As the No. 7 train screeches into the station, Cradle, 45, can be seen and heard behind a bullhorn directing people to the Billie Jean King Tennis Center for the Open, while also trying to get baseball fans to Citi Field.
“This is showtime,” Cradle told The Post. “I love doing the bullhorn. I love seeing people and directing the traffic. This is a lot of fun.”
Cradle, a Bronx-born resident living in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, may not have the grace of Serena or the slider of deGrom, but he’s crafted the rallying cry for subway riders and pedestrians trying to find their way between the busy playoff-like baseball action and the closest concession stand for a Honey Deuce.
“Tennis! Baseball! Tennis! Baseball!’’ Cradle shouts through his bullhorn.
Cradle has spent 22 years with the MTA as a traffic checker. Working in Queens between 13 stations from Court Square to Jamaica, his usual duties include counting riders on the buses and subways, installing updated maps at stations about service changes and other customer-service needs. He said it’s a great job for the benefits and being able to see different people each day.
But it’s on the boardwalk connecting Citi Field and the tennis Center during the Open where Cradle has become a folk hero and created a rallying cry for subway riders.
He uses a bullhorn given to him by an MTA higher-up to help with his boisterous calling.
During the first week of the tennis madness, the Mets and Dodgers also opened up a pivotal three-game series that felt like October baseball on Aug. 30. The game, which the Amazins lost in a stinker to the Dodgers, 4-3, had an attendance of 40,607 people, a near-sellout at Citi Field.
Simultaneously, the US Open was crushing attendance records, where fans were flocking to catch last glimpses of Serena Williams and watching perhaps the most exciting Grand Slam of the year, and most certainly, the best Grand Slam in Queens in a long time. The US Open is expected to smash an all-time record by the time the tournament wrapped up Sunday.
For anyone who has braved the subway ride to Flushing during the sports madness, it can be overwhelming once you get to Mets-Willets Point.
In Cradle’s words, the boardwalk can become a “tsunami wave” of people, especially late at night, when taxis and Ubers arrive to shuffle people back to their abodes. So he was told to direct traffic.
“My team knows I like this type of work. So they said, ‘Cradle! We need you to go out there and represent us,’ ” Cradle said. “I came that Tuesday, and I started losing my voice.
“Out here, people can’t really hear you because of the trains or planes,” he said. “Once you lose your voice, you’re no good. So I said, ‘Give me the bullhorn!’ which made it easier.”
The timing of the assignment came on the one-year anniversary of Cradle’s mother’s death. April Cradle died from COVID-19 last August after recovering from lung cancer. She was 66. He said this assignment has provided a needed distraction.
In the underpass of the Mets-Willets Point station, Cradle’s arm sways back and forth like a soft tennis rally; he embraces the small stage, the Timmy Trumpet of bullhorns, directing foot traffic to baseball at Citi Field and tennis-seekers south on the boardwalk. Perhaps that’s because he likes dancing in his free time, but he’s been a welcoming addition to the pandemonium of this time of year.
When speaking with Cradle, he quickly apologized for a stutter that he’s had for his whole life. He wears a mask behind the bullhorn because it helps him speak easier.
“Since I stutter, I can only say certain words for so long. My boss was telling me to say, ‘Racquetball, yellow ball. Baseball, white ball,’” Cradle said. “I was like, ‘Dude, that’s too much’ only because I stutter. I mean, I could say it, but then I started mixing it up. The ‘Baseball! Tennis!’ jingle is easier to say, right?”
Over the past week, Cradle had to create different iterations on the bullhorn. Citi Field hosted a rare soccer game for the New York City FC when the team took on FC Cincinnati on Sept. 7.
He kept it simple.
“Soccer! Tennis! Soccer! Tennis!’’ he shouted.
“This is my office bullhorn. I keep it in my bag. It’s heavy, but this is my bullhorn. When it comes to the crowd, there’s nothing like it,” he said.
Fellow MTA travel checker Delano Gibbs, 26, from Jamaica mans a bullhorn at the stairs descending toward Citi Field. He said his rendition doesn’t come close to matching Cradle.
“He’s got good energy and a good spirit,” Gibbs said. “I told him a couple of days ago — he knows how to get the best out of people.”
Cradle said a few people have asked to use the bullhorn to chant his jingle. He has posed for photos here and there. Even the MTA bought into it when one of its associated accounts tweeted a photo of the Mets-Willets Point sign modified with Cradle’s words.
When the US Open concludes, Cradle said, he’ll return to his normal duties as a travel checker. He hopes to one day become a conductor with the MTA, where he’d likely fit just right in over the intercom.
Until then, he has his sights on next year.
“I would love to be on the bullhorn next year,” he said. “I would like to do every event at Citi Field, every event they have.”