O’Malley’s baseball seed flourishing in auld sod

The US Navy’s baseball team, the Rota Blue Devils, will make history in July along with the Liverpool Trojans when they play at the first ever Peter O’Malley Invitational Tournament in Dublin.

The last time two overseas baseball teams took each other on in Dublin, Croke Park was the venue for a 1946 exhibition game between the Dodgers and the Yankees.

Ok, so admittedly the real boys of summer from Brooklyn and the Bronx never managed to reach the sacred turf. In fact it was American servicemen on their way home from the war who were representing the less renowned Burtonwood Dodgers and the Mildenhall Yankees in what must have been a poignant if a little underwhelming occasion.

Certainly underwhelming compared to the World Series which would take place over a year later, a seven-game instant classic between the legendary New York ballclubs, gripping that city and the rest of America at the end of Jackie Robinson’s first season.

The Yankees edged it 4-3, leaving the Dodgers to wait a little longer before the promise of “next year” would finally bear fruit. Between 1941 and 1955, they reached the World Series six times and lost the first five to the Yankees, finally beating them in ’55.

Becoming a man throughout this oft-romanticised era, Peter O’Malley watched on as his father Walter moved up through the ranks of the Dodgers organisation. The younger O’Malley would eventually guide the iconic franchise from the early 1970s right through until the late 1990s.

“My father and I had a long run,” he told me last week at the Irish-American Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cavan native Shaun Clancy’s Foley’s Pub, the Midtown Manhattan shrine to America’s Pastime.

“What Shaun Clancy has done here is remarkable and it’s significant because if he didn’t capture the tradition of the Irish-American contribution to baseball, I don’t know who else would have done that. He has captured that for posterity.”

While he was still the owner of the LA Dodgers, O’Malley took an active interest in the spread of the game he had grown up with around the world. One of the beneficiaries was Baseball Ireland, whose Corkagh Park facility in Clondalkin was his personal project.

“We got to know him in the early 90s when we were setting up the Irish Baseball League,” explains the organiser of the upcoming tournament, Mike Kindle. “He wanted to help the development of baseball in Ireland. When he heard about us and how we were developing the sport but that we played our matches on rugby and football pitches, he said, ‘that’s enough’. He donated about $140,000 for us to build the field. He’s a really lovely guy.”

Far away from the grassroots of South Co Dublin, the formerly glamorous Dodgers have gone through a rocky few years since O’Malley sold the team to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation for over $300 million in 1998.

After the subsequent disastrous reign of wildly unpopular owner Frank McCourt, O’Malley expressed an interest in making it the family business again. Instead, a consortium led by former LA Laker Magic Johnson handed over $2 billion for full control while O’Malley’s two sons and two nephews bought the San Diego Padres under the guidance of the legendary elder statesman of baseball.

“When they suggested it first, I asked them if they were crazy,” O’Malley admits with a wry smile. “They said no, ‘we think it would be fun for the family to get back into baseball’.

“So I asked them if they would move there and raise their children there. ‘Would you put your kids in school there? Would you get involved in the local community?’ They said yes and I said ‘let’s go’.

“It’s a long-term commitment. They’re there for a long time and I’m helping them from a distance. The responsibility is theirs and they’re going to be fine.

“It’s a very popular ballpark, the area around it is great. The climate is good. San Diego people will support you if they trust you and I think they trust the family. If you’re honest and upfront with a community or a fanbase about why you’re trading a player away or why you’re raising the price, they will support you.”

When he returns to Ireland on July 12, O’Malley will find a vibrant baseball scene benefiting from the generous help he offered a couple of decades ago.

“When I saw the enthusiasm, I knew it would work. I didn’t want to plant a baseball seed if I didn’t think it would grow. I was convinced it would grow because of the passion the leaders of Baseball Ireland have for the sport. They’ve rolled up their sleeves and other fields are about to be built so the future is bright.

“Someday you might have a home-run hitting first baseman from Ireland in the Major Leagues.”

njohnwriordan@gmail.com Twitter: JohnWRiordan

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