Inner View: The Irish Baseball Society and Today’s Irish National Team
Have Their Roots, and a Pipeline, Through Cleveland
By John O’Brien, Jr.
Jay Murphy is forty years in coaching baseball, including ten years as skipper at Cleveland State University. “Coaching has taken me throughout the United States. I started coaching in 1981.”
Jay’s wife Maria was planning a vacation to Ireland for Jay, and their sons, Tommy and Danny. “I called Tom Kelly (Baseball Ireland President); he went to St. Ignatius High School – and since we had a Cleveland connection, I thought there might be an opportunity to be involved with Baseball Ireland.
“Where should we go, what should we see (with a little baseball thrown in)? First, I was researching, is there baseball in Ireland? Then I asked, what can I do?”
Jay was asked by (Major League Baseball) if he wanted to be part of the Envoy Program and coach in the first ever Baseball Academy sponsored by Major League Baseball (MLB) in China. Fourteen hours later, he was on a plane to Shanghai, China. Jay and crew started it, and it is still growing today.
Jay then became General Manager and Team Manager of an 18U [18 and under] Irish National Baseball team, then one year later took over as the General Manager for the Baseball Ireland National Teams, which included both the 18U team and the senior National Team.
The Senior National team played this past summer in a European Championship Qualifying Tournament in Slovakia…getting beat in the Championship to the host country.
Jay went from a Division I recruiter to an international recruiter. “You gotta have contacts: pro scouts, coaches, Major League Baseball, Europe, Canada.
“In players, you see many names; where do they come from? It [the Irish connection] is on their mother’s side an awful lot. To be eligible, a parent or a grandparent must be an Irish citizen. If you have citizenship, you are now available to play international baseball.
“Our season is October to August. We recruit through mostly Zoom calls. There 20-25 players on the team. Senior team players are from college, guys with professional jobs, ex-pros, amateurs – a combination of all of those.”
Enticing Baseball in Ireland
“Our daily quest is how do we engage/entice players in Ireland to play the game? In Ireland, it is really grassroots. Now we have a new indoor facility in Dublin. The impact is immense. At the end of the year, the players feeling is, ‘We are all-in for next year.’ The goal for the team is to compete for the International Championship.”
Indians Owner Paul Dolan introduced Jay to the Padres owner, who connected them to Rawlings. Rawlings didn’t just send a few bucks, they completely outfitted the team in uniforms, and a few balls as well.
“We are always trying to create relationships; make people aware of what’s happening. Ireland’s goal is to field a team of players all born in Ireland. Players today say, ‘We have a National Team?’
“Yes, and you can be a part of it. But you have to work, hard. You can represent Ireland. Character matters. Then when you come home, you can put all of this in your scrapbook.
“This game, if you are willing to allow it …, you can see and know people from all around the world – it offers once in a lifetime opportunities. But you have to be willing to take it.
“We want to bring exposure to the program and enhancement to a country. For the best part of a year, we are all helping out to get it done. This is huge for youth development (12-15 years old & 15-18 years old) in a short time. There are a small number of clubs in Ireland. Having a universal program is huge. It develops relationships as well.
“There are four adult fields in Ireland. Any support that the program has, goes to the national program. We have things we need. Kids see that …” [Are they left feeling valued and empowered or diminished and unimportant].
“We need sponsors, equipment, volunteers on and off the field. We have fundraisers. We are not at the point yet where we are able to fund the program. The national team is self-funded. Ideally, we will find sponsors – with funding to a specific cause, representing the country of Ireland.
Put Me in Coach: An Irishman in America
Patrick Mitchell is a right-handed pitcher and infielder. He was on the Senior National Team for Ireland that played in a European Championship Qualifying Tournament this past summer, in Slovakia. Now at Andrews Osborne Academy, he has aspirations for earning a college baseball scholarship. His dad, Sean Mitchell, oversees the Dublin facility we mentioned earlier.
From Dublin, the Mitchell family roots are in Mayo. Like most Irish kids, he played Hurling, Gaelic Football and rugby growing up.
“Coach Murphy was with the Irish team as General Manager. I was upstairs doing homework one day and my dad texted me from downstairs, ‘How do you feel about going to the U.S. for your final year of high school?’
“I had been in California two years before; I was all for it. I am blessed. Four months later, I left, and started at Andrews Osborne Academy in Willoughby.
“In Ireland, no matter how good you are, it is very difficult to get exposure; how are they [colleges] going to see you? Here, the big plan is to hope to be in showcases, to be seen.
“100%, my goal is to get into a good college. I feel I will be ready for a Division 1 program; I don’t want to choose which college I go to based solely on baseball.
[For my studies], I am leaning two ways: one is Structural Engineering or Architecture, the other is History.
“I keep within myself. I know my limits. I am focusing on the next level. I don’t want to push it too far ahead. I like working out, the gym; rock climbing is good for the whole body.
A Day in the Life
“We are in practice mode. I remain focused on infield and pitching reps, getting ready for games. I live on campus, in the international dorm rooms. Breakfast is 7:00 to 7:50, get ready for school. Classes start at 8:00. Then two class periods, a break and then three more classes. Lunch. Early dinner is at 5:30.
“Most of us international students prefer dinner much later, 8 or 9, so we often order out. An hour to hour and a half for homework. Then bed 10:30 to 11:00.
“I prefer being busy; I have to be busy with something. The way the teachers at Andrews Osborne interact with students is nice. It all fits together, students with teachers – it is a good relationship.”
“Our goal is to enhance the skill set,” said Jay. “I hope Patrick will involve, encourage students at home – if you do well, you can play on the national team at international events. You (and your parents) have to be willing to take a risk.”
Want to be an Ambassador?
“I have thought about this a little bit and have talked with friends at home that play baseball,” said Patrick. “I love watching a good competitive game. I follow San Francisco.
“I pitch, play 3rd base, the outfield. Coach Murphy said my [pitching] mechanics were disconnected, the ball would spin away from me. Jay says ‘Let your last inning be efficient. Three outs in ten pitches; eight were sliders!’
“One of my friends, a pitcher [ahead of me a few years] …, I always wanted to be better than he was, at this age. I am now seventeen; he is twenty-one, and I am at the same level as he is.
“I want [young players] to be better than I was at that age, and better when they reach the next level too. I wasn’t aware at that age that opportunity would come. But younger players today are. They have seen it [through me].”
Can you Help?
Friends of Ireland “Grow the Game” Annual Fund
Baseball Ireland is the sole organization responsible for baseball across the island of Ireland. Its fundraising efforts are supported by Friends of Baseball Ireland (a U.S. Non-Profit Corporation, responsible for managing the “Grow the Game” Annual Fund) and Genesis Strategic Advisors only.
If you would like to support the efforts of Baseball Ireland, financially or with donations of baseball gloves, balls, equipment, training tools or machines, please contact Coach Jay Murphy at 216.978.8168 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyone interested in finding more information can visit https://baseballireland.ie.
League Park is one of only three historic parks that still exists today (Chicago’s Wrigley Field and Boston’s Fenway Park), as it was, long, long ago… At League Park, Home Plate, the fencing; they are all in the exact same location that they were when it all began.
Also on the grounds of League Park is the Baseball Heritage Museum, filled with timeless artifacts, history in pics, newspaper articles, books, game worn jerseys and other memorabilia. Special exhibits on a time period, such as the Negro Leagues, the Latin stars, and Cleveland History are featured. Be sure to leave time for this, you will be transported.
Another piece that caught my attention was a 3D computer animation of League Park, created with amazing detail, as a camera glides in and out of the simulated League Park. You can see the wind blowing, the neighborhood, the stands and ticket booths, exactly as they were, in the day.
The Summer Hough Night at League Park Movie Night is winding down. The last event, watching Major League is October 30th (5 to 8pm). Movies, food, books for all. Bring lawn chairs or blankets. The Museum is open until 8pm.
Baseball Heritage Museum at League Park
6601 Lexington Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44103 www.baseballheritagemuseum.org