July 18, 2009
FirstEnergy Park (Capacity: 6,588)
Lakewood BlueClaws vs Lexington Legends
Final Score: 8 – 2
* The stadium was re-visited for a game on April 15, 2023
* FirstEnergy Park has been renamed ShoreTown Ballpark
The Jersey Shore is a popular summer area in the Garden State as many folks come to visit for the day, weekend or even stay in a shore house for a week or two. Representing the region from a sports perspective are the BlueClaws, though it should be noted that they are not at the Shore. Instead, the team plays 10 miles inland, in Lakewood Township, which lies west of the Garden State Parkway dividing line. This township of 135,000 has grown immensely over the last few decades and remarkably it has become the 5th largest place in New Jersey. The BlueClaws started play in 2001 as the Single-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies and they continue to play as such in the South Atlantic League. Plenty of future Phillies have come through town and the team has been quite successful off the field, with varied success on it. They have three league titles, but in the last 13 years, have only made the playoffs twice. Recently, the team rebranded by changing their name from “Lakewood” to “Jersey Shore” with a logo featuring a surfing Blue-Claw Crab. Their ballpark opened in 2001 and they have turned it into a place that celebrates life at the Shore.
Prestige Ranking: 3 out of 5
Lakewood features an interesting population, but it’s essentially a big town with regular stuff. Clifton Ave in the center of town has the highest concentration of restaurants. The ballpark is a few miles to the east in an open area that is near woods and a business park with large buildings. The beaches are the main draw, though they are 20-30 minutes away. Our first time to the ballpark, we spent the day at Point Pleasant Beach. The beach is nice, along with the boardwalk which included games, food and classic Jersey beach houses. However, the experience on a hot Saturday afternoon involves sitting in traffic, searching forever for parking and dealing with plenty of crowds. Some people love the beach and some don’t (me). Another option is heading down Long Beach Island (LBI) to places like Seaside or Mantoloking.
Location Ranking: 5 out of 10
Accessibility / Parking
The Garden State Parkway is a toll road and it runs north-south about five miles inland from the shore. Getting to Lakewood is easy using this road as Exit 89 drops you off not far from the ballpark. Fans can also arrive via I-195 to the North and take US-9 thru town. The complex occupies a good amount of space, which leaves room for a large paved parking lot. In case that overflows (which it did on our first trip with a big crowd), there is a gravel lot in the back. Leaving the stadium, there’s signage for how to get back to the correct direction on the Parkway, which I didn’t think was necessary because exiting right will easily get you back to the GSP North or South. Ballpark traffic was fine, but general shore traffic on the Parkway can be hectic, especially in the heart of the summer season.
Accessibility / Parking Ranking: 7.5 out of 8
Tan and brick make up the outside of the ballpark, which has a general curved design that doesn’t appear to be so, thanks to several sections of the building. The main entrance features an opening right into the ballpark and is capped with a triangular top and a classy “Lakewood” spelled out. To the right, is a chimney-like portion of the complex and this has the stadium logo on the outside. Landscaping prior to entering is really nice and sets a good tone.
Exterior Ranking: 7 out of 10
Wrapping 360 degrees around the stadium is a concourse that works very well. Closer to the infield, the covered section features field views the entire way and is outlined by brick on the inside wall and green berms, poles and ceilings. Standing tables scattered toward the field side allow some to stand and watch. As the walkway heads to the outfield, it turns into “The Boardwalk”. It’s a popular area (especially with the kids) and there’s so much non-baseball going on. You’ll find miniature golf ($4 for 9 holes), carnival games and inflatable rides. I do like the huge lifeguard chairs as that is a cool touch and a nice perspective of the game, though it’s mainly kids playing on here. You’ll also find grassy seating, multiple picnic areas and a separate section that acts like a giant outdoor bar (with a stage). Above the open seating in left field are lounge chairs that circle a small fire pit, making for a comfortable hang out to watch the game. Lakewood was ahead of its time for “social spaces” at sporting events and they have a solid theme to work off of as well.
Concourse Ranking: 5 out of 5
Beach favorites like Funnel Cakes and Ice Cream should be expected here and they delivered in multiple places. Jersey favorite Pork Roll, Egg and Cheese was also available. Other food items were decent in variation and it was nice that they put “GF” on the menu for items that were gluten free. Portable carts include Serra Sausage from South Jersey and Mr. Q’s Cheesesteaks. Another Mr (Miyagi) prepared Teriyaki Bowls as that familiar smell of those flavors on a Wok filled the first base side. For anyone looking to drink, there is a lot to choose from. Heavy Reel Brewing from nearby Seaside Heights had several options, including “Reel Claw”, an IPA made just for the team. Out in the “Sand Bar”, there were eight signature cocktails to choose from.
Food Ranking: 7 out of 8
So many of these NJ-PA ballparks are the same: Brick and green with a copied layout. It gets repetitive and boring as Lakewood’s opened after Trenton, Somerset and Camden. Here, there is a one level seating bowl that wraps around, extending about half way into the infield. Rows aren’t sloped well at all and while heads didn’t get in the way of the view, you felt far from the field at a low angle. Row and seat width was fine. After the green individual seats end, each side has a tiered picnic area that fits in nicely with the bowl. Beyond that, there is a significant amount of room on the grassy berms which extend deep into the outfield and can accommodate 3,000 people. At least they filled in the ballpark, giving it a complete and generally natural look. Shrubbery completes the centerfield section after the berms stop. There are plenty of ads in the outfield, though in left-field you can see the water tower poking up above a line of pine trees. Back to the infield, hanging over the concourse is a separate structure that comprises of the luxury suites and press box. Each end also includes a party suite.
Interior Ranking: 7 out of 14
Left-center features a scoreboard that is all video. The size is good, but replays were few and far between. During game-play the bottom part features the line score while the main part of the scoreboard is split between an advertisement and player information.
Scoreboard Ranking: 3 out of 4
On a concourse wall are displays for the team’s three league championships. These are placed vertically in a manner that you have to tilt your head to read it. It’s pretty limited in the team display department as the only other thing were 2 numbers on the press box level as the BlueClaws retired #19 (Cole Hamels) and #29 (Ryan Howard).
Displays Ranking: 1.5 out of 6
Most seats are $16, though if you wait until the day of the game, you’ll see a few dollars added, plus a $2 fee. Ticket prices overall are a little high for the league on average and similar to other Mid-Atlantic teams like Brooklyn, Wilmington and Aberdeen. Parking is $5. Concessions feature a $5 hot dog, $9 burger and beer ranging from $7 to $12.
Cost Ranking: 6.5 out of 8
Fan support is decent as the BlueClaws have established themselves well and do a solid job of bringing fans in during the summer season. People were wearing more BlueClaws gear than Phillies stuff. Given the large population of Lakewood and also the communities further east in Monmouth and Ocean counties, they don’t have to rely on tourists coming in. For 16 years, Lakewood led the South Atlantic League in attendance, but now the team has settled into third place in recent times. I’ve seen a wide variety of crowds as my first game on a July Saturday saw a packed house with few seats open. When I returned in 2023, the crowd was remarkably small (maybe 600 on hand) for a 4 PM weekend game in mid-April (though there was a threat of rain and it was cool). The weather was super nice earlier in the homestand and crowds remained small as the only thing that drew well was Opening Day, which had a lot of festivities and fireworks. The “announced” sellout was big enough that the team had to apologize on multiple channels for the long lines and (what sounds like) understaffing for that game. Their 2018 playoff run brought an average attendance of 2,902, which put them 5th out of 9 teams that competed in the playoffs during a four-year stretch.
Fan Support Ranking: 5.5 out of 8
This is mainly a family outing and that comes with an atmosphere you would expect in minor league baseball. Though it’s casual, there are many that are focused and interested in the game. Cheers were loud for our first visit and then on the second visit, there just wasn’t enough people to generate an atmosphere. Each half inning stoppage features a game, contest or promotion and I did enjoy the Pork Roll, Egg and Cheese race.
Atmosphere Ranking: 8.5 out of 14
Thirsty Thursday brings a weird dynamic in the park as you’ll find half the crowd in the huge Sand Bar, not watching the game as they are out hanging out with drinks….Shoretown Ballpark is entirely cashless. Call me an old man, but I do not like it, especially when it comes to purchasing tickets…..The shore theme features beach balls for section identifiers and wooden planks along the roped off lines.
Game (Initial Visit)
Lexington manufactured two runs in the second and third innings, however BlueClaws pitcher Jesus Sanchez only gave up two more hits the rest of his outing. Lakewood took control with big middle innings as they put eight on the board. This led to an easy 8-2 win. Hector Garcia from the home side went 4 for 4 with an RBI. Meanwhile, the Legends finished with 12 hits.