June is just around the corner, which means Pride Month is here. Insiders know that Asbury Park holds their annual Pride Parade and Festival on the first weekend in June. This year, the Lakewood BlueClaws will also be celebrating Pride Month by holding their first Pride Theme game on Saturday, June 8th to honor their diverse fan base.
I sat down with the BlueClaws recently to learn more about this event. When asked what inspired them to add a Pride game to their line-up, here’s what they had to say.
“Minor league baseball is known for recognizing their audience. We have an Irish Night, an Italian Night, a First-Responders night, a Military Appreciation night, and we want to pay tribute to all of our fans. Not only is it customary among both the Minor and Major league teams to have a Pride game, we were inspired to add the Pride game to our schedule as a way of ‘tipping our hat’ to the various segments of our audience and saying thank you for being part of this. And if you haven’t been to a game before, come out and join us.”Joe Ricciutti, President and General Manager, BlueClaws
Ricciutti became involved in the minor league organization through Mandalay Baseball Properties; a multi-team ownership group that owned 7 teams throughout the country, and was previously the President of the Staten Island Yankees from 2007 to 2011. He came on board after the 2017 season.
Greg Giombarrese, Communications Director and radio broadcaster, has been broadcasting the games full-time since 2009 and the May 16th game was Greg’s 1500th game. Both Ricciutti and Giombarrese have played baseball in their younger days.
Giombarrese is excited about the new addition of the Pride Game to the theme day schedule, “We already have a great line-up of theme games for the season and the Pride Night game will complement our schedule and pay homage to our many diverse fans.”
Out of a 140-game season, 70 are home games of which approximately 35 are theme games.
About Pride Night
The Pride Night game, held on June 8th, will be the first ever at FirstEnergy Field and there are plans to make it a very special event. Gates open at 6:00 pm with first pitch at 7:05 pm. The first 1500 fans will receive a BlueClaws Pride Night cap, thanks to Coca Cola, and after the game fans can enjoy post-game fireworks.
The BlueClaws FirstEnergy Field is the Jersey Shore’s premier place for affordable, family entertainment. Along with a major league size baseball field, the stadium is filled with activities and fun things to do. Beyond left field is a tiered picnic area for optimum game viewing, a new Biergarten where you can grab a cold brew and is the host location for their “Thirsty Thursdays” games, and a stage for live music performances.
Behind center field you will find the Toyota World of Lakewood ‘Home Run Pavilion’ featuring top boardwalk games and just beyond right field you’ll find pizza, ice cream, and a brand-new nine-hole miniature golf course. There are also party decks on the 2nd level promenade, 16 luxury boxes, and the Champion Club private restaurant for club members.
Along with give-away Pride Caps and fireworks, some of the Pride Night events will include participation from local LGBTQ-friendly businesses and organizations. The You Can Play Project, who works to ensure safety and inclusion in all sports, will have a presence at the game as well.
Pro wrestler Anthony Bowens, who identifies as gay, will be on hand to throw out a ceremonial first pitch. Live entertainment by Drive – the 80’s tribute band will play in the BlueClaws Biergarten from 6:30 pm until 9:00 pm and there will be drink specials in the Biergarten throughout the night. Additional Pride Night merchandise will be available in the Claws Cove as well, and Kids get to run the bases after the game.
About The Players
Before heading out to the ball game, let me give you a bit of back ground about the players. There have been 90 Blue Claws players who have made it to the big leagues, an average of around 12-15% of the players in team history.
One of the most recent players to climb up through the BlueClaws ranks is Rhys Hoskins who is the American born first basemen for the Philadelphia Phillies. He was drafted in 2014 and made his debut in the Major Leagues in 2017.
About half the team is from all over the United States; mostly from the south, southwest and California where the game is played year-round. The other half are from Latin America; mostly the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, home to many aspiring ballplayers. In addition, this year there’s a player from New Zealand, Kyle Glogoski, trying to become the first New Zealander to reach the Major Leagues.
The age range of players at the Class A level is from 18-24 years of age. The current team is younger than average, with half the team being under the age of 21. There are two 18-year-olds, seven 19-year-olds, and three 20-year-olds. The team Roster on the BlueClaws website can give you more information about each player, as well as their stats.
The foreign-born players are given English lessons provided by the Philadelphia Phillies which takes place at FirstEnergy Park. When asked where these young men, who are pretty far from home, currently live I was told there are host families who provide housing for the players. All the players, whether they are from the United States or another country, will be matched with a host family during the season.
On average the organization has 12-14 families who host players. Currently there are 8 host families. Sometimes a family can no longer accommodate players because they move out of the area or they’ve downsized their living space and don’t have the extra room. There are a number of reasons a Host Family must leave the BlueClaws community, but the experience is notably a good one.
Being a Host Family
The BlueClaws are almost always in need of families to house players. How do they find their hosts? There are a variety of ways. Information about the program can be found on their website and Facebook page. Sometimes they will advertise; at the game or in the newspaper. Mostly, it’s through word of mouth. Players will often recommend families they’ve stayed with to other players.
Mike Troy, a business executive with the BlueClaws, was a host to 3 players last season. His players were from Kansas, Texas, and Florida. “There’s really not much to it. They are home for a week and away for a week. When they are traveling you don’t see them at all. And when they’re home, they are at the stadium from 11 am until 10 pm, or later if the game goes into extra innings.”
The responsibilities of a host are pretty simple; provide a clean bed, access to a bathroom and a place to do their laundry. The players buy their own food, so there’s no need for concern about what their preferences are or food allergies. Just give them a section of the refrigerator and they’re good to go. Some families like to invite players to join them for meals, but most days their meals are provided by the organization when they are at the stadium getting ready for a game. There is also a nutritionist to advise them, as well as a gym on site where they work out.
During the season, which goes from April to September, the players get about 3 days off. So there’s not a lot of socializing happening, except with each other. Most players are paired in twos with their hosts, but some families have provided space for up to 5 players. Occasionally, the players will have their family come visit them, usually during the All-Star break.
Here’s something interesting: I was told that many of the players are nervous about coming to New Jersey. For some reason they don’t think it’s a very nice place. Although, once they get here they see that not only is it a great place to play ball, it’s a great place to hang out and their favorite place is the beach. When they do get the occasional day off that’s where they’ll be. Some of them are seeing the ocean for the very first time.
One of the Troy family’s favorite things about being a host was getting to know the players and their families.
“They are well behaved gentlemen both on and off the field. Their goal is to play major league baseball, so they’re all trying to live the dream. You’re excited for them when they move up the ranks, sad for them when they don’t. It’s all part of the process. You meet their families when they come to visit and you get to meet interesting people from all over the country and the world. You also get to know other host families because they all sit together at the games, you become part of the BlueClaws organizations extended family and community.”Mike Troy, Business to Business Coordinator
Be sure to check out Pride Night on June 8th and keep the celebration going. Those interested in participating can email firstname.lastname@example.org
Single-game tickets are available by calling 732.901.7000 option 2 or online at BlueClaws.com.