Belfast Telegraph

Watch: Belfast's New York Mets hopeful PJ Conlon unleashes thunderous 90mph baseball pitch

By Jonny Bell

You have probably never heard of him, but a Belfast man is making a pitch to become one of the world's biggest sports stars.

Patrick Joshua - or PJ - Conlon will this weekend join the New York Mets, an American baseball team, for their training camp ahead of the new season.

If everything goes well and he makes the team's start-of-season roster, he will create a piece of history.

The 23-year-old would become the first Belfast-born major-league player in over 100 years, only the 48th Irish man to feature in the sport and the second in the modern era of Major League Baseball.

Born on Rockville Street off the Falls Road, Conlon moved to California when he was two, later making a name for himself and his 90mph fast-ball.

He described getting a chance with the New York Mets, one of the biggest teams in America, as a dream come true.

"There is no better way to learn," he said.

"I just want to be around the big leaguers and see what I can pick up from them."

Baseball is one of America's premier sports, with its biggest stars pocketing multimillion-dollar wage packets that would put to shame your average Premier League footballer.

Conlon has been lapping up the plaudits. He starred in the minor leagues last year and his trophy cabinet is already sagging under the weight of his awards.

Being a left-hander, he could soon find himself in demand.

"This could get interesting," wrote American baseball writer Kevin Kearnan when listing his slew of impressive stats ahead of the new season.

Conlon's mother, Susan, who was born in Scotland, met his Belfast father, Patrick, in California during their college years before moving to Northern Ireland to begin their family.

They decided to return to America when PJ was a toddler, around 1995. "My parents kind of decided the best decision, the safest decision, was to move to California,'' Conlon said.

His dad is a PE teacher, and aunt Marie McCoy told the Belfast Telegraph that is where PJ and his two brothers, Noah and Gavin, made their first catch in the sport.

She has only seen him take to the field in junior games, but she said he always generated a big reaction from the crowd.

"We are all really proud of him - my brother is ecstatic about him," she added. "He was back here when he was 17 and did a tour of the city and saw his first home. He was shocked at the size of the house.

"We go over regularly and the baseball is such a big thing for everyone. There is a real social aspect to the sport.

"For me, it is just a good night out, but even with knowing little of the sport you can tell that he has something special - it's obvious from the reaction he gets.

"Everyone just wanted to see him play - and you could really sense it.

"PJ has had the knack from a very young age and his younger brother looks like following him into the sport.

"He has quite a lot of friends and family here and it is all we are talking about. We just hope he does well."

Speaking of his last visit to Belfast, Conlon said: "I'm always getting calls from Ireland - they are sending me messages on Facebook, saying they are keeping up with my career and they are actually learning how baseball works and understanding it. It's pretty cool.

"We have a ton of family over there, so it was a really cool thing to be able to go. I'm hoping to go back some time soon."

The Mets are based in the Queens borough of New York and are in the National League (NL) East division. They are one of two Major League clubs based in the city - the other is the New York Yankees.

One of baseball's first expansion teams, the Mets were founded in 1962 to replace New York's departed NL teams, the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants.

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