While playing baseball is a rite of passage for any Long Island athlete, organizing and coaching a team is a feat for only the most dedicated sportsmen.
Gabe Hamill of Bellport and Rob Burgos of Sayville, both 18-year-olds due to start college in the fall, worked together to establish a visionary team to compete in the Town of Brookhaven Baseball League—a team that could be inclusive and affordable to anyone who wanted to play.
“It was important to me that unlike other baseball travel teams, ours wouldn’t cost thousands of dollars to join because I wanted everyone to have the opportunity to play,” said Hamill.
The joining fee for the 631 Cyclones is a nominal $500 (whereas most teams require $2,000 to $4,000), and raffles are used to fundraise that fee for players unable to pay.
“Especially with the pandemic and a lot of parents being out of work, those astronomical fees were just not feasible for most kids,” said Hamill.
Team members took to selling raffle tickets at $10 each for a $300 prize and eventually sold between 150 to 200 tickets, covering the entry fee for a number of players.
Established as a 501(c)(3), the 631 Cyclones are a not-for-profit entity that has volunteer coaches, including Hamill, Burgos, and Burgos’s father, Bob.
The team practices once a week on Brookhaven fields, where there is no fee to play, so long as there is not an official game.
Hamill, who played for Bellport High School’s varsity baseball team, has used his connections to arrange scrimmages with local high school teams for the 631 Cyclones.
“There is good and bad in baseball and we’ve seen both sides,” said Burgos. “Having coaches that harp on your mistakes only sets you up to fail and make more errors. On our team, we focus on strengths and letting mistakes go, so that a player is fresh for the next opportunity.”
According to Hamill—and emphatically supported by Burgos—what sets their team apart from others, and what has been instrumental in their first-place standing in the TOB Baseball League (they were undefeated for the first seven games), is that the 631 Cyclones function more as a loving family than just a baseball team, with plenty of time spent together off the field.
The intuitiveness of the players is borne from the social connections they have forged and tempered in celebratory outings with family and friends to Applebee’s for half-price appetizers after games and a special, respectful camaraderie between the members.
“In a lot of other teams, there’s a lot of in-team competition and there are a lot of fights between kids, parents and coaches, but everyone involved in our team is phenomenal and truly there for each other,” said Hamill.
“We have the biggest cheering section when we play games,” added Burgos.
Another unique factor of the 631 Cyclones is that they are the only co-ed team. This openness to all players was important to Hamill, who was keen to make his team’s inclusivity a defining factor.
Isabella Williams, originally a softball player who now mans second base, was welcomed to the team with open arms.
She counts her team spirit as her greatest contribution to the 631 Cyclones. “I always show up and am always rooting for my teammates. I’m never worried about how much time I have on the field because I know that whatever time I get, I will capitalize on, and when I’m not on the field, I’m there rooting on my ‘brothers.’”
Williams said that her inclusion on the team gave her a newfound confidence. “I mean, not many things can top the experience of walking into a successful baseball team as the only girl.”
The 631 Cyclones also have fun with walking onto the field, as they have brought back the joy of “walk-up” songs for each player, with a wide array of music ranging from hard ‘90s rap like Mace’s “Welcome Back,” to Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie,” all the way to the whimsy of “Baby Shark.”
And like the New York Yankees, the 631 Cyclones play one of the most quintessential Island Pride songs, Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” after a win.
“It’s friendship first, then baseball,” said Burgos.
Thomas Graham, a starting player on the 631 Cyclones, brings a speaker to the game and said, “To help the team… I bring my girlfriend, Amanda Miano, [who] plays everyone’s walk-up song that brings a great attitude to the team and gets everyone excited to play.”
As Graham chose not to pursue playing baseball in college, the 631 Cyclones is important in letting athletes continue to enjoy the sport, even after the traditional run of the game is over for some at the end of their high school career.
With the overwhelming success of the 631 Cyclones, Hamill and Burgos are both committed to expanding their teams to both a younger and older division, with the same affordable rates and of course, growing their baseball family.