“Baseball is basically my entire identity. I just eat, sleep and breathe it 12 months a year,” laughed Conor McNamara, junior pitcher on the Marist College Baseball Team. But he’s not making a joke.
In addition to pitching for Marist, the 20-year-old reliever pitches for the Irish National Team and competes in the Cape Cod Baseball League. So when McNamara said things like, “I really don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t playing baseball,” he wasn’t just speaking in clichés. Baseball simply is who Conor McNamara is.
The most unique chapter of McNamara’s baseball story is his aforementioned involvement with the Irish National Baseball Team. At first glance, it might seem odd that a kid like McNamara — who hails from Eastchester, New York — plays baseball for a country over 3,000 miles away. But thanks to Ireland’s citizenship process, the New York native is able to strike out batters all across Europe in the name of the green, white and orange. It works like this: all people with parents or grandparents who were born in Ireland are eligible for Irish citizenship, even if they were born somewhere else. Since Conor has a grandparent born in Limerick, Ireland, he was able to apply for and eventually obtain Irish citizenship.
Even though Conor may not hail from Ireland directly, he still grew up in touch with his Irish roots. As a kid, he’d visit, and found enjoyment in following Irish sports — hurling for one — as a kid. McNamara still has family in Ireland that come watch him play, and they were there in Ashbourne when he and his Irish teammates won Pool C of the Confederation of European Baseball (CEB) Tournament, which McNamara recalled as his favorite baseball memory to date. Taking all these factors into account, it should come as no surprise that McNamara says he enjoys baseball the most when he is playing for Team Ireland.
When Conor first went to play in Ireland, he didn’t really know what to expect. Ireland isn’t exactly known for it’s baseball prowess, so Conor tempered his expectations. When he got there, however, he was pleasantly surprised. “The locals that play are very good and take it very seriously,” McNamara said. “We learned quickly as American-born players that we came over, not to save the day or anything, but just to help grow the sport, help the team take the next step.”
Growing the sport in Ireland is one of the team’s principal goals, and even having American-born college players like Conor join the team is helping that cause. Most of the local players on the team are 25-30-years-old and have day jobs — including one teammate who Conor said has a doctorate in physics — and can’t dedicate the same time to the game younger players can.
Bringing youthful, promising players into the fold helps Team Ireland win and ultimately attract more players to join the team. When Ireland beat Greece in the Pool C final with a score of 12-2 on home soil, Conor said it was the most fans he’d seen in the stadium, with thousands more watching on Facebook Live. The six-foot three-inch righty will head back to Europe this upcoming summer, specifically heading to Bulgaria, as Team Ireland is set to play in Pool B of the CEB Tournament, hoping to continue to grow the sport.
McNamara spends just a week per summer playing for Team Ireland, so the rest of his summer is spent doing the only thing Conor McNamara would do with some free time: playing more baseball. In 2017, Conor started the summer season playing in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League where he found a lot of success, going 3-1 with a 1.78 ERA in seven appearances
He would ultimately be named to the North All-Star Team. When the Hamptons League season ended, the Brewster Whitecaps of the Cape Cod League — who had seen Conor’s success in the Hamptons — came calling. They wanted McNamara for the end of their season and their playoff run, so he packed his bags and went to Cape Cod to — what else — play even more baseball.
“Playing there was incredible, and it was definitely the most talent I’ve been around,” he said. “College baseball is tough, but that was next level.”
McNamara more than held his own, as he made four appearances and finished with two wins and a 2.19 ERA. One of those wins came in the playoffs, where McNamara threw seven innings against the Orleans Firebirds, allowing one run on four hits. He and the Whitecaps would go on to win the Cape League Championship, beating Bourne 2-0 in the finals.
In 2018, Conor signed a temporary contract and made one appearance for Brewster. He pitched well, but was ultimately released by the team. “It’s cut-throat,” he said. “Stuff like that just happens sometimes.” Of course, the summer of 2018 was the same summer that Conor and Team Ireland would win Pool C and advance to Pool B, so any feeling of disappointment McNamara felt certainly didn’t linger.
Playing for Team Ireland and the Brewster Whitecaps has really helped McNamara when it comes to pitching for Marist. “I’ve learned a lot being around different coaches, and I try to take all the information I can to better myself, and this year I feel like I’ve used a lot of it,” McNamara said. “There’s still a long way to go, but playing other places certainly broadens your horizons and you learn a lot… I try to bring it in here and share it with other guys.”
McNamara was a starter last year for the Red Foxes, but has moved to a new role this season as a closer and a setup man. At the halfway point this year, McNamara has already almost matched his career high in appearances and is on pace for his best statistical season to date. The righty says that no matter how the team uses him, he just tries to “come in, pound the zone, get quick outs and hold the line.” But it seems like McNamara might have found a permanent home in his new role.
His adaptability can likely be accredited to playing for so many different teams, or maybe it might simply be due to that fact Conor McNamara just loves baseball.
When it came to wondering about what’s next after baseball, the mere proposition hung out in the air over Marist pitcher Conor McNamara like a misplaced curveball.
The 20-year-old reliever fell speechless, which truly said more than words could. For McNamara, baseball is such a part of who he is that looking beyond to a world without it is unthinkable. If there is baseball to be played, no matter if it’s across the Atlantic Ocean or in his backyard, Conor McNamara will be there — ready to play, glove in hand.
You can see it in way he acts and you can hear it in his voice when he talks about the sport: baseball simply is who Conor McNamara is.
Edited by Will Bjarnar & Meaghan Roche
Header image courtesy of Marist Athletics