NEW YORK (AP) — It was like a death in the family for Brooklyn baseball fans when their beloved Dodgers left the borough behind in 1957 for the California coast.
Times were grim for Brooklyn back then. Residents were leaving en masse for the suburbs. Crime was on the rise. And there was little hope that the borough's plight would improve.
"When the Dodgers left, it was another punch in the face to the fact that Brooklyn's best days may not be ahead, but may have been behind us," said Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who was 12 years old at the time. "It was depressing."
After decades without a professional sports team, New York City's ascendant borough is hitting the major leagues again on Friday when the Brooklyn Nets' new arena opens to the public. The state-of-the-art, 18,000-seat arena will be officially christened Saturday night with a rap concert by Nets co-owner and native Brooklynite Jay-Z.
Just as the Dodgers' departure was a harbinger of difficult times ahead, the opening of the Barclays Center is a symbol of Brooklyn's astonishing rise in recent years as a sought-after destination for people from all over the globe.
Basketball is now the sport du jour here, not baseball. And in a stroke of irony, the new stadium was built directly across the street from the spot where Dodgers President Walter O'Malley wanted to erect a new ballpark to replace Ebbets Field, the team's home that was later demolished.
"When they left, that's when I washed my hands of baseball," said 72-year-old Fred Wilken, who was so distraught by the loss of his hometown team that he stopped watching sports altogether. "For years we supported them, we came down here. And then all of a sudden they decide to leave."