P.J. Conlon, the southpaw from the Falls Road of Belfast, impresses new Mets manager Mickey Callaway.
Spring, the season of hope, is just around the corner. And that signals that spring training games are about to begin. Hope burns eternal for all baseball players in the spring and there’s a lot of hope being tossed P.J. (for Patrick Joshua) Conlon’s way at the New York Mets camp in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
Conlon is a pitcher on the Mets Pacific Coast League affiliate in Las Vegas. He is a smallish 5’11”, 192 pounds, but he has two things that may make splashes by the end of the season at Citi Field in Flushing, New York—he is a lefthander and he was born on the Falls Road in Belfast.
Remembering Joe Cleary
Not since Joe Cleary in 1945 has an Irish-born player played in the major leagues. 1945 was a war year and all the good players were in the service. The Cork-born Cleary, 26 at the time, made his debut in August for the perennial godawful Washington Senator (“First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League”). To put it mildly, Cleary wasn’t very good. His total baseball line consisted of one-third of an inning pitched: 5 hits, 3 walks, 1 wild pitch, 7 earned runs and a truly remarkable ERA of 189.19. In all fairness to Cleary, it should be noted that the only “out” in his major league career was a strikeout.
The one thing you can say about Joe Cleary is that he had a sense of humor: “The man was up to bat for the second time during the inning,” Cleary was quoted in the Baltimore Post. “He hit two wicked fouls down the third base side. I decided to waste a pitch at that point. I did such a good job of wasting it, that it sailed about two feet to the right of home plate, and by the time the catcher had retrieved it, the runner on first had made it to third. The batter was laughing so hard that he totally missed my next pitch and struck out.” But the most important thing is that Joe Cleary made it to the “show,” as the players call coming to the major leagues. But as Cleary said himself, “Hey I was there. Only 14,000 guys have made it.” Read more about Joe Cleary here. Hopefully, a better fate awaits the young Conlon.
Conlon as a LOGGY
Conlon has a pretty good pedigree. He was a 13th round draft choice of the Mets in 2015 and he has rapidly progressed through the farm system, a sign of a good prospect. Last year he won eight games while losing 9 with Binghamton of the AA Eastern League with an impressive 3.38 ERA, slightly better than Joe Cleary’s 189.19. He also threw a league-leading three shutouts.
Michael Mayer of MetsMerizedOnline.com reported that Conlon has already caught the eye of new Mets manager Mickey Callaway, a man renowned for knowing pitching. And it’s beginning to look as if Conlon major league future may depend on him becoming a LOGGY— “Lefty One-Out GuY”—baseball parlance for a lefty who makes his living getting lefthanded hitters out.
According to Mayer, Callaway said Conlon’s “change-up is going to play against lefties.” Callaway asked Jay Bruce, the lefty-swinging slugging Mets outfielder what he thought about Conlon and the veteran replied, “Yeah, it’s pretty good.”
“I think,” concluded Callaway, “he’s another piece of the puzzle that can help us sometimes in the future.”
The rap on Conlon is that he doesn’t throw that hard. He’s one of those little lefties that maxes out about 88 MPH. His secret is his devastating change-up. A great change can make an 88 MPH fastball look like it’s about 95 MPH. It is a pitch that tantalizes major league hitters and makes them look foolish. MLB.com rated Conlon change as a 60 on a 60-80 scale, which is outstanding. They also said that Conlon’s control—his ability to put the ball where he wants to put it—also at a 60. Check it out here.
The Journey from the Falls Road
“My dad is from Ireland and my mom is from Scotland,” Conlon told IrishCentral several years ago. “They met in California, married, then went back to Belfast where I was born. We came back to Orange County when I was 2-years-old.”
His memories of Belfast are recent. “When I was 16 I went to visit my cousins for three weeks. It was a lot of fun and a cool stay.”
Conlon throws both a two- and four-seam fastball, change-up, curve and slider. The change is his “out” pitch and admits it’s “come a long way” in the time he has been a professional. “A lot of people don’t like hitting against lefties. I feel my arm is in good shape to throw multiple days.”
He went on to say, “I’m a bit more of a control pitcher, not a hard thrower. I had to put the ball where I wanted to. I would credit that to my college pitching coach. At San Diego, I learned my change-up. My command. It was because of going to college that I got that kind of command.”
It looks like Mickey Callaway’s plan to turn him into a LOGGY shouldn’t bother him. “I can see myself doing either. I have the stuff and longevity to be a starter. I got a taste of pitching out of the bullpen in Brooklyn. I don’t have a preference of the two. My ultimate goal is to pitch in the major leagues.”
Dermot McEvoy is the author of the "The 13th Apostle: A Novel of a Dublin Family, Michael Collins, and the Irish Uprising" and "Our Lady of Greenwich Village," now available in paperback from Skyhorse Publishing. He may be reached firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at www.dermotmcevoy.com. Follow The 13th Apostle on Facebook at www.facebook.com/13thApostleMcEvoy.