March 10, 2017 | No comments yet | Me Time

Baseball: Ireland’s Latest Favorite American Pastime

Springtime. The birds are building nests, the weather is warming up, and baseball season begins with players reporting to spring training. Baseball, is no longer just America’s favorite pastime. Its popularity has long been embedded in Latin American culture and now, has spread even to Ireland.

Irish residents, much like Americans, love to watch sports, including American sports. One of the most popular excursions for Irish residents traveling to America is the watching of a Major League baseball game live at one of the famous baseball parks. My family often entertains Irish-born guests at the Pittsburgh Pirates’ home – PNC Park. American sports are also watched regularly in Irish homes. Cable television providers’ packages include American sports, including Major League Baseball.

Just as Americans love St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, Guinness beer, and U2’s music, the Irish, likewise, equally adore American culture, from movies and television to sports. Baseball is the latest American sport to take hold in Ireland and not just in spectating. The Irish have been actively playing baseball at an internationally competitive level since about 1995.

1996 IRISH NATIONAL BASEBALL TEAM

History of baseball in Ireland

The history of Irish baseball doesn’t just begin in the 1990s. It begins in America, about a hundred years earlier, when the two cultures first met on the baseball diamond. Baseball was a popular sport among Irish immigrants and their sons.

Forty-seven Major League players were born in Ireland, mostly playing in the League in the late 1800s and early 1900s. One of the more famous among these was John K. Tener, born in County Tyrone, who became the Governor of Pennsylvania after his baseball career ended. Many more Irish-Americans have played the game over the past 100+ years.

There were several attempts by Irish-born and Irish-American Major League players in the early 20th century to bring baseball to Ireland. Adult baseball finally began to take hold in Ireland around 1995 when Baseball Ireland was founded by a group of American expats and Irish-born players who had spent time in America at some point in their childhood. The 1995 team practiced on a poorly drained field, which didn’t have a proper baseball diamond, pitcher’s mound, or backstop. Nor was there a league within Ireland in which to compete. Instead, Baseball Ireland had to travel internationally.

The first Irish National Baseball Team competed in the 1996 European Championships in England. The team barely won a game but it learned from the experience. Mainly, the Irish national team needed a home. Over the next couple of years, Irish-American Peter O’Malley, owner and president of the Los Angeles Dodgers Baseball organization, championed the construction of Ireland’s Field of Dreams, the O’Malley Field in Corcaigh Park, West Dublin. The facilities included both adult and youth fields, which opened on July 4, 1998.

WIKIPEDIA
Aerial view of O’Malley Fields in Dublin, Ireland

The 1996 European Championships international experience generated a great deal of interest in baseball and ultimately resulted in a ten team adult league being formed, which continues today. With its new facility and multi-teamed league, baseball was sure to stay in Ireland.

In 2006, John Fitzgerald made a documentary film about the first decade of baseball in Ireland. The Emerald Diamond was screened in theaters across the United States, winning the Critic’s Choice Award at the first Baseball Hall of Fame Film Festival in Cooperstown, NY.

THE EMERALD DIAMOND BY JOHN FITZGERALD

Recognizing the strong bond of the two cultures, John Fitzgerald started the non-profit organization Baseball United Foundation, which is dedicated to supporting baseball in Ireland. He views Baseball United Foundation’s purpose to cross cultures, in a unique way that can be achieved by the love of the game. “We view our work in Ireland as building a bridge, via baseball, between Irish and American kids,” explains Fitzgerald. The organization works directly with Baseball Ireland and the Irish National Baseball and they have created a website for American fans of Irish Baseball at www.SupportIrishBaseball.org.

Over the years, baseball has grown in Ireland – over 500 adults and youth are playing throughout the country – and the Irish National Team has continued to improve. In 2016, Ireland won the bronze medal at the European C-Pool tournament.

Youth Baseball in Ireland

My husband grew up in Ireland. In the 1980s, he reports the youth of Ireland playing a game called rounders, which resembles softball, with underhand pitching. There were co-ed games, but no organized leagues.

Throughout the 1990s, much like adult baseball, youth baseball finally took hold in Ireland with much support from American and Major League Baseball influencers. The building of the O’Malley Field in Corcaigh Park, Dublin, which included the youth facilities, finally made a Little League sustainable for years to come in Ireland.

In 2014, a new youth baseball field was built in Ashbourne, County Meath, Ireland.

HTTP://WWW.MISTER-BASEBALL.COM/INTL-BASEBALL-CENTER-OPENS-ASHBOURNE-IRELAND/

Right now, Baseball United Foundation and Baseball Ireland are putting together the first ever Irish Junior National Baseball Team. The team is made up of Irish-born and Irish-American teenagers, ages 15-18. All players must have Irish citizenship (Americans can apply for Irish citizenship if they have a parent or grandparent born in Ireland). The team will compete in the European Championships in Zurich, Switzerland in July 2017.

The Junior National Team is raising money online for the trip to Switzerland:https://www.crowdrise.com/IrishBaseball18U

The Two Cultures Continue to Import/Export the best of Pop Culture

The most recent achievement for Baseball Ireland came in recognition of Irish Baseball in America pop culture. On a recent episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Charlie Day wore an Irish National Baseball Team T-shirt to much applause in Ireland.

The display of Irish Baseball on American television demonstrates the full circle of the overlap of the two cultures. The Irish love American sports and start Baseball Ireland. Americans learn about Irish baseball, and in turn, show their love for Irish culture by supporting it.

To get your own Irish baseball gear, including Charlie Day’s T-shirt, check out Baseball Ireland’s on-line store here.

Baseball United Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit based in New York. BUF has grown to work with other countries and regions but its primary focus is still Ireland. Based in America, BUF sends equipment and coaches overseas, organizes baseball clinics for kids in Ireland, is working to introduce baseball into the Irish school system, and brings Irish teenagers to the US to participate in baseball camps.

 

 

Original article published on the Huffington Post on March 7, 2017 here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/58af1e5ae4b0e5fdf6196f34

 

–Carissa Howard

TAGS: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *