Spreading the game to the Emerald Isle
Keuka alum Sculli uses experience to coach Irish team
KEUKA PARK, N.Y. -- Ireland is known for its unique style of dance, spectacular coastlines and challenging golf courses, but when it comes to baseball, the Emerald Isle is behind the rest of the world.
Among the sporting pursuits more popular than baseball in Ireland are Gaelic football (a physically demanding sport combining rugby, soccer and basketball), soccer, golf and boxing.
Baseball, America’s pastime, didn’t officially infiltrate the Irish culture until 1989 when the Irish Baseball & Softball Federation formed with a stated goal of cultivating baseball and softball players throughout the country.
The Irish first fielded an international team in the mid-1990s and started competing in the European Championships in 1996, with the national team earning a fourth-place finish in the Pool B championships in 2004, followed by a second-place finish in the 2008 championships.
So while Irish baseball isn’t nearly on par with the level of play present in the United States, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Japan, the country is slowly making strides towards international respectability.
John Sculli, a 2012 Keuka College graduate who pitched on the Storm’s baseball team for three years, is among the people trying to spread the national pastime across the pond to Ireland.
Sculli, who graduated with a degree in business management, is the co-head coach of the Belfast North Stars “A” team, a team of youths ages 16 and older with varying experience levels in baseball who will compete against other Irish teams.
Thanks to an organization called Teammates International, Sculli landed his first baseball coaching job, one that has featured its fair share of challenges, especially considering many of his players don’t have much history with baseball.
Sculli said that even on the Irish national team, while some of the players are extremely talented and possess outstanding baseball skills, others who are trying out for nationals have little to no prior baseball experience.
“Baseball is in its infancy in Ireland,” said Sculli, who is living with his co-head coach, Jon Carter, while also holding down a job in addition to mentoring these youths on the ways of the sport.
“Our field doesn’t even have a pitchers’ mound, we’re playing on a soccer field, but we’re doing the best we can. I am representing America and Keuka while over there and I’m just hoping to spread the love of the game and my passion for baseball. I think Belfast is a great place for me to start because I’m so passionate about baseball and it’s really a developing game over there.”
Sculli arrived in Ireland in March and will remain through October. He is serving as a player-coach on the Belfast North Stars’ A and B teams as well as being an assistant coach on the junior (ages 11 to 15) team. He has been charged with improving the players’ knowledge of the game as well as their fundamental skills.
Along with his co-coach, Sculli leads his team in practices twice a week, with his athletes putting their skills to the test on the weekends against other Irish baseball squads.
The season, which features between 35 and 45 games, culminates with an international competition in Austria in October against some of the top teams in the area.
While Sculli has realistic expectations for his teams’ on-field success, he is excited to serve as both a baseball and a Keuka ambassador while also trying his hand at coaching.
“This is my first real coaching experience and I’m just so excited to have this opportunity,” Sculli said.
“Coaching is something I’ve always wanted to do, but it’s also something I didn’t see myself doing until later in life when I had my own kids and was coaching them. If this experience goes well and I can continue to find work coaching, then I would absolutely love to keep coaching and spreading my love of this great game.”