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Baseball amid the wee shamrocks

After 14 years I thought I'd licked the problem of being a blow-in here, someone permanently stuck on the outside looking in. In many ways, I'm now more Irish than the Irish themselves. For instance, I have very relaxed notions about arriving on time for social engagements, and any American ideas I may have about social reform - say, a more responsive health service or improved public recreational facilities - are now tempered with a native's sense of resignation.

Where sports are concerned, however, I'll always be a Yank and a Bostonian first and foremost. Sure, I love soccer and follow the fortunes of England's Premier League teams. I'm also intrigued by hurling and Gaelic football, and I never miss the All-Ireland Finals each September. But at the end of the day it's my hometown teams that really matter.

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This is especially true at this time of year, the beginning of baseball season, with our hopes riding high for another (unlikely) Red Sox championship. But before you offer any sympathy for this thwarted fan, stranded thousands of miles away from Fenway Park, wait a moment. Believe it or not, baseball is here, on the ground, in Ireland, having taken hold among a dedicated core of players and coaches.

As this spring's inaugural World Baseball Classic demonstrated by attracting thousands of fans to ballparks in Japan, Puerto Rico, and the US, America's national pastime has branched out over the past several decades, with enough talent spread across the Caribbean and Far East to put together a legitimate international tournament.

Perhaps someday Ireland will field a respectable national team and join the festivities. At the moment, though, even with a sprinkling of American expats on the roster - there are roughly 60,000 of us living here, some former college athletes with Irish roots - our team, a plucky band of shamrock-wearing amateurs, still struggles even against weak European competition. (There is hope, however, that the game will benefit from a PR windfall when "The Emerald Diamond," New Yorker John Fitzgerald's documentary about baseball in Ireland, eventually hits the movie houses here.)

But Irish success on the international "diamond" scene is still apple-pie-in-the-sky thinking. For now the game is being nourished at a grass-roots level and is helping to reconnect many displaced Americans (and their kids) with an invaluable piece of our national culture. As I've discovered myself, this often occurs by chance.

For instance, two years ago a friend in the United States - who had lived for a time in Ireland - pointed me in the direction of a local T-ball program for my son.

When we reported for the first session, I had trouble keeping to the sidelines. I introduced myself to the woman in charge - an energetic and outgoing Yank on temporary reassignment to Ireland - and soon we were a management team.

It's now a couple of seasons later. My son has since moved up a level, and I've followed him as his coach. But preaching the gospel of baseball to a group of 7- to 9-year-olds who are unfamiliar with the terminology and even the basic rules of the game, can be a dispiriting business at times. The kids have to rely on the basic equipment we provide - most don't own their own gloves - and after they leave us each week they won't hone their skills in neighborhood pickup games. They have no favorite players to mimic on the field because they'll rarely, if ever, see the game played, either in person or on TV.

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Not ideal coaching conditions.

And yet my personal connection to the game - as well as the enjoyment it can bring when played under a carefree summer sky - carries me back each Wednesday afternoon to the village green we share with wandering dogs and lounging teens and strolling seniors. Among our group of sprouting players are Irish, Dutch, Spanish, and American kids - all united for two hours a week to field balls, round bases, and slide home.

Steve Coronella is a freelance writer.


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