Former Cyclone P.J. Conlon makes history in MLB debut
Mets’ pitcher becomes first Irish-born player since World War II
The crowd was sparse, but the fans who showed up in Cincinnati Monday night to witness the historic Major League debut of former Brooklyn Cyclones southpaw P.J. Conlon were certainly hardy.
The 24-year-old native of Belfast became the first Irish-born player in the big leagues since World War II, tossing 3 2/3 innings to help the parent-club New York Mets end a season-high six-game losing streak with a 7-6 victory over the Reds in front of 15,187 fans at the Great American Ballpark.
Though the announced attendance was far less than the amount of empty red seats at the Reds’ hitter-friendly park, Conlon’s family and friends flew in from Southern California to relish the moment, waving Irish flags throughout his stint.
Conlon, who broke into pro ball right here on Coney Island in the summer of 2015, spinning a perfect 0.00 ERA in 17 innings over 17 relief appearances while fanning 17 and walking only two, only lasted into the fourth frame before being lifted for fellow Cyclones alum Paul Sewald.
The left-hander, who had an Irish flag stitched into his glove for the occasion, surrendered three runs on four hits and two walks with one strikeout before getting the hook from Mets skipper Mickey Callaway.
“I thought he threw the ball great,” Callaway said of Conlon, who retired all but one of the first eight batters he faced before the Reds got a feel for his arsenal.
“He wasn’t afraid to pitch in off the plate to set up his off-speed stuff.”
The so-so outing, which ended prematurely due to a thumb injury suffered after delivering his first big league hit and run scored during the Mets’ half of the fourth, hardly put a damper on an appearance Conlon had been waiting for since being selected by the Mets in the 13tt round of the 2015 MLB Draft.
“I’ve gotten unbelievable support, and all these people reaching out to me yesterday and today,” said Conlon, who also got some early help via ex-Cyclones slugger Michael Conforto’s leadoff homer in the top of the first.
“It means a lot,” he added of becoming the first Irish-born MLBer since Cork native Joe Cleary in 1945, and the first from Belfast since Harry McIlveen in 1909. “You could see them in the stands, waving the Irish flags. They’re proud of it, and I’m proud of it.”
Even prouder were Conlon’s parents, who were interviewed before and during the contest.
“I don’t even think about it until someone brings it up and then I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s crazy,'” Conlon’s father, Patrick, told MLB.com before revealing that he had been getting congratulatory texts from family members back in Northern Ireland.
“It’s something special,” the senior Conlon added. “He’s going down in the record books, in the Wikipedia book, which is amazing. A little kid from Belfast done good.”
Conlon’s call-up may be short-lived as he was only added to the Mets’ 25-man roster Sunday afternoon when it was announced that New York ace Jacob deGrom would be placed on the 10-day disabled list, retroactive to May 3, with an elbow injury.
But the University of San Diego alum is clearly on a path toward an extended big league stay as he has excelled at each level in the Mets’ minor league chain, blowing away opponents out of the Brooklyn bullpen before being converted into a starter.
Conlon went a combined 12-2 with a 1.65 ERA in 24 outings, including 23 starts, split between Class-A Columbus and Class A-Advanced St. Lucie in 2016, and was 8-9 with a 3.38 ERA in 28 appearances at Double-A Binghamton last year.
Though he was 1-2 with an unsightly 6.75 ERA in his first five starts at Triple-A Las Vegas thus far this year, Conlon got the call when the Mets needed an emergency fill-in for deGrom.
It was a call he didn’t believe was for him at first as he hung up on the initial ring from the unfamiliar area code.
But Las Vegas 51s manager Tony DeFrancesco called him into his office, it became real in a hurry.
“I’m like, ‘OK, am I making a spot start [Sunday] or am I being pushed back?’” Conlon asked DeFrancesco when he was informed that he wouldn’t be starting for Las Vegas on Monday.
“He said I’m starting in Cincinnati. I was totally surprised. It came out of nowhere.”
With deGrom tentatively slated to return to the hill Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia and Conlon dealing with a jammed thumb, the former Cyclones relief ace may find himself back at Triple-A Las Vegas by the end of the week.
But for one night, Conlon was exactly where he envisioned being since he and his family relocated from Belfast to Southern California when he was just two years old.
“It’s just something you dream about,” he said. “It was cool. It was just so fun. It was a heck of an experience.”
This, That and the Other Thing: Conforto, who batted a sizzling .331 over 41 games during his pro debut season on Coney Island back in 2014, finished 2-for-5 in support of Conlon on Monday night. The former National League All-Star has been an early season swoon since returning from a gruesome shoulder injury that ended his 2016 campaign. Conforto belted his first homer since Opening Day to put the Mets in front for good and added a single later in the contest for his first multi-hit effort of the month. “Guys were swinging it today,” Conforto said after boosting his average to .198. “Everybody put together great at-bats. It just felt good to start the game that way.”
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