scratch.

Now that is both a joy and a challenge.

Welcome to Gary Perone’s world, GM of the Staten Island FerryHawks of the Atlantic League. He is designing a new team in his home borough of Staten Island after so many years in the Mets organization.

Staten Island used to be a Yankees farm team in the New York Penn League, then minor league contraction happened and a new baseball world had to be created; an Independent League team, so Perone, a man dedicated to the game on so many levels, is flying head first into this challenge.

If you are any kind of baseball fan and are in the area, you will have to make a trip to The Ballpark at St. George, adjacent to the NYC Ferry, this season. This is Independent League baseball, not the locked out major leagues, so there will be baseball from the start.

In fact, Perone is the only baseball GM in New York City right now who can talk to players because the Mets’ Billy Eppler and the Yankees’ Brian Cashman are under tight restrictions imposed by MLB.

Here is what I like most of all and what makes this a bigger story than an Independent League team in New York City. Perone is bringing baseball back to its roots in New York. It’s about fun, family, affordability, the neighborhood, and combining forces with those around him to make it a community game in a baseball world where that is not always the case.

“Everything from the ground up,’’ Perone told BallNine of what is his job description.

“Staten Island, we are a borough born for baseball, of Little League moments and shots heard ‘round the world.”

That means in addition to everything else, he has to take a venue that has been sitting vacant “for two years, reshape it and bring it back to life,’’ said Perone, whose title also includes Executive Vice President. “There will be a new (turf) field put down, new outfield walls, the clubhouses are being re-done, the concession stands are being upgraded, we’re building out new hospitality areas in the park, everything is being re-painted, pretty much a face-lift on everything.’’

That’s on the operational side – there is also the business side, sponsorships and tickets and on the baseball side there is a baseball operation and team to build.

Here at BallNine, we cover all corners of the baseball world, not just the major leagues, that is what makes us different. The Story can be about anything meaningful that deals with baseball. And for those minor league franchises that were cut loose by MLB, it’s important to bounce back – because the game of baseball is so much bigger than the major leagues.

The game is what makes baseball special and as a friend reminded me this week, “A good baseball game at any level is fun to watch.’’

Perone just hired a manager and what a solid hire it was, one of the Mets’ all-time favorites, Edgardo Alfonzo. In my many years covering the game Fonzie was one of my favorites because you could tell his love for the game, knowledge of the game and desire to play the game the way it was meant to be played, not just the home run, strikeout, walk game that the major league game has evolved into or should I say devolved into these days.

A major league managing gig should be coming Alonzo’s way someday.

“Having Fonzie here with me is tremendous,’’ said Perone, who is also close friends with ex-Met reliever John Franco. “Edgardo is a great guy and knowing the family as I have, his family is a perfect fit for the Island because Staten Island is very family oriented. I know that because I have seen it for the past 25 years. Dance competitions, we go as a family. Little League Baseball, we go as a family. It was a great opportunity to have Fonzie come out here and I think he is definitely excited about helping guys get back to the Major Leagues as well.’’

Edgardo Alfonzo (left) with Gary Perone.

Perone hired former St. John’s star right-handed pitcher Eddie Medina to be director of baseball operations. Medina is a Staten Island native, who after playing at St. John’s for legendary coach Ed Blankmeyer, went on to pitch 10 years of pro ball.

“Eddie understands the fabric of the league and has a great network of people,’’ Perone said.

“We want the guys who are trying to get back into MLB, we want them to think of Staten Island as their first choice,’’ Perone noted. “Because you are in New York City, what a better stage, you got the skyline right behind you. It’s going to be special over here and ever since we named Eddie and Fonzie, phone calls are coming. People want to play here now, which is exactly what I thought would happen.’’

I first went to Staten Island back in my high school days at David Brearley Regional High School in Kenilworth, N.J. You might think we trekked over to Staten Island via the Goethals Bridge because the drinking age was lower in New York City than New Jersey at the time, but it was because we loved Staten Island pizza, that’s why the crew: Mazz, Scotty, Warren, Tommy and Teddy Bear would visit Denino’s Pizzeria & Tavern.

Staten Island and I go way back and as for the ballpark, I was there a number of times through the years and you cannot get a better view of New York City while watching a ballgame.

Staten Island has long been a baseball haven and Perone is betting on that to help the FerryHawks to success, a team that counts native son Pete Davidson as one of its investors, along with another SNL-er, Colin Jost. The FerryHawks are owned by Staten Island Entertainment, led by John Catsimatidis and Eric Shuffler.

Davidson, by the way, just bought an old ferry with some partners, so you can only imagine where this is going.

Perone is going to make the ballpark into an extension of Staten Island. Sections of the ballpark will be renamed. The ballpark is undergoing a face lift and local eateries will be able to have their day in the park. Staten Island is filled with good eats. There will be an area called: Taste of Shaolin.

Like the FerryHawks say on the team’s website www.FerryHawks.com …

“Staten Island, we are a borough born for baseball, of Little League moments and shots heard ‘round the world. A close-knit community, defined by our passion for sports, our commitment to family and an attitude all our own. From the Greenbelt to the Harbor, the Verrazano to the Ferry, the South Shore to North Shore, Mid Island to the Mount, generations of heroes, we rise up in times of need. Frontline responders always there to help a neighbor and now a new superhero arrives on the Island. It’s time to soar Staten Island, we are the FerryHawks.’’

The Shot Heard ‘Round the World pays homage to Bobby Thomson, nicknamed the Staten Island Scot and his magical home run from 1951: “The Giants win the pennant!’’

Baseball history is a big part of New York City baseball. You cannot forget your roots.

There promises to be tasty treats from such Staten Island spots as The Manor, Duffy’s, Joyce’s Tavern, the Hop Shoppe, Jody’s and so many more. Plus, you know there will be bagels too.

As for ballpark upgrades, beyond the left field wall will be a new bar area. Along the rightfield area there will be family entertainment.

Perone lives in Staten Island so this is like fixing up the neighborhood. This is his passion.

“The ownership group has given me a lot of leeway to build out a vision,’’ Perone told me. “What I think would work for this venue and living on Staten Island does help. When the community heard I was coming here, it was very well received.

“Everywhere you go people are excited about this team and the rebuilding of the venue,’’ Perone said. “It’s been really good.’’

As it should be. I’ve known Gary Perone for many years and his commitment to baseball, everything from youth baseball to high school, college and pro baseball, including his time with the Brooklyn Cyclones, has been a class act.

For those who want to know what it takes, here is a primer.

“Any minor league venue in the country is about the community, No. 1,’’ Perone began. “You have got to work from the outside in and that is the approach I have taken with the organization. I have also been extremely strategic in my hiring of people because in building an organization I want the best people who understand, first Staten Island, but also understand the operation of running a minor league venue and promotions and marketing. The pieces are starting to fall into place.’’

Here is the vision for the fans.

“I want them to think that this is Staten Island’s venue,’’ Perone said. “This is their playground, this is their ballpark, this is their stage. The venue itself has to be utilized all year long. Staten Island is a very unique borough. This is Hawk City and this is their playground to come to. People look for things to do and have fun, whether it is going to a ballgame, a concert, a festival, it’s here for them. We’ll host the high schools and colleges and the Borough Cup, the New York City baseball tournament will be here this year. Graduations have been booked as well. There are plans for a Food Truck Festival, a Beer Festival, wine tasting and pairings … The use of the venue is going to be big because now we have a turf field, you can do a lot more.

“We are going to keep it family friendly and affordable,’’ Perone said of a night out at the ballpark. “At the same time too we are going to offer flexibility (in ticket packages). In left field we are going to turn that into a bar and a lounge. We are going to have about 200 seats in that area so it’s going to be a nice little hospitality area, and I call it the South Shore of The Ballpark. The Ballpark is going to reflect the community so even the sections in The Ballpark are going to be named after communities in Staten Island.

“We are going to have specialty stands and we are going to have a festival area like a San Gennaro feast, we are going to be painting the area black like a street, putting lines in the middle and make it a carnival atmosphere. There is going to be Staten Island Hall of Fame of celebrities, like the Pete Davidsons and Colin Josts of the world. There is going to be an area called Shaolin Alley (a tribute to Staten Island’s Wu-Tang Clan). There will be a Taste of Shaolin and we are going to offer it to local restaurants who want to sell their food here.’’

Okay, I’m in.

Perone admitted he gained 10 pounds since starting the job because of the great food options in Staten Island. On Thursday night Perone, Alfonzo and Medina went to dinner at the Marina Café. “This week we’ve had Mikey’s Bagels from the South Shore of Staten Island,’’ Perone said. “We also had Daddy O’s BBQ, and another place I like to visit is Ho’ Brah’s Tacos.’’

As for pizza? “There’s too many good pizza places to name,’’ Perone said with a laugh.

The ballplayers will be fed well, too.

“We’ll make sure we feed Staten Island the right way. We’re also going to have our Little League Moments area,’’ Perone said of the The Ballpark, which has a Scouts Hall of Fame as well.

And unlike what occurred last year in the Atlantic League, pitchers will be pitching from the traditional length of 60 feet, six inches and there will be real umpires. That Robo Umpiring Crew has been elevated to AAA.

“We are looking to build a team that fits the Island’s feel,’’ Perone said, “and we want our guys to be community minded as well. It’s exciting and having a blank canvas here in New York City to do this is special.’’

Opening Night is May 3rd.  It promises to be a Staten Island festival.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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