Among the biggest obstacle in becoming a big league baseball player — aside from obviously possessing talent — is overcoming the idea of traveling on long bus rides and putting yourself through the mental rigors of a long minor league season without the benefit of major league pay.
Once you can accept that the journey is not always a quick linear path, those who truly love the game have an opportunity to get signed and fulfill their boyhood dream.
One player who fits that criteria is Steve Marino, currently a third baseman for the Evansville Otters of the Frontier League. Marino, who is in his third year of pro ball, is one of the most dedicated players around and has worked to get to this point, although the ultimate goal is still yet to be accomplished.
“Yes I am,” he said in regards to whether he is confident a big league team will sign him. “Statistically, the Frontier League has sent more players to affiliate ball than any other independent league in the country,” he said. “It’s an outlet for young, hungry players to get a chance to prove themselves professionally. I’ve seen many of my teammates get called up and signed to MLB affiliate contracts. That is my ultimate goal plating in this league. It’s not easy, though, and entirely up to me and the way I perform,” he added.
Marino had a tremendous first year in 2012. He led the team in hitting at .302, with a .778 OPS in 53 games with the club. To that point, Marino was simply performing as he had always done throughout his entire baseball career.
He had a tremendous career at Stony Brook, being named to the America East All-Rookie team in 2008 and America East first team in 2010. He smacked 78 hits that season, including a league-leading 19 doubles while recording only three errors in 166 chances. In his senior year, he started all 54 games while compiling 70 hits and a .333 average.
That Sea Wolves team was loaded with talent. They had a strong year in 2011 (when he graduated), but ultimately put it all together the following year when they made a trip to the College World Series for the first time in program history.
“Yes I did,” he said when asked if he believed the team was good enough to make the World Series. “We were so confident and loaded with talent. Unfortunately, we might have looked too far into the future, failing to make it out of our own conference tournament. With the amount of talent returning in 2012, and the bitter taste of getting knocked out the year before, I had no doubt that they were going to do big things nationally, just like they did”.
Before his career at Stony Brook, he was a two-time All-League selection and also All-County at Centereach High School. He won a Gold Glove as a senior.
Despite that, he had an uncharacteristic 2013 season in which his average dropped to .246 and OPS to .651.
“I put way too much pressure on myself last year and probably set my goals a little too high,” he said. “I got away from what I do best at the plate and just couldn’t get back to myself for the rest of the season. This offseason I’ve been working on being more patient and selective at the plate. I need to see more pitches and work more walks this season. Whenever I go deep into counts, I always seem to be more successful. I’ve also been working hard in the weight room to put on some weight in hopes of adding even more power to my swing,” he added.
Marino did smack nine home runs last year, hardly a disappointment in such a league.
If there is someone who can return to form and have an impact in the league it’s a player with the commitment and drive like Marino, who is playing out his dreams.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always wanted to be a professional baseball player,” he said. “I love the feeling of waking up every morning knowing that my job is to show up at the ballpark and play the game I love. Playing in front of thousands of people is a feeling and rush I can’t describe. I’ve been very fortunate in the opportunities I’ve had thus far in my career and for that I am extremely thankful.
Marino and the Otters will open up their season on Friday May 16 against the Normal Cornbelters. The Frontier League features some terrific baseball, and if Marino puts together a strong 2014 campaign, you may start hearing his name on the national level.