Irishman closing in on New York Mets Major League debut
The last time a Belfast-born player graced Major League Baseball, the construction of the Titanic was barely under way in Harland and Wolff.
But the 109 year wait for Harry McIlveen's successor could be about to end. A left-handed pitcher by the recognisably-Belfasty name of PJ Conlon is putting his name well in the frame for a place on the New York Mets' roster for the 2018 season.
He has been knocking on the door for some time - this time last year he was also being tipped for a debut in the top tier of the historic American sport. But this time round, his three Spring Training games (pre-season friendlies in our money) have caught the attention of Mets manager Mickey Callaway in an attempt to earn a spot on the Mets' roster. Here's a sample of what he can offer:
As you can see, Conlon, who moved Stateside with his family aged just two, is a left-handed pitcher. While his fastest pitch, which comes in at around 90mph, lags behind the pitching prowess of some MLB stars, the hope is that the 23-year-old could forge a profitable career as a LOOGY.
What's that when it's at home, we hear you ask. Well after consulting our baseball-enthusiast friend named Mr G Oogle, we can tell you that it's a 'Lefty One-Out Guy'. The LOOGY will come in solely to conquer a particularly troublesome left-handed batter and the hope among the Mets staff is that Conlon could prove just such a weapon.
Key to his arsenal will be a 'changeup' - a slower ball that has the appearance of a fast pitch, therby bamboozling the batter.
“He was throwing the ball where he wanted to, pitching in off the plate, good changeup down and away,” boss Mickey Callaway told the New York Post of Conlon's Spring Training displays. “It looks like his changeup is going to play against lefties. I asked (Jay) Bruce (three-time All-Star batter) about his changeup he said ‘pretty good,’ so I think he’s another piece of the puzzle that can help us sometime in the near future.”
In the three pre-season games in which Conlon has featured this term, he has an ERA of 2.7. You're looking blank but you should be impressed. ERA is the average number of runs conceded by a pitcher per nine-innings pitched (length of a game).
That's even better than his 3.51 ERA in the AA last season - a league for developing players aiming to carve a route to the MLB.
If Conlon is able to take that last step this season, the man born on the Falls Road will bridge that 109 year gap and become only the second Belfast export to reach the highest height of baseball.
Watch this space.