Baseball slowly growing in Ireland

Major league teams annually wear green caps for St. Patrick's Day spring training games, but the Baseball United Foundation has an even better way for the game to embrace Irish heritage. The New York-based foundation is trying to grow baseball in Ireland. As BUF founder John Fitzgerald says: "There are these guys in Ireland actually playing baseball, not just wearing a green T-shirt."

Fitzgerald is an American with Irish roots. After filming a documentary, "The Emerald Diamond," about Ireland's national baseball team in 2006, he created his nonprofit foundation, which partners with Baseball Ireland to provide equipment, coaching and funding for players in the country.

"Baseball is growing both in popularity and the level of play," Fitzgerald said, estimating that 500 to 600 kids play the game in Ireland. "A lot of their games are played on soccer fields with bases just thrown down. They're playing in substandard conditions and the equipment is not that good. But a lot of the kids watch baseball online. They are interested in it. It's something different and cool."

There currently are two baseball fields in Dublin, both funded by former Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley in the late '90s. A third field, dubbed "Field O'Dreams," is set to open this year in County Meath, which is north of Dublin. United Baseball played a role in helping to get fund raising to the point that it qualified for government support and money.

Fitzgerald said his goal is to have some Irish players good enough to play Division II or higher collegiate baseball in the United States within five years, and to have Ireland's national team eventually become enough of a European powerhouse to play in the World Baseball Classic.

So if buying a green Giants, Red Sox or White Sox cap doesn't quite cut it for your St. Patrick's Day interest, you can go to BaseballUnitedFoundation.org to purchase actual Irish baseball merchandise. Or make a small donation -- as part of a spring campaign, Fitzgerald is asking for contributions as low as $1 to $10.

"We're just trying to build the awareness of baseball there," he said.