Ireland used to produce baseball players

It's not quite as tough as missing Thanksgiving, but Opening Day in Ireland is pretty flat experience. It's not as if there's a great buzz in the neighborhood or even in the papers or on TV or anywhere really. Today is just March 31 in Ireland, but it's a special day in America.

At least those few of us who care can watch the games thanks to digital television and broadband. Still it would be great if there was even something of a buzz here about the start of a new baseball season.

I've often wondered if there were a few players from Ireland would that create an interest in baseball here. Hard to say, but it's not that likely to happen. Baseball's no longer dominated by the sons of Irish immigrants as it was in the years before World War I.

Back then some of the biggest names in baseball were sons of immigrants, including John McGraw, "Wee" Willie Keeler and the game's first superstar, Mike "King" Kelly. None of those all-time greats was actually born in Ireland, however.

There have been Major Leaguers born in Ireland, 44 in all, but none recently and none were stars.

The best of the Irish-born players were Jack Doyle from Killorglin, County Kerry and Patsy Donovan {photo} from Queenstown (Cobh), County Cork. Both Doyle and Donovan played for 17 years in the big leagues, with Doyle finishing up in 1905 and Donovan two years later.

Obviously I never saw either of them play, but statistically they were very similar players. Both of them hit just around .300 for their careers and both stole 518 bases. Donovan was an outfielder and Doyle played a few positions, but mostly first base.

The last Irish-born player in the major leagues was Joe Cleary from Cork who pitched in one game in 1945 without distinction.

Just something to wet your whistle while you're waiting for the games to begin in a few hours. For us Met fans, Opening Day is tomorrow night (that's just wrong - the first game should always be a day game) and despite all the bad press about money and Bernie Madoff, Opening Day is all about hope and we're expecting a great run and fun in September.

{Photo: from Vintage Baesball in Ireland}

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