Spring training for Major League Baseball is underway, and so are renewed efforts to boost the popularity of America’s pastime in Ireland with the announcement that Steve Garvey, the legendary first baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers, has assumed the role of baseball ambassador for the Irish American Baseball Society.

Garvey was a revered player during his 19-year MLB career, spending most of it with the Dodgers. He retired in 1987 with a list of achievements a mile long, including a World Series win in 1981, 10 all-star appearances, four Golden Glove awards and the National League MVP award in 1974. He continues to hold the National League record for consecutive games played at 1,207.

“We’re bringing Irish Americans closer to their roots in Ireland by celebrating the Irish impact on the game’s history,” Garvey said in a press release issued by the Irish American Baseball Society.

“No one can deny that the Irish have always loved baseball. It’s an exciting time for the Irish baseball movement.”

Garvey, 74, was inducted into the Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009 and has retained a keen interest in his Irish roots. Born Steven Patrick Garvey in New York, his paternal great-grandfather Patrick Joseph Garvey was born in Co Galway in 1859. His great-grandmother Theresa Conroy, born a year later, came from Co Laois.

“Steve is very interested in what we are doing and the whole concept of baseball in Ireland,” John Fitzgerald, founder of the Irish American Baseball Society, told the Irish Voice, sister publication to IrishCentral.

“He’s been to Ireland at least once and I believe he marched in a St. Patrick’s Day parade over there. I first met him eight years ago and we had a nice conversation about Ireland and its connection to baseball. He’s eager to promote the links.”

Garvey will be in New York during St. Patrick’s week, and will march in the city’s parade on March 17 behind the Irish American Baseball Society banner. It’s the first time the group will take part in the march. Other meetings with local Irish American leaders and Garvey are in the works, and he’ll also attend the St. Patrick’s Day Foundation gala on March 15 at the Sheraton Hotel.

The goal is to promote baseball as an option for Irish school kids, and though it’s a big ask given the popularity of GAA games and soccer, little by little baseball is making inroads.

“This year, we expect 5,000 boys and girls in Ireland to play baseball for the first time,” Garvey said in the press release. “We need to expand the infrastructure of coaches, equipment, and playing fields necessary to meet the demand and allow more kids to play the game.” 

In 2021, the Irish American Baseball Society started a program in Northern Ireland with some schools that introduced the sport in their physical education classes, Fitzgerald says. The expansion has since traveled south, with partnerships with schools in Wexford and Dublin. The society also promotes baseball through GAA rounders teams, as rounders is similarly played.

“We help with coaching and provide some financial assistance as well. We go to areas where the interest in baseball is stronger, and we hope to start our own dedicated baseball clubs where kids can come after school or weekends and learn a little more about the game,” Fitzgerald said.

“It’s not for everybody. Some kids play other sports, and some don’t play any sports at all. We make the introduction, and take it from there based on interest.”

Fitzgerald, who directed and financed the 2006 documentary "The Emerald Diamond" about the Irish national baseball team, says that the Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame, founded by Cavan-born, former New York publican Shaun Clancy in 2008, is now part of the society. It had been housed in Clancy’s West 33rd Street pub, Foley’s, which shuttered due to the pandemic. 

Three new honorees will be announced by Garvey in March, and though the hall is in search of a new physical home after the closure of Foley’s, which displayed a huge amount of baseball memorabilia, Fitzgerald is hopeful that someday the collection will be showcased elsewhere. Other honorees include New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman, Bull Durham star Kevin Costner, the famed pitcher Nolan Ryan, and the late Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully

The Irish American Baseball Society is a non-profit with more than 10,000 members, its press release says. Members include baseball players, coaches, executives, media personalities, and fans who all share a common interest in baseball and Ireland. For more information, visit IrishBaseball.org

*This column first appeared in the February 22 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.