With Baseball Cancelled, BlueClaws Discuss What Could Have Been

Minor League Baseball has been cancelled for this season. (Photo courtesy Lakewood BlueClaws)

 LAKEWOOD – It was far from the 20th season the Lakewood BlueClaws had in mind.

 The Philadelphia Phillies’ low Class A affiliate, a member of the South Atlantic League, planned a season-long celebration of its milestone campaign. And the team hoped to celebrate its eight millionth fan to walk through the gates for a regular-season game at FirstEnergy Park.

  However, there will be no season.

  The BlueClaws announced Tuesday, June 30, that Minor League Baseball has canceled the seasons of its 160 affiliated clubs, resulting in the cancellation of the team’s campaign as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Major League Baseball declined to supply its affiliates with players, another reason for the cancellation. 

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  “This is news that we had hoped we wouldn’t have to share, but unfortunately we will not be playing baseball at the Jersey Shore this summer,” said Lakewood team president Joe Ricciutti, whose club has attracted 7,711,681 fans. “This is a tremendous all-around disappointment from the team’s perspective to a personal level. Everyone worked so hard to get to this season. When the team was home for night games in the past, we worked from 9 a.m.-midnight. We all enjoy watching baseball and bringing the community together. The longer the shutdown lasted, the tougher the logistics became.

  “This is heartbreaking.”   

  The team said the decision was made with the interests of fan, player, coach and staff safety at the forefront.

Archive photo of times before COVID-19. (Photo courtesy Lakewood BlueClaws)

  “We understand and cherish our place as a much-needed outlet for fun and entertainment across our communities, but we also understand and support the need to prioritize the public health crisis,” said Art Matin, the managing partner of Shore Town Baseball, the BlueClaws’ ownership group.

 “Everyone is disappointed,” SAL president Eric Krupa said. “From a practical standpoint, if you look at the logistics and health and safety protocols, it was an easy decision. It’s enough of a challenge controlling the major league teams. It’s a common sense decision, but it’s disappointing on a number of levels.

  “Lakewood was set to unveil its 20th anniversary logo. A lot of its promotions were to have had the subliminal theme of its 20-year anniversary,” he said.      

  Lakewood was scheduled to play 140 regular-season games, including 70 at FirstEnergy Park.

  “By the middle of March, all of our season tickets along with group tickets had been pretty much sold out,” Ricciutti said. “Single-game tickets went on sale in the middle of March. Our group sales went tremendously well. We came on board late during the 2017 season. We spent time building a group foundation over the last two years. Building that foundation has been our focus since we came on board. We obtained youth sports teams and leagues that had never been with us before.

  “We were well, well on target to hit our goal of 30 sellouts. We sold out 20 games last year and 13 games in 2018.”

  Ricciutti said the team suffered a large revenue hit because of the cancelation.

  “We are a private business so we keep that figure relatively private,” he said. “We took a tremendous, impactful hit. Thousands of businesses have been impacted. We will work through it and build from there. This challenge faces all 160 affiliated teams in minor league baseball.”                 

  The BlueClaws said ticket package holders will be contacted by staff members to go over their options. Additionally, the team said its staff members will coordinate with group leaders who have booked 2020 outings as well. Lakewood said those who have tickets as part of a group outing should wait to hear from their group’s leader directly.

  Communication from the BlueClaws’ staff members began Wednesday morning, July 1. The team said it asks that ticket holders be patient as the BlueClaws work through outreach on an individual basis.

  “We thank each of our ticket package holders and group leaders for their patience while we waited for a resolution,” Ricciutti said. “This has been a trying time for us all and we want to make sure that each ticket holder hears directly from the BlueClaws”

  The BlueClaws said they will shift many of their 20th season promotions into the 2021 season.

  “We are already working on making 2021 the biggest and most exciting season in team history,” Ricciutti said. “We’ll just celebrate our 20th season and our 20th anniversary all together!”

  The BlueClaws’ 2021 schedule has yet to be released. The team said it will announce the schedule, complete with the 2021 Opening Night, when available. FirstEnergy Park executive offices remained closed to the public as of Tuesday, June 30. The team’s staff is working remotely. Check blueclaws.com and the team’s social media channels for more information.

Archive photo of times before COVID-19. (Photo courtesy Lakewood BlueClaws)

What Would Have Been

  Lakewood’s first-year manager was to have been Chris Adamson. Born in Sydney, Australia, he is an Adelaide, South Australia resident. The former catcher spent the last seven seasons with the Adelaide Bite of the Australian Baseball League as manager (2017-19) and bench coach (2013-16). He was an assistant coach in 2018 and 2019 of the Australian National Team and ran the performance department for Baseball South Australia.

 Adamson earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Sport Science from Angelo State University in San Angelo, Tx., where he was an NCAA Division II All-American in 2009 and 2010. He was to have been Lakewood’s 14th manager. He could not be reached for comment.

  Among the possible team members were pitcher Jose Conopoima, catcher Logan O’Hoppe and outfielder Corbin Williams. Each played last year for the Williamsport (Pa.) Crosscutters of the New York-Penn League, a short-season Class A circuit one level below Lakewood. Conopoima posted a 2.83 earned run average and struck out 43 batters in 47 innings. Williams sped to 30 stolen bases. O’Hoppe slugged five home runs.

  The BlueClaws were in training camp from early through mid-March in Clearwater, Fl., where the Phillies train. 

Other Events Scheduled

  Ricciutti said other activities with restrictions are planned at FirstEnergy Park.

  “The baseball season was cancelled,” he said, “but FirstEnergy Park was not. We’ll have barbecues, film series, driving range stuff. Our batting cages will be utilized. We will have ballpark tours that will offer a behind the scenes look. We will have lots of unique stuff. The dates and activities will be announced. We want to keep the fans engaged. We love hosting people at the park.”

  Ricciutti said the team’s staff for home games consists of up to 400 persons.

  “Many staff members have spent 20 years with us,” he said. “It’s a big operation. The ripple effects are significant. This situation is heartbreaking for our fans, our staff and our colleagues in minor league baseball. We like to see smiling families and kids.”

  Ricciutti declined to discuss layoffs, furloughs and hours reductions.

  “Unfortunately, we don’t comment publicly on that out of respect,” he said.            

  NEWSY NOTES: A total of 95 former Lakewood players have been members of major league teams entering this season. They include former Philadelphia stars Cole Hamels and Ryan Howard. Rhys Haskins, who played for the BlueClaws in 2015, stars for the Phillies. A total of 17 ex-Lakewood players are in the initial Phillies Player Pool as the team prepares for its season.

  Lakewood won the SAL title in 2006, 2009 and 2010. This year’s league was to have consisted of 14 teams to as far south as Georgia. The BlueClaws came to Lakewood in January of 2000, setting up shop in a nearby executive office on Airport Road. They began play in 2001.

  NOTE: Blueclaws.com and southatlanticleague.com contributed to this report.