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Ireland native Conlon has debut 'you dream about'

First Irish native to play in MLB since 1945, thrills family, friends in stands
MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

CINCINNATI -- Patrick Conlon never thought he'd see Cincinnati in his lifetime, but when he learned this weekend that his son, P.J. was going to make his big league debut there, Conlon hopped on a flight across the country from Los Angeles. Other members of his family, nearly two dozen in total, descended on the city, some carrying Irish flags, all toting well wishes.

They came to support and they came to see history: When P.J. Conlon delivered a first-pitch strike to Jesse Winker in the first inning of the Mets' 7-6 win over the Reds on Monday, he became Major League Baseball's first Irish-born player since World War II.

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CINCINNATI -- Patrick Conlon never thought he'd see Cincinnati in his lifetime, but when he learned this weekend that his son, P.J. was going to make his big league debut there, Conlon hopped on a flight across the country from Los Angeles. Other members of his family, nearly two dozen in total, descended on the city, some carrying Irish flags, all toting well wishes.

They came to support and they came to see history: When P.J. Conlon delivered a first-pitch strike to Jesse Winker in the first inning of the Mets' 7-6 win over the Reds on Monday, he became Major League Baseball's first Irish-born player since World War II.

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"I don't even think about it until someone brings it up and then I'm like, 'Wow, that's crazy,'" said Patrick Conlon, who has been receiving congratulatory messages from friends and family back home in Northern Ireland. "It's something special. He's going down in the record books, in the Wikipedia book, which is amazing. A little kid from Belfast done good."

Born in that Northern Irish city, P.J. Conlon emigrated with his family to Southern California when he was 2 years old, shortly after their Falls Road neighborhood became embroiled in "The Troubles" -- a violent conflict between the area's largely Catholic nationalists and Protestants loyal to the British monarchy.

Video: NYM@CIN: Conlon retires Suarez, family celebrates

A byproduct of the move was that Patrick could indulge his growing love of baseball, which his youth spent partially stateside helped forge. He enrolled P.J. in Little League, where the younger Conlon thrived. He went on to attend the University of San Diego and become a 13th-round pick of the Mets. MLB Pipeline ranks the left-hander as New York's No. 24 prospect.

Monday, with his father and Scottish-born mother in attendance, Conlon became the first Irish-born player to reach the Majors since Cork native Joe Cleary recorded a single out for the Washington Senators in 1945. Aside from that, the last Irish-born big leaguers played more than a century ago.

"I've gotten unbelievable support, and all these people reaching out to me yesterday and today," said Conlon, who has an Irish flag stitched onto his glove. "It means a lot. You could see them in the stands, waving the Irish flags. They're proud of it, and I'm proud of it."

Video: NYM@CIN: Conlon's parents on son's big league debut

Leaning on the plus changeup that forged his reputation as a prospect, Conlon retired seven of the first eight batters he faced, allowing nothing more than a walk before Billy Hamilton ripped an 85-mph fastball over the fence in the third inning. Their second time through the lineup, Reds hitters found more success against the left-hander, chasing Conlon with three doubles and a walk in the fourth.

"I thought he threw the ball great," Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. "He wasn't afraid to pitch in off the plate to set up his offspeed stuff."

All the while, Conlon's cheering section remained enthusiastic -- never more so than when he slashed a single back up the middle in his second career at-bat. Conlon later came around to score on Yoenis Cespedes' sacrifice fly, but the jammed thumb he sustained while swinging the bat played into his early exit.

Video: NYM@CIN: Conlon fans Barnhart for his first career K

That, combined with the fact that the Mets sent Conlon back down to the Minors on Tuesday to clear space for a fresh bullpen arm in right-hander Corey Oswalt, cast the thinnest shadow over Conlon's debut. Conlon, for his part, was simply happy to make it. Sleeping in a Salt Lake City, Utah, hotel room on Sunday morning, Conlon missed a call from Triple-A Las Vegas manager Tony DeFrancesco, who tried again on the pitcher's hotel room phone. Keen to keep sleeping, Conlon picked up the receiver and slammed it back down.

Only when his phone rang a second time did Conlon consider it serious enough to answer. It turned out to be his call to the big leagues and to a slice of Irish history.

"It's just something you dream about," Conlon said. "It was cool. It was just so fun. It was a heck of an experience."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.

New York Mets, P.J. Conlon