Minor league baseball team pays homage to Bruce Springsteen

LAKEWOOD, N.J. — When it comes to his most favorite things in life, Matt Young says there's nothing better than baseball — except Bruce Springsteen.

Young was among the thousands of fans who came out Saturday night for the 10th annual "Bruce Springsteen Appreciation Night" staged by the Lakewood BlueClaws, a New Jersey-based minor league affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies who play their games in the South Atlantic League.

"I fell in love with his music when I was a kid, when I first heard my brother playing his "Born to Run" album," Young, 44, of Toms River, said about Springsteen. "I then started listening to his earlier stuff, and I've been hooked ever since."

Springsteen, a big baseball fan, grew up in Freehold, which is about 30 minutes from FirstEnergy Park, the stadium where the BlueClaws play their home games. He's attended a few games there over the years and team officials said they would be thrilled if he decided to attend this year's festivities.

"This area is his roots, and Bruce has so many fans and so much support here, so this is always one of the biggest nights of our season," said Jim DeAngelis, vice president of community relations for the team. "People are always asking if he's going to be here (for the annual appreciation event), and we tell them 'we never know.'"

The festivities included a pre-game concert by the E-Street Shuffle, a Springsteen tribute band, and the first "Born to Run Beer Mile" race, in which participating fans got a beer for each lap they completed around the field's warning track. The first runner to finish three laps and three beers was declared the winner.

The BlueClaws played the game in jerseys bearing the "BruceClaws" name and planned to auction off the game-worn shirts after the game, with all the money raised going to its charities fund.

"I think this is a great promotion and a great way to honor a guy who has so well represented New Jersey," said Dorothy Kretzmer, 52, of Little Egg Harbor. "I've only met a handful of people who don't like him, and that's usually because they don't like his strong political views. But I always tell them you can appreciate his musical talent without agreeing with his opinions."

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