The Lakewood BlueClaws begin their 15th season tonight against the Kannapolis Intimidators, the same team they played in their very first game on April 5, 2001. 

The first batting practice of the season at FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood (Lakewood BlueClaws)

I know that because I was there and my guess is I’m the only person who was in North Carolina for that game and will be at FirstEnergy Park tonight. An ironic twist to that first-ever BlueClaws game was that Kannapolis was a new team as well.

They used to be the Piedmont Boll Weevils and were a Phillies affiliate but at the end of the 2000 seasons NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt purchased a share of the team and the name was changed to, of course, “The Intimidator” after Earnhardt’s nickname. The Intimidators had already decided to change their parent club from the Phillies to the White Sox and that’s what led to Lakewood’s now 15-year association with the Phillies.

Just two months before the Intimidators and BlueClaws would meet in that first game Earnhardt was killed in an accident at the Daytona 500.  I remember driving up to what was then Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium for the debut game as a duplicate #3 race car similar to what Earnhardt drove was on display. I think it might even still be there.  I did special reports from that game and vividly remember a fan getting hit by a foul ball and having to be taken to the hospital by a helicopter.

By the way the BlueClaws lost that game 5-1 and I flew back home the next day.

Kevin's BlueClaws championship rings (Kevin Williams, Townsquare Media NJ)

Flash forward to 2015 and the two minor league teams will open the new season in Lakewood, the first of a 140-game schedule that ends on Labor Day, unless the BlueClaws make the playoffs.  Lakewood has won three South Atlantic League Championships and I’m the proud owner of ceremonial rings given out for each.

If you’re wondering why it’s because News Talk Radio WOBM AM 1160/1310 is the flagship station of BlueClaws baseball and I just happen to be the guy who handles that.

The forecast doesn’t look great for tonight but I don’t miss opening day.  Did I tell you the story about broadcasting their opener in 2007 with current play-by-play announcer Greg Giombarrese?  I’ll save that one for another day. Actually, Greg will probably tell it tonight on the broadcast so if you don’t make your way out to FirstEnergy Park then listen on the radio or shoresportsnetwork.com.  You know what they say: BlueClaws baseball, simply clawsome!