Irish baseball looks to build on their first-ever European success

Last weekend, the U18 side won their European Baseball Championship Qualifiers pool.

The Irish team celebrate their win.
The Irish team celebrate their win.
Image: Baseball Ireland

JUST FOUR MONTHS ago, the Irish U18 baseball team didn’t exist.

Last weekend, they won their 2017 U18 European Baseball Championship Qualifiers pool — going undefeated in the process — to qualify for next year’s tournament proper.

And the make-up of the team might be one of the most interesting in Irish sport with Baseball Ireland teaming up with the Baseball United Foundation, a non-profit organisation in the United States, to build a roster with players sourced from Ashbourne to California.

Baseball United’s mission is simple, share the game of baseball around the world and, in March 2016, put out a call for players in the US to represent Ireland.

The one caveat, they had to qualify for Irish citizenship and have at least one parent or grandparent who was born in Ireland.

The response was huge and the success immediate.

“This whole project came together thanks to our partnership with Baseball United,” says Tom Kelley, president of Baseball Ireland.

“Last week was the first time we entered a team in a competition at this age grade and we were going up against much more experienced teams in the likes of Belgium, Poland, Russia and the hosts, Switzerland.

“The team went undefeated in the group stage and weren’t really challenged.

“In the final, we won 12-0 and Kevin Brady, the starter, pitched a no-hitter which is a huge achievement in all forms of baseball, let alone at this level.

“We’re in a rebuilding stage for the entire programme but we want to build on this win and maintain the U18 team but there are also going to be some players aging out of that grade soon and we are going to try to transition them into the senior team.”

screenshot.1500567342.6534 The team before the final. Source: Baseball Ireland/Facebook

Brady, from Cornwall, New York, is joined on the team by his twin brother Kyle who pitched the opening game for Ireland in last week’s tournament in Zurich.

And Kelley is hoping their success in Switzerland will encourage even more youngsters — both from the diaspora and Irish resident — to team up in future tournaments.

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“We had a huge social media reaction to the win and we’re getting a lot of questions about baseball from people in Ireland.

“As well as creating an interest in the game here, we also hope it strengthens the relationship between Ireland and the US and I think Ireland has a real competitive advantage over other teams in the fact it can tap into a player pool, not just in America, but in the UK and elsewhere.”

Kelley, originally from Cleveland Ohio but living in Ireland for 22 years, says that if people want to take up the game, the best place to start is on the Baseball Ireland website and to find out where their local club is.

With a 100% success rate so far, the future certainly looks bright for the sport.

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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