Ireland has become a more diverse place, and with that, our national past-times are changing and evolving.
Baseball, although a niche sport on the island, is a melting pot, with players of all different backgrounds and cultures.
“Since Ireland is now such a globalised culture and society, interests beyond what had been traditionally available to people living here have expanded,” explains Tom Kelley, the president of Baseball Ireland.
Inclusivity is something the President of Baseball Ireland prides himself on. “Our leagues definitely represent modern society. We have nationalities from all over the world, which also tells you that baseball is a global sport, not just an American past-time.”
“We are proud of our league that involves teams in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
“While the majority of players are Irish, we have players originally from the United States, of course, Canada, continental Europe, Japan, South America, even Iceland,” he explains.
Baseball has developed as a niche sport in Ireland, but has gained popularity all across Europe – Baseball Ireland have played teams from Slovenia, Italy and Portugal in the European Championships.
Kelley states that one of his greatest accomplishments was “hosting the European Baseball Championship Qualifiers in 2018 and winning this tournament.”
“Baseball is a minority sport in Ireland at the moment” says public relations officer of Baseball Ireland Adrian Kelly.
The sport may seem like an American past-time, but the hope from Baseball Ireland is that it is going to become a well beloved game in Ireland for all.
“We have seen modest growth in our leagues, especially with the youth side, in recent years, and I think this can be explained by easier access to the game and the efforts that Baseball Ireland has done to grow the game,” says Tom Kelley.
Getting new recruits is the biggest goal for Baseball Ireland, as more popularity leads to a greater longevity of the sport’s presence in Ireland.
Baseball Ireland has limited access to baseball diamonds around the country. As it stands now, there are only three baseball fields located in the Republic of Ireland; two in Dublin and one in Ashbourne – as well as one in Northern Ireland in Belfast.
Tom Kelley says that fields are crucial “for both players and for spectators. Fields need to be used regularly, and I would hope in highly visible public spaces.”
“It’s important for people to see us in action, and nothing better than watching a ball game. Being able to see our sport generates questions, which creates awareness and might lead to a new player joining,” Kelley explains.
Adrian Kelly states that the focus on recruitment is “through youth participation as this is a big focus of our vision and strategy for the support over the next 5 to 7 years.”
According to Tom Kelley, the sport has grown from 300 players in 2014 to 510 players in 2020 who are registered with Baseball Ireland, mostly through youth and adult baseball leagues.
Despite the slow increase of recruits, Tom Kelley reiterates that it is the passion of the game that connects their tight-knit community. “My goal as President of Baseball Ireland,” he says, “is to deliver the best baseball experience possible to our members.
“Maybe that will create more Irish champions, maybe more children will pick up the sport, we mainly just want people to enjoy the sport, and build supporting communities within a nurturing and safe environment.”