South Claw: The Story Behind the Lakewood BlueClaws

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The New Jersey shore is one of my favorite places. The annual trip I take there with my family is the highlight of my summer—from the beaches to the fried food to the boardwalk rides to the more fried food. In fact, the only thing I don’t like about the shore is the inevitable Snooki joke I am sure to hear every year (without fail) as we leave for vacation.

So it’s quite a claim that the single-A Lakewood BlueClaws make on their website when they say they are the “Jersey Shore’s Best Time.” (Have they even *tried* the Alien Abduction ride at Gillian’s Wonderland Pier on the Ocean City boardwalk?)

hamelsblogHowever, it seems that a lot of people agree with them. The BlueClaws, a Phillies affiliate, have led the single-A South Atlantic League in attendance for all 14 years of their existence, including this year, when they drew more than 380,000 fans to 68 games.

Greg Giombarrese, Lakewood’s director of media relations, attributes the team’s success at the gate to the team’s success on the field (they’ve won three championships), their ballpark, and their proximity to their big-league affiliate, which has resulted in players like Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Howard (above), and Cole Hamels (right) playing in Lakewood on their way to the Majors. Also, the team’s proximity to major population centers in Philadelphia and New York doesn’t hurt the attendance numbers.

However, you can’t rule out a popular logo when it comes to drawing fans.

Buster

gatx6updcczvrhji66zs4uhblThe BlueClaws’ logo features a crab in a cap throwing a baseball with his claw—I choose to believe he’s a pitcher throwing a cutter. (See what I did there?) The crab’s cap, which features a white B on a blue base with a red beak, is the same one worn by the team’s mascot, Buster. This means that when you wear a BlueClaws hat, which I am doing at the time of this writing, you are wearing a baseball cap with a picture of a baseball cap, which is all very meta.

According to Giombarrese, the BlueClaws’ nickname was popular with fans from the get-go. “Our fans have been very receptive to the logo and the BlueClaws since the beginning,” he said, “in part because the crab and the overall beach theme have such a deep connection to our community.” (According to the New Jersey Department of Fish and Wildlife, “Of all New Jersey’s marine fish and shellfish, more effort is expended in catching the blue crab than any other single species.”)

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The nickname lends itself to a crab-toss promotion that the team does several times a year, but, Giombarrese said, “our most popular in-game promotion is our ‘Pork Roll, Egg & Cheese Race.’ This is a very popular sandwich in our area and a great fit with our team.” (Have I mentioned how much I like the Jersey shore?)

When I went to a game there last summer, staff kept telling me to have a “Clawsome” day.

fxgebv4fp8cu3fvfifgfwg7d1The current version of the logo, which debuted in 2010, is an update of the original 2001 version, “Pinchy,” pictured above. “We just wanted to freshen things up a bit,” Giombarrese said, “and we were able to do this while still maintaining the crab theme of the original logo.” (I have to say, I think the updated logo is a huge success, as the original Pinchy reminds me a little too much of Gary the Snail from Spongebob Squarepants.)

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The team’s new logo set includes alternate versions with Pinchy holding a bat and a claw with a bat. (I have to admit that I sometimes confuse the BlueClaws with the Charlotte Stone Crabs of the Florida State League, who debuted in 2009 with a crab logo and a similar color scheme.)

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Of course, being an integral part of the Jersey shore, the BlueClaws and their fans were affected by Hurricane Sandy. The team opened the 2013 season wearing special “Restore the Shore” jerseys to raise funds for victims.

“We made 50 jerseys,” Giombarrese said. “Each jersey had the name of a different impacted community in Ocean or Monmouth Counties. Our players wore the jerseys during the first four games and we auctioned them off, raising $15,000. We raised an additional $35,000 through t-shirt sales throughout the year, other fundraising auctions and raffles, plus direct donations.”

The team and its nickname are great for this area. I can’t say for certainty that they are the “Jersey Shore’s Best Time” (boogie boarding is pretty awesome), but if you’re familiar with this part of the Jersey shore, it’s hard to imagine that there ever was a time that the BlueClaws were not a part of it.