A game was played on Saturday evening in Lakewood, N.J., but the hometown BlueClaws were nowhere to be found.
In the BlueClaws' place was an entity with a similar sounding name, but one that had nothing to do with cerulean crustaceans. On Saturday evening, the BlueClaws morphed into the "BruceClaws."
This special moniker was in honor of one of the biggest celebrities to hail from the Garden State -- the man, the myth, the legend: Bruce Springsteen.
Saturday night marked the third time in as many seasons that Lakewood has taken the field wearing "BruceClaws" jerseys, with the extra-inning victory over Delmarva bringing it to 2-1 while honoring "The Boss."
This year's "BruceClaws" jersey had an especially American feel, featuring red and white stripes across the chest, stars on the sleeves and "BruceClaws" in script atop an electric guitar. Certainly, this was a night in which one felt especially proud to be "Born in the U.S.A."
That song and many more played over the public address system throughout the evening, with several tunes timed to the action on the field. "Lucky Town" was heard when the visiting Shorebirds finally mustered their first hit and "Hungry Heart" accompanied the nightly Pork Roll, Egg and Cheese race (won by Cheese, for those who must know such things).
But perhaps the biggest highlight occurred before the game, when more than 300 fans packed the party deck in right field to hear ace tribute band E Street Shuffle. Many of those in the crowd were wearing Springsteen T-shirts, with several sporting BruceClaws jerseys from seasons past (the jerseys are auctioned off after the game, with proceeds going to charity).
BlueClaws promotions director Hal Hansen explained that when the promotion first started he spread the word via Springsteen online message boards. By now, however, "this thing has legs of its own."
That's not all that surprising, given that this is New Jersey we're talking about. As BlueClaws general manager Geoff Brown pointed out, "Everyone who lives around here knows someone who knows someone who knows Bruce."
On a larger level, BruceClaws Night is emblematic of Lakewood's promotional approach, which is all-out, all the time. On Friday, the club welcomed former New York Giants linebacker Pepper Johnson for an autograph signing and ended the evening with a fireworks show. Sunday's itinerary at FirstEnergy Park includes a professional wrestling match dubbed the "Brawl at the 'Claw," a World Cup viewing party and a Sunday evening game highlighted by a team comic book giveaway.
The rest of the season is similarly packed, but Hansen, for his part, makes it clear he is especially excited about the "Goonies" tribute on July 29 that will feature a special appearance by Jeff "Chunk" Cohen.
The chance to get Chunk's autograph certainly will lure fans of a certain age to the ballpark, but one promotional possibility towers above the rest in Lakewood. Might Springsteen one day see fit to visit FirstEnergy Park on BruceClaws Night?
It's certainly not outside the realm of bossibility, as Springsteen has shown up as a fan on at least one occasion. Brown, somewhat mysteriously, said the attention-shy Springsteen has been at the ballpark "more than we know." The thought of Springsteen at the stadium certainly was on Hansen's mind as Saturday's events drew to a close.
Standing beside a shopping cart filled with the night's game-worn jerseys (they were distributed to high bidders immediately after the 10-inning contest, sweat stains and all), Hansen voiced his lone complaint on an otherwise successful evening.
"We're still waiting for Bruce," he said. "This year, we thought things might be different, since he and the E Street Band are finally off the road. But I guess he had other plans."