Ron Marinaccio had just struck out a batter to end an inning in the 2013 Ocean County Tournament final when the Toms River North High School senior walked off the mound and told his coach he felt something pop.
Two weeks later, with his elbow shot and Tommy John surgery on the way, Marinaccio fought to come back and play center field in the Shore Conference Tournament final, serving as a spark plug for another title.
“Calm demeanor, but just a bulldog,” Toms River North coach Andy Pagano said.
That mentality has served Marinaccio well, taking the kid who grew up a Yankees fan in New Jersey to The Bronx, where on Friday the right-handed reliever will be introduced for the first time as part of their Opening Day roster.
“It’s impossible to picture,” Marinaccio said.
Perhaps only in dreams, but the 26-year-old has been living one out this week. Before the Yankees broke camp on Tuesday, manager Aaron Boone informed Marinaccio he had officially made the team.
“To see this from back then, I never would have pictured it,” Pagano said in a phone interview Wednesday. “But to see his work ethic and who he is, how hungry he was, it’s not surprising.”
After graduating from Toms River North in 2013, Marinaccio earned a scholarship to the University of Delaware, where he redshirted the 2014 season while rehabbing from elbow surgery. He split time as a starter and closer before the Yankees drafted him in the 19th round in 2017.
Marinaccio had an ordinary 4.18 ERA in 2019 at Single-A Charleston, but then used 2020 — with the minor league season canceled because of the pandemic — to his advantage. He spent his days at Toms River North, in the area beyond the outfield where a batting cage and bullpen became his place of work.
“He was literally there like clockwork,” said Pagano, who was also there a few times a week. “Ronnie was there with his weighted balls … and throwing [bullpen sessions], throwing to nets. … He was just working his ass off, to be honest with you.”
Marinaccio, and the Yankees, reaped the rewards. After averaging about 90-91 mph on his fastball in 2019, he sat around 94-95 mph in 2021. That made his other pitches — he’s known for a strong changeup — play better as he posted a 2.04 ERA with 105 strikeouts and 27 walks in 66 ⅓ innings split between Double-A Somerset and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
It was enough for the Yankees to add him to their 40-man roster in November, at which point his case to pitch in the big leagues in 2022 became more realistic. He then turned in a solid spring training, earning him one of 11 spots in the bullpen as the Yankees try to protect arms after a shortened camp.
“We do feel like he’s got a chance to be a really good reliever,” Boone said.
Marinaccio said his phone blew up once news broke of him making the team Tuesday, including pictures from his family of a 6-year-old Marinaccio sitting with the Bleacher Creatures at the old Yankee Stadium. He knows he gets six tickets for games from the team, and he has already told his mom not to ask for any more for at least a week.
But even if all of his friends and family aren’t in The Bronx on Friday, he’ll have many more watching in Toms River — where his high school now has one of their own after seeing Toms River South’s Todd Frazier, who reached out to Marinaccio with advice before spring training, enjoy an 11-year MLB career.
“He’s living the dream a lot of us had,” Pagano said, “especially with the Yankees.”
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