As appeared in the Irish Times on Monday April 17th 2006
By Steve Coronella
After 14 years I thought I had licked the problem of being a blow-in here, someone permanently stuck on the outside looking in. In many ways, as the saying goes, I’m now more Irish than the Irish themselves. For instance, I have very relaxed notions about arriving on time for social engagements, and any ideas I may have about social reform – say, a better health service or improved public recreation facilities – are now tempered with a native’s sense of resignation.
Where sports are concerned, however, I’ll always be a Yank, and a Bostonian first and foremost. Sure, I love soccer and follow the fortunes of England’s Premiership teams. I’m also intrigued by hurling and Gaelic football and never miss the All-Ireland Finals each September. But at the end of the day it’s my hometown teams that really matter.
This is especially true at this time of year, the beginning of baseball season, with my hopes riding high for another (unlikely) Red Sox championship. But before you shed an unlikely tear for this thwarted fan, stranded thousands of miles from his most cherished team, wait a moment. Believe it or not, baseball is here, on the ground, in Ireland, having taken hold among a dedicated core of players and coaches.
As this spring’s inaugural World Baseball Classic demonstrated, America’s national pastime has branched out over the past several decades, with enough talent spread across the Caribbean and Far East to put together a legitimate international tournament.
Perhaps some day Ireland will field a respectable national team and join the festivities. At the moment, though, even with a sprinkling of American ex-pats on the roster – there are roughly 60,000 of us resident here, some ex-college athletes with Irish roots – the team still struggles even against weak European competition. (There is hope, however, that the game will benefit from a PR windfall when The Emerald Diamond, New Yorker John Fitzgerald’s documentary about baseball in Ireland, is screened in cinemas here.)
But that’s pie-in-the-sky thinking where Irish baseball is concerned. For now the game is being nourished at a grassroots level and is helping to re-connect many displaced Americans (and their kids) with an invaluable piece of our national culture. I confess I lost touch with the game myself after I moved from Boston to Dublin in 1992. Even though the 1990s proved relatively successful for my cherished Red Sox, I wasn’t too interested. I had no computer then to keep in touch via the Internet and TV coverage in these parts was non-existent.
Then in late 1998 I got an Internet connection and soon began reading the occasional Red Sox game report on-line. But the real spur to my re-birth as a fan came in the autumn of 2003 when I pledged a monthly fee to my local cable TV company, in exchange for which they granted me access to the North American Sports Network. I subscribed a few hours before an important Red Sox-Yankees playoff. Despite the wrong result, from a Boston viewpoint, I was hooked.
A few months later I began wondering about introducing my son Brian to the game. A friend in the States – who had lived in Ireland – pointed me in the direction of the Greystones Mariners baseball club in Wicklow, which caters for all comers, children to adults. My son had by then attended his first Red Sox game at Fenway Park in Boston, and his baseball knowledge seemed to be increasing exponentially. (For the record, my son Brian is sports-mad, independently of his dad, and is willing to try his hand – and feet – at anything.)
When we reported for the first “training” session, I had trouble keeping to the sidelines. I introduced myself to the woman in charge – an energetic and outgoing Yank on temporary re-assignment to Ireland – and soon we were a management team.
Since then my son has moved up a level and I’ve followed him. Preaching the gospel of baseball to a group of seven- to nine-year-olds who are unfamiliar with the terminology and even the basic rules of the game can be dispiriting at times. The kids have to rely on the basic equipment we provide – most don’t own their own fielder’s glove, which is like showing up for football training without any boots – and after they leave us each week none of them will play the game among themselves. They have no favourite players to mimic on the field because they will rarely, if ever, see the game played, either in person or on TV, by capable adult practitioners.
And yet my personal connection to the game – as well as the enjoyment it can bring when played under a carefree summer sky – carries me back each Wednesday afternoon to the village green in Greystones that we share with wandering dogs and lounging teenagers and strolling pensioners. Among our group are Irish, Dutch, Spanish and American kids – all united for two hours a week under the welcoming banner of baseball.