More Than A Game: BlueClaws Opener Aims For Family Experience

The Lakewood BlueClaws welcome their fans. (Photo by Chris Christopher)

LAKEWOOD – Jack Haviland is the answer to a trivia question.

Who was the first person to attempt a stroke on the BlueClaws Mini Golf Course at FirstEnergy Park?

The Barnegat resident pulled a putt to the left side of the first hole at 5:40 p.m. Thursday, April 12 when the Lakewood BlueClaws played their home opener against the Delmarva (Md.) Shorebirds.

“Yeah, I get the first hit on the golf course,” an excited Haviland said as he attempted his stroke.

Haviland, a nine-year-old student at the Robert L. Horbelt School, carded a two-over par four on the hole.

“This course is amazing,” he said. “Any miniature golf course is great. I didn’t know I was the first player. Well, that is amazing. I am not that good at mini golf.”

The Lakewood BlueClaws participate in a pre-game ceremony. (Photo by Chris Christopher)

“If you look at this course, it looks so easy, but it’s really hard,” chimed in Haviland’s friend and partner, D.J. Swierk, 10, of Barnegat, and schoolmate of Haviland’s. “The obstacles make it hard.”

Barnegat resident Daniel Swierk, D.J. Swierk’s father, said he hoped his family and friends would be the first to tackle the course.

“We won a contest on Facebook and got two free golf tickets,” he said. “We ran down here, hoping to be the first one.”

The elder Swierk, a retired Edison Township fireman, said he enjoys the course.

“So far, I like it,” he said. “Anything to keep the kids occupied. It’s not just a baseball game. It’s family entertainment. We’ve been coming to these games for three years. We absolutely love it. It’s better than going to the big cities and spending hundreds of dollars to sit in the nosebleed section.

“It’s basically a family outing. We have children ages 10-21 and they all enjoy it. We get home at a reasonable hour, which is great.”

The first hole was named in the honor of former Lakewood and Philadelphia star Ryan Howard, who played for the BlueClaws in 2002. Lakewood retired his number 29 in 2010. The honor is part of the course’s Holes of Fame. Nine former Lakewood standouts were honored.

Howard hit .280 with 19 home runs and 87 runs batted in for Lakewood. He was chosen by the Phillies in the fifth round of the 2001 draft. He made his major-league debut Sept. 1, 2004, becoming the first ex-Lakewood player to appear in a major-league game.

He was named the 2005 National League Rookie of the Year and won the 2006 NL Most Valuable Player Award. He helped the Phillies to the World Series title in 2008, slugging 48 homers and driving in 146 runs during the regular season. He made two injury rehabilitation appearances with the BlueClaws, belting the game-winning home run in his first outing with Lakewod while rehabbing.

Manchester Elementary School singers perform The National Anthem. (Photo by Chris Christopher)

The nine-hole par 18 layout is a major part of the makeover of the park. The fee for adults is $4. Children either 12 years of age or under can play for $3. Balls, clubs and scorecards are provided by the team. The course is available for private events and is open prior to and during games.

Its first workers were Carolina Anderson, 16, a member of the Brick Memorial High School girls volleyball team, and Kayla Peterson, 16, a Brick Memorial student who competes on the Mustangs’ girls track and softball teams.

“It feels good to be the first worker,” Anderson said. “I am ready for the whole season. I am excited to be working here.”

Anderson is in her first season with the team.

“I needed a job so that I could pay for my car and stuff,” Anderson said. “There are plenty of opportunities here.”

Anderson said she is no stranger to miniature golf, having played at Jenkinson’s of Point Pleasant Beach, which sponsored Thursday’s game.

“I have played it all my life,” she said.

Brick Township residents Carolina Anderson (left) and Kayla Petersen serve as golf course attendants. (Photo by Chris Christopher)

“It is exciting,” Petersen said. “Everyone will get to see Carolina and I and everyone will know us as the faces of mini golf at the Lakewood BlueClaws. This will be fun. A lot of people are drawn to mini golf, which is very popular, especially at Jenkinson’s.”

Peterson is a first-year employee with the club.

“I need money for college and my car,” she said. “Both of us applied for the mini golf job. I brought it up to Carolina, actually.”

Shore Town Baseball, Lakewood’s ownership group which purchased the Philadelphia Phillies’ low Class A affiliate from the American Baseball Company (the original owner) hopes the makeover will give the facility an ambiance similar to an amusement park. The ABC originally owned the team.

The course, located near the right field foul line, has a Jersey Shore theme.

Obstacles on the third hole are two surfboards with the BlueClaws’ logo. They are augmented with a beach ball. Three large beach balls on the eighth hole serve as obstacles. A row boat, seating four persons, is the center piece.

A basketball display, Hoop Shots, sits beyond the center field fence. The cost is $2 per shot. The fee for three shots is $5. Stuffed animals are prizes.

Two of the display’s workers are Bryce Morris, 17, a Manchester High School student, and Jaquel Hunter, 19, a former Lakewood football player.

“This is going to be a good experience for me before I go off to college (Rowan University) in the fall,” Morris said.

“Working here is going to be fun,” Hunter said. “The weather is about to get nice. I like the atmosphere out here – and they are paying me. Plus, I can watch the games.”

Bryce Morris of Manchester (left) and Jaquel Hunter of Lakewood work a display. (Photo by Chris Christopher)

Near the basketball display is the Boardwalk Sweet Shop. The game was played on Thirsty Thursday, which offers discounted alcoholic beverages and wings. A Biergarten, located located down the left field foul line across from the Third Base Picnic Area, also made its debut. It offers high-top and sit-down, picnic style tables. It has additional sales portables for faster service. Five large flame heaters warm patrons.

A new Boardwalk Gaming Area is near the basketball display.

To hear Lakewood president-general manager Joe Ricciutti tell it, the improvements are just the beginning.

“Coming soon are a balloon and dart game, FatCat, Ring Toss and Goblet,” he said. “A local market, Coffee Shop, has joined us this year. By next week, we should be fully loaded. This is like having a party, inviting all 7,000 people and making sure everyone is eating, drinking and smiling and having a good time.

Lakewood wins: Will Stewart pitched the 18th-year BlueClaws past Delmarva, a Baltimore Orioles farm club, 2-0, in South Atlantic League action in front of an announced crowd of 5,669 fans

Stewart (2-0) worked six four-hit innings, striking out four and walking none in dealing Delmarva (7-1) its first loss of the season. Jonathan Hennigan piched a perfect seventh and eighth. Kyle Dohy notched the hold and Luis Ramirez posted his initial save of the year.

Quincy Nieporte homered and Dalton Guthrie lofted a sacrifice fly.

Lakewood is 4-4.

Barnegat’s Jack Haviland (left) and D.J. Swierk enjoyed a round of miniature golf. (Photo by Chris Christopher)

Newsy notes: The Shorebirds and the BlueClaws were introduced during pre-game introductions by public address announcer Kevin Clark. The Barnegat resident, now in his 18th season with Lakewood, has also served as the New Jersey Devils’ public address voice.

The teams lined up along the third and first-base lines respectively. Lakewood received cheers from its fans. Lakewood players signed free autographs for fans on the concourse.

Fourth and fifth graders from the Manchester Elementary School performed The National Anthem to cheers. One of the singers was Joseph Dickson-Egan, a fourth grade student.

“The kids were offered the chance to sing,” said Lacey Bottorff, Dickson-Egan’s mother. “Anyone who wanted to sing could do so.”

ClawsCrew members assisted fans throughout the park. Working security beyond the center field fence was former Brick High School football and boys track and field standout Pete Panuska, the Green Dragons’ athletic director.

The waiting areas at the major food stands have been reorganized with chains. An expanded net protects fans seated near the first and third base lines from thrown and batted balls.

Cape Fear Crocs T-shirts are on sale in Lakewood’s gift shop, the Claws Cove, for $22 each. The Crocs, formerly of Cape Fear, N.C., were Lakewood’s forerunners.

Bowl with a BlueClaw: BlueClaws Charities will have its seventh annual Bowling with the BlueClaws fundraising event at Sea Girt Lanes on Saturday, April 15.

Lakewood players and Buster, the team’s mascot, will be at the event. It will take place from 6-8 p.m. For $15, bowlers will receive bowling shoes, a raffle ticket for a series of prizes, pizza and soda and unlimited bowling games. Raffles will take place throughout the night for limited edition autographed merchandise and other door prizes. Players will mingle with fans.

All proceeds will benefit BlueClaws Charities and their Community Partners. BlueClaws Charities has donated more than $250,000 during the past four years to community organizations, including donations in the form of grants to BlueClaws Charities Community Partners.

For more information, either call JoAnne Bell at 732 901-7000, ext. 100 or e-mail her at

Lend a glove: The BlueClaws need bullpen catchers for the 2018 season.

Those interested must have catching experience at the collegiate level. Catchers will be needed when Lakewood is at home and should arrive up to several hours before the first pitch. They will stay until the end of the game.

If interested, please contact Kevin Fenstermacher at

Jon Cronin of Forked River and Brick resident Cassie Perednia take control of the inflatables. (Photo by Chris Christopher)