Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Lakewood recharges fans with an Aussie battery and racing pork roll

LAKEWOOD, N.J. - It's a Wednesday and there are five day-games in the South Atlantic League. The Dugout is sitting in the press box of the Sally League's northernmost city, Lakewood, where the Blue Claws are on their way to a 3-2 win.

The ballpark is sold out. Attendance was just announced at more than 7,000. There are kids running through concourse, sunning themselves on the outfield berm and standing in long lines waiting for ice cream.

Lakewood has been a Philadelphia affiliate since its inaugural 2001 season. In recent years the Phillies have placed and emphasis on having their farm clubs close to home base. Four of their six farm clubs, including Lakewood, are within a two-hour drive from Philly. Only Clearwater and the GCL Phillies, both of which play at the club’s Florida spring training site, require flights.

The BlueClaws have the kinds of amenities that are expected at the modern minor league ballpark. Playing off the local attractions, there is a Jersey Shore inspired arcade down the rightfield line, complete with skee ball. There are lifeguard chairs beyond the outfield walls. Funnel cakes are everywhere.

The concession stands offer a belly buster sandwich (1/2 pound of pulled pork, ½ pound of brisket, cole slaw, onion rings and a t-shirt – not on the sandwich – for $9) and the pork roll egg and cheese sandwich. Neither of which were offered today, likely because the BlueClaws gave all students in attendance a coupon for a free hotdog meal.

Did get to see Lakewood’s newest attraction: the pork roll, egg and cheese race (top photo). The Blueclaws figure the PE&C is the Jersey state sandwich. This is their answer to Milwaukee’s sausage race. The lower photo is a view from behind the plate.

This afternoon also featured an international flair. Drew Naylor and Joel Naughton, the starting battery for Lakewood, both hail from Australia. Naylor picked up the win, allowing six hits and two runs while striking out six. Naughton called a solid game behind the plate, but went hitless in four at-bats. Look for a story featuring these guys on the main site in the near future.
Day one is done. Tomorrow brings a visit to Lehigh Valley – the Phillies Triple-A club. By all accounts, their new ballpark is quite a site. Until then…

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