I'm proud of Irish heritage, says Belfast's history-making Major League Baseball star PJ Conlon
The first Belfast-born Major League Baseball player in over a century has hailed his New York Mets debut on Monday night as a dream come true.
PJ Conlon, who was born on Rockview Street just off the Falls Road before his family emigrated to California when he was two years old, helped his side to a 7-6 win over the Cincinnati Reds, giving up three runs in three and two thirds innings. He left the mound with a lead as his side snapped a six-game losing streak.
A control pitcher rather than one who relies on velocity, Conlon retired seven of the first eight batters he faced before allowing a home run in the third and two more runs in the fourth, with a jammed thumb contributing to his relatively early exit.
"It's just something you dream about," said Conlon, Belfast's first Major Leaguer since 1909, when Henry McIlveen pitched for the side who would become the famed New York Yankees.
"The most nervous I got was when I was just sitting around here waiting, sitting in the clubhouse waiting for time to hit 6:30 for me to go out on the field. That's when I was most nervous.
"Once I got out there and was stretching, I just took in the surroundings. It was cool. It was just so fun. It was a heck of an experience."
The 24-year-old, who pitched with an Irish tricolour stitched into his glove, has been inundated with messages of support from the land of his birth.
"I've gotten unbelievable support and had all these people reaching out to me yesterday and today," he added. "It means a lot. You could see them in the stands, waving the Irish flags. They're proud of it and I'm proud of it."
His promotion to the side came at short notice after the Mets released former star Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom picked up an injury, but still almost two dozen family and friends made a mad dash across the country to be there in person.
And it was not just PJ who caught the attention of Mets fans with his grandparents becoming instant stars of social media. TV cameras panned to Conlon's cheering section throughout the broadcast to show the vocal support, especially after he picked up a first hit with a single up the middle in the fourth.
Twitter users especially enjoyed his grandmother clutching a St. Padre Pio prayer card throughout the outing while family members around her waved flags.
"I don't even think about it until someone brings it up and then I'm like, 'Wow, that's crazy,'" said PJ's father Patrick Conlon of the unique achievement. "It's something special. He's going down in the record books, in the Wikipedia book, which is amazing. A little kid from Belfast done good."