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Yankees’ Ron Marinaccio Has Two Different World Series Dreams

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Ron Marinaccio was just looking to pass the time. 

For years, spring through summer, the talented hard-throwing right-handed pitcher would be taking the mound, challenging batters, and getting outs. Instead, he was counting outs. It was June 2020, and MLB’s Minor League Baseball season was officially canceled and the young rising star of the New York Yankees was simply going to have to find something else to occupy his time.

The product of Toms River, New Jersey, Marinaccio was drafted by the Yankees in 2017 after a successful career at the University of Delaware. His increasing fastball velocity was helping him rise through the minor league system on a major league trajectory. But in the shadow of COVID, that journey would have to wait for the world to open back up. In the meantime, Marinaccio got serious about one of his hobbies, one that has a history of fueling the competitive drive of professional athletes: poker.

“Our season had gotten canceled at that point. So I was hanging around, and me and one of my friends from high school started to take a little bit deeper of a dive [into poker],” Marianccio said. “Fortunately, being from New Jersey, there’s a couple ways to play. At that point, we started playing on PokerStars and got more into tournaments and learned a little bit more about actual poker strategy. I learned a little bit more about position, what to play, percentages, and stuff like that. Got a little bit more in-depth in it I think over that 2020 year.”

Of course, Marinaccio’s journey to the big leagues continued as baseball came back. He returned to the field and eventually was added to the Yankees 40-man roster in 2021 and was named to the organization’s Opening Day squad in 2022. After getting called back up from Triple-A, this year marks Marinaccio’s third year at the big league level, a dream come true for the Jersey kid who now plays for the team he idolized growing up. 

But poker was also there while Marinaccio was growing up. He recalls that when he was 10 or 11, his grandfather, who lived across the street from him, used to have friends over and they would play small-stakes Texas Hold’em tournaments. It was in the heyday of the Moneymaker boom and for Marinaccio, just the feeling of being able to hang out and watch his grandfather play was enough to spark his initial interest in the game.

So when Marinaccio decided to get back into it during the poker boom that COVID provided, he decided to put his best foot forward.

“I definitely started to take it more seriously,” he said. “I guess if I’m going to be playing a little bit, I might as well learn at least a little bit of the basic strategy. I started to notice a change, I wasn’t getting pushed around as much at the table…I started to see the trends, at least online, I think that you could pick up on it pretty quickly if you’re playing the right way or playing the wrong way, you’re either getting bullied around or you can take blinds here and there.”

Although poker is a hobby for Marinaccio, he notes that some of the things that have made him successful in pitching have worked for him in poker, and vice versa. Starting with mindset.

“The first thing that jumps out to me I would say is patience, especially in tournament poker, which I’ve done a lot of. You obviously can’t do well without patience. It’s easy to sit there for three hours and want to play ace-queen when you’re getting three-bet or something, but that could potentially be a quick way home from a tournament,” he said. “And baseball season’s 162 Games so it’s the same thing. You have a not-so-good-outing and it’s quick to want to make an adjustment or change and a lot of times you just have to rely on patience and trust in the process a little bit. So as far as the mindset, I think that patience is definitely something that strikes home to both, and then it gets a little bit deeper into being able to read the body language of somebody else and see if they’re giving any tips away or anything like that.”

When it comes to body language, Marinaccio admits he doesn’t have a ton of live poker experience. Sure, he’s made the occasional trip to nearby Atlantic City to take a swing at one of the Borgata series, but he admits he has a way to go before understanding how tells will reap results at the poker table. But as it pertains to baseball, his education took place a little earlier in his career. According to Marinaccio, during his last year at the University of Delaware, Troy O’Neil was a volunteer pitching coach who not only nearly made it to the Big Leagues but spent some time as a pro poker player.

“He was definitely one of the sharper guys that I got to spend some time with on the baseball field,” Marinaccio said. “And it’s not shocking to me at all that he played poker professionally for a little while. It was really fun to watch him pick things off the coaches on third base. He knew when the other team was going to bunt or if they were going to steal, and you always felt like you were throwing the right pitch.  He called pitches for us all that year and you always felt like you were throwing the right pitch. You never felt like the guy at the plate was on time or was looking for whatever you felt. 

“And that’s a pretty powerful piece as a pitcher. And that’s similar to being able to sit in position or present a certain hand that you might not have, but you know for a fact that that other guy’s got nothing. So there’s definitely the crossover in the way you could pick up on some things between baseball and poker. I could see the correlation.”

Variance in baseball is very real as well. Sometimes hitters make contact and find a hole, the next at-bat that same hit may make a b-line into the glove of the defense. It’s a streaky game, players go on heaters. While short-term results are celebrated, making the right moves over the long term is how players and teams are ultimately rewarded.

“All we do is throw the ball and after that the ball is out of our hand, it’s kind of: is the hitter going to hit it? Is it going to be hit to somebody? There’s a lot of variance…,” he said. “But yeah, I think that’s the kind of new age baseball as well is you could be a little bit more objective about it afterward and kind of see, yeah, was my stuff good today? Was it location that ran me into some trouble? Did they just put a good swing on it? And that’s a really good hitter on the other side too, so definitely you could take some things from the outings. ‘Yeah, hey, my stuff was good today.’ ‘Hey, my stuff wasn’t so good.’ And over time it’ll tell you if you throw that stuff in there, that good stuff in there for long enough that the average is all come back around.”

Baseball season is back in full swing, and Marinaccio is feeling good and looking to contribute to a power-packed Yankees squad. Poker content will have to take a backseat to study hitters, but if it hits his TikTok or Instagram account he may just enjoy a hand or two here and there.

“I used to watch a little bit more. I watched a lot of Phil Ivey in my teenage years. I used to watch the World Series of Poker whenever it was on. It’s a bucket list for me to play in that one day…get out to Vegas and play a couple of tournaments.”

But with the World Series of Poker taking place in the summer as well, Marinaccio quickly notes that while he’d be excited to get to battle for a bracelet that’ll only be after his post-playing career when he has some more free time.

“No time soon. But yeah, definitely bucket list. Sometime in my forties – I’ll be out there.”

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