John Fitzgerald always had suitable baseball fields to play on growing up. Competing in high school and playing some college ball, Fitzgerald couldn’t imagine trying to overcome poor field conditions, or not even having a ballpark.
What Fitzgerald couldn’t grasp growing up without is a reality for the small but steadily growing number of baseball players in Ireland. That’s why the Valhalla native is making the effort to help raise money to build a park in a country where the American national pastime has only recently started to resonate with the population and the places to play are few and far between.
The facility would cater to players, young children to adults, and would be a boost for those who love to play.
“If it was like that over here (in the United States), baseball wouldn’t be as popular,” Fitzgerald said. “Having a nice facility to play, it’s not the most important thing but it’s very important for mass adoption, mass acceptance in a country, especially in a country where the sport’s not played (much).”
Fitzgerald created a non-profit organization, The Baseball United Foundation, to raise funds for the new facility, which would be located about 18 miles outside of Dublin, in Ashbourne, County Meath. The Irish national team is also making a push to raise the $20,000 for the new park. Once the money is raised, the Irish government is expected to provide the remainder of the funding.
While baseball is a nascent sport in Ireland, the new ballpark would be a significant boost to the youngsters who already play and possibly catch the attention of those not yet interested. Currently, an open field with some netting and portable bases are the best for many of the country’s young participants. There are now an estimated 500 players in Ireland’s youth and adult leagues.
Besides a field in Dublin, the capital of the country, Fitzgerald said, “everything else is just a grassy field where they just throw down bases and they play and then an hour after the game there’s no evidence that there was a baseball field there because it’s not a real field.”
The Ashbourne facility would include youth and adult fields, batting cages, bullpens, scoreboards and permanent seating. It will serve as the home of the Ashbourne Baseball Club, in addition to hosting national and international tournaments for the Irish National Baseball Team.
For Fitzgerald, it was a no-brainer to join the cause.
“I found out they were trying to build a field and I contacted them and asked them how I could help,” he said.
Depending on how much a person contributes, donors can receive a thank you gift. One of those gifts is a DVD of “The Emerald Diamond,” a documentary that Fitzgerald financed and helped create. Released in 2006, it debuted at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville and received excellent reviews from The New York Times and other publications.
When baseball was first played in Ireland in 1995, very few people knew about the sport, Fitzgerald said. Not only has the number of players grown but so has the fan base, even if many of them aren’t active. The number of ballplayers would likely grow even more, with the arrival of a suitable place to play.
“This would be the first time they have a facility where kids can train while a game is going on,” Fitzgerald said.
The opportunities from there are endless. Hosting teams from other countries or even a European championship game at the new ballpark are possibilities, he said.
The field would also likely generate local media buzz, in addition to local parents also showing intrigue. Those are trends that have surfaced elsewhere in Great Britain and in Germany.
The target date to break ground on the park is next summer, Fitzgerald said.
“It should, based on past experience, it should give them a jumpstart to what they’re really doing there,” he said.
For more information on the project and how to donate, visit www.fieldodreams.com. Donations are being accepted until March 17.