Montclair Baseball: MHS pitcher heads to European Championship
PHOTO BY ANDREW GARDA/STAFF
by Andrew Garda
Montclair High School baseball will go international this summer, as the Mounties’ own Conor McGrath will be joining the U18 Great Britain nation team, which will compete in the 2018 CEB Junior European Championships in Italy next month.
“He focused a lot on the high school season,” McGrath’s father, Kevin, said on a recent phone call. “And then as soon as that was finished, he was really excited about going and playing for this. It’s something totally new. We don’t know what to expect, though I’m sure it’ll be pretty high quality.”
The tournament will take place between July 9-15 in Grosseto, Italy. Conor will travel to London ahead of that and then head to Italy with his teammates on July 4 to get some extra practice and scrimmaging in.
It will be the first time he has played internationally.
“I didn’t even know Great Britain had a baseball team.” said Kevin, who is originally from Liverpool.
Conor will be rostered as both an infielder and a pitcher, though 15 of the 20 kids on the roster are pitchers.
“I think it’s because they play so many games,” Kevin said. “There’s two groups of five, and they play four games in the first four or five days. So I’d assume that’s why they need lots of pitching.”
After that are playoffs and more games.
Despite the fast schedule, Kevin thinks his son will benefit greatly from both the travel and the level of play.
“I think it’s a great experience. They play Netherlands the first game and Netherlands and Italy are said to be very quality teams,” his father said. “And the Netherlands played well in the World Baseball Classic, so they obviously keep it going with the younger players. It should be good for him.
The team will be playing in the very competitive Pool A, which contains the Czech Republic, France, Ukraine and the Netherlands, who are the defending champions.
Great Britain finished in eighth place overall during the last junior championship in 2016 and are looking to improve on the finish.
McGrath is just one of five players who hail from the United States, all of whom have dual citizenship in order to be eligible for the national team.
According to his father, Conor’s path to a place on this team was somewhat lengthy, but when it happened, it happened quickly.
“Conor plays with the New Jersey Nationals in the summer, they’re his club team,” Kevin McGrath said. “And one of his teammates goes to Saint Peter’s Prep, where one of the other kids there is an English kid whose dad was involved in the Great Britain team during the last European Championships two years ago.”
Through that connection, Conor had a tryout with the father.
That was 18 months ago. In the intervening time there was a lot of waiting, but the McGrath’s kept in touch with Great Britain, sending videos and other references to show his progress.
This time, when they announced tryouts, he was ready and successfully made the team.
Conor is looking to continue a productive season with the Mounties into another one with the Great Britain national team and then start again with MHS in the spring.
Beyond that his father said Conor is hoping to play in college.
“He’s not sure where he wants to go yet. There’s so many different options, and it’s so competitive with baseball.”
That’s the future though, and for now the McGrath family is getting ready help the Great Britain U18 team make a run at a European title, though for Kevin, there’s an added bonus.
“It’s not every day I get to see my son play for England,” he said.