Just came across this in a folder of BlueClaws papers I have. It’s a 2002 schedule card (brochure size — it measures roughly 3 inches across by 8 inches down) signed by Taylor Buchholz.
Buchholz was Lakewood’s opening day starter in the BlueClaws’ inaugural season, throwing the first pitch in franchise history in Kannapolis, N.C. This schedule must’ve been printed at the end of the ’01 season, because Buchholz only spent that one year in Lakewood and I must’ve had it signed at the end of the season. The other clue: Lakewood’s ballpark is called GPU Energy Park here, but after 2001 (to this day), it’s been called FirstEnergy Park.
Here’s the account of that first game in BlueClaws history:
‘CLAWS BLUE AFTER GAME 1
But no-hitter, shutout averted
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. — It was one for the history books, this first Lakewood BlueClaws baseball game but the Shore area’s new minor league team had hoped to write a more satisfying opening chapter.
The BlueClaws lost to the Kannapolis Intimidators, 9-1, after being no-hit for the first six innings. It was a homecoming at Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium for BlueClaws manager Greg Legg, who led the Piedmont Boll Weevils to the Northern Division title managing here last summer.
After the season, the Boll Weevils changed their name after NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt — known on the racetrack as The Intimidator — joined the ownership group.
“It’s real strange,” Legg said before the game about managing from the visitors’ third-base dugout. “But for some reason I feel comfortable.”
The fans gave Legg a warm ovation, and some seated near the BlueClaws dugout teased their former manager, who was asked by Kannapolis manager Razor Shines to explain the ground rules during the pregame lineup ex-change.
“Yeah, he asked if I’d do it,” Legg said. “Normally the home manager will explain the ground rules, but he said that since I was here last year, he asked if I’d do it.”
On a comfortably cool overcast night to open the 2001 South Atlantic League season, the only official mention of Earnhardt came in the prayer and an address from Sally League President John H. Moss during the pregame ceremonies.
But his influence was evident throughout the stands, where scores of fans wore hats, shirts and jackets bearing Earnhardt’s No.3.
Right fielder Carlos Acevedo, one of four BlueClaws starters who spent time playing for Piedmont in the Class A league last year, led off the game and took a strike on the inside corner. Legg then called for the ball, which was taken. out of play and given to the BlueClaws. On the next pitch, Acevedo grounded out to shortstop Guillermo Reyes.
The next 13 Lakewood batters would follow Acevedo’s lead — Kannapolis lefthander Dennis Ulacia retired the first 14 batters, carrying a perfect game into the fifth inning. A walk to left fielder Gregg Foster gave the BlueClaws their first baserunner in history.
Ulacia left the game after six innings, allowing no hits and three walks while striking out eight. Foster then broke up the no-hitter, lining a pitch from Arnaldo Munoz into left field with one out in the seventh inning.
Righthander Taylor Buchholz earned the starting assignment for Lakewood, throwing a ball low for his first pitch. The 19-year-old from Springfield, Pa., allowed five runs on nine hits in 5 1/3 innings while striking out four and walking none.
Matt Riethmaier endured a rough seventh, allowing four Intimidator runs, including a towering two-run home run to right field off the bat of first baseman Casey Rogowski.
Lakewood finally put a run on the board with two outs in the eighth, when center fielder Jason Barnette trotted home from third on a line-drive single to left by first baseman Dario Delgado.