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Celtic pride: Prospect Conlon raises Irish interest

Mets pitcher vying to be first player born in Ireland to appear in bigs since 1945
MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Patrick Conlon's third-period physical education class enjoyed a break from the usual curriculum last Monday when Conlon, a first-generation immigrant from Northern Ireland, treated his students to a baseball game. Everything came to a halt as Conlon's son, P.J., threw two scoreless innings against the Astros, another step in his bid to make history.

"I get more nervous than he does," the elder Conlon said, laughing in his sing-song Irish accent. "I couldn't sit down."

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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Patrick Conlon's third-period physical education class enjoyed a break from the usual curriculum last Monday when Conlon, a first-generation immigrant from Northern Ireland, treated his students to a baseball game. Everything came to a halt as Conlon's son, P.J., threw two scoreless innings against the Astros, another step in his bid to make history.

"I get more nervous than he does," the elder Conlon said, laughing in his sing-song Irish accent. "I couldn't sit down."

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Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, P.J. Conlon has a chance to become the first Irish-born big leaguer since Joe Cleary recorded a single out for the Washington Senators in 1945. A strong bet to begin this season at Double-A Binghamton, Conlon, ranked the Mets' No. 24 prospect, according to MLBPipeline.com, has recently gained a modicum of celebrity in his native country, where local news outlets -- some with only a passing knowledge of baseball, which remains a niche sport throughout much of Europe -- have taken a fancy to his quest.

"Everybody in Belfast, and even in Scotland where my wife's from, they all follow him," Patrick Conlon said. "But they don't know the game. They're starting to follow it a little bit."

Video: Top Prospects: P.J. Conlon, LHP, Mets

That was not the case when Conlon first arrived in the United States in 1977, a twist of fate bringing his family to Southern California instead of South Africa. Over the ensuing two decades, Conlon bounced between California and Belfast, eventually settling in the latter city's Falls Road community. Not long after, Falls Road became an epicenter for "The Troubles," a violent conflict between the area's largely Catholic nationalists and Protestant loyalists to the British monarchy. In 1996, when P.J. was 2, the family fled to California for good.

A side benefit of the move was that Patrick Conlon could again indulge on his growing love of baseball, which his own childhood -- as well as the successes of the mid-80s Anaheim Angels -- helped incubate. Patrick enrolled P.J. in Little League, where the younger Conlon thrived. At a youth tournament in Cooperstown, N.Y., Conlon set records for fewest pitches in a complete game (38) and most pickoffs in a game (five) that still stand today.

Video: HOU@NYM: Conlon gets White to ground into double play

Eventually, Conlon moved on to the University of San Diego, where he became a teammate of Cubs star Kris Bryant and a 13th-round Draft pick of the Mets. Though Conlon throws with relatively low velocity and an unorthodox, left-handed delivery that he laughingly describes as "flailing my arms," he has experienced little but success in the system. His 1.65 ERA over two levels last season led all of Minor League Baseball.

"We're thrilled with what he's done so far," Mets director of Minor League operations Ian Levin said. "He just has a great knowledge for how to pitch and how to use his stuff, and we'll see how far that will take him."

Video: HOU@NYM: Conlon discusses his first spring start

If it ultimately takes Conlon to the big leagues, he will become the 48th Irish-born player in big league history, but the first since World War II. As one dream grows closer to reality, the implications of that history become clearer.

"I take a lot of pride in that," Conlon said. "My family has really deep Irish roots, and we still have a lot of family over in Ireland that contact me a lot. ... Hopefully if that happens, that can help kickstart baseball over there a little bit and get them more interested."

"Just the thought of him getting a chance to play in the big leagues, I never fathomed it," the elder Conlon added. "I never thought it was reality, a possibility. But you never know. You never know."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

New York Mets, P.J. Conlon