UPDATE 8/2/13: Marino was promoted to Class A (Long Season) Delmarva iJuly 24th and made his first appearance for the Shorebirds on Saturday, July 27th, tossing two hitless, scoreless innings of relief in a 6-0 loss to Hagerstown.
Delmarva plays in the South Atlantic League and is located in Salisbury, Md. In 10 appearances between Aberdeen and Delmarva, Marino is 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA over 13 innings.
TROY, N.Y. — Having a cool summer job is nothing new to the students at Williams College, whether it is scientific research on campus, editing video for ESPN or NBC Sports, or working as a consultant for Bain & Company.
Still, it's quite possible that Harry Marino '12 has one of the coolest, although one would be hard to convince anyone of that this Tuesday afternoon as the sweltering heat smothers everyone in and around Joseph L. Bruno Stadium.
Marino, who turns 23 Monday, is a relief pitcher for the Aberdeen Ironbirds of the New York-Pennsylvania (NY-Penn) League. The I-Birds are an affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles organization.
The NY–Penn League is classified as a "Short-Season A" league; its season starts in June, after major-league teams have signed their amateur draft picks from the recently completed draft to professional contracts.
But Marino wasn't drafted. He was signed as a free agent in February after an off-season in which he considered walking away from the game he loves. Last summer, he had thrown well for the Arizona Diamondbacks' Rookie League team in Arizona, but had been released at the end of the season.
"As baseball season approached, I kind of had the feeling that I would regret walking away," Marino said. "I had a sort of deep feeling that I just wasn't done yet. So I called a few people I had made contact with my senior year at Williams, and then I called Dan Duquette (Baltimore's General Manager), who had signed me to my first NECBL contract. He put me in touch with the Orioles' minor league directors and things progressed from there.
"I was lucky to be given this opportunity by the Orioles."
A day in the life of a minor league baseball player is not what one would describe as glamorous, or even as interesting as depicted in the movie "Bull Durham." There are long bus rides and nights in not-so-great hotels, no days off and weeklong stays in towns you likely would never have in your travel plans.
But there are no complaints from Marino, who is soaking up this opportunity and learning … well, learning at the rate he likely did in the classroom at Williams.
"I would say the single most important thing about being a professional baseball player is staying healthy," he said. "If you're not healthy, you can't accomplish anything. The biggest adjustment for me was going from playing 3-4 days a week at Williams to playing every single day. So stretching and maintaining your health is critical, you have to stay focused on making sure your body is ready to go."
Marino has successfully made the transition from starter to reliever. At Williams he made 27 starts over his four years. But both in the Arizona League and now the NY-Penn, he has been coming out of the pen.
Fortunately for Marino, he has been able to grow under the tutelage of Ironbirds' pitching coach Alan Mills, himself a 12-year major league veteran.
"He's a great kid and I enjoy working with him," Mills said of Marino. "He competes every day and he's left-handed. That's a strength all on its own. Left-handed guys are a rare commodity."
Mills has been working on Marino's mental game along with his mechanics and also trying to develop a change-up to give Marino "something that has a little more depth as it enters the hitter's zone," to go with his high 80s fastball.
Marino has been taking it all in.
"I think the biggest thing he's taught me is about coming to the park every day ready to pitch," he said. "The mental aspect of relieving is a lot like a position players, you come to the park ready to contribute every day. He has helped me tremendously not just with my mechanics but also how to take care of my body physically. He's an excellent leader of our pitching staff, he has everyone on the same page."
Mills has also been talking to the entire pitching staff about the mental toughness it takes to succeed as a professional baseball player.
"He's been able to impart his ethos from his playing days," Marino said. "It's all about being mentally tough, knowing how to keep your team in a game. It's easy to do on a day when your stuff is working, but he's been talking to all of us about the days your arm doesn't feel that great or you don't have your stuff working, how to work to find a way to get the job done."
On Tuesday, July 9, Aberdeen took on the Tri-City ValleyCats in nearby Troy. It was a hot, humid 90-degree day. Marino had pitched the night before, so expectations were he would not pitch as no Ironbirds' hurler had made an appearance in back-to-back games to date.
Over the first few innings, Marino took in the action from the Aberdeen bullpen in right field. After a quick trip the dugout around the fifth frame, he was back in the bullpen, and performing the YMCA "dance" with his fellow relievers. In the bottom of the seventh he began to stretch, and in the bottom of the eighth he began to warm-up, still not knowing whether he would get the call.
"You know we try to keep it loose out there in the early innings, but about the fourth or fifth inning you have to start to prepare mentally," Marino said. "And then once the game develops a bit more, you begin to stretch and get your body loose. We definitely try to get a feel for the game, trying to pick up some hitters tendencies. What the umpire's strike zone is like on a certain day, but there are times we're scanning the crowd or talking about off the field stuff too."
With score still knotted at two heading into the bottom of the ninth, Marino was the only one warming in the 'pen, but Ironbirds manager Matt Merullo elected to stay with David Richardson for another frame. In the top of the 10th, Aberdeen went ahead 3-2 and Michael Joseph began warming up next to Marino. The Ironbirds exploded for five more runs in the inning and led 8-2.
Out popped Marino for the bottom of the 10th inning.
"Things aren't usually that hectic out there," Marino said. "Most of the time you have a better idea of when or if you're going into a game. But no matter what, you have to stay ready."
Marino fell behind pinch-hitter Adam Nelubowich 2-0 but bounced back to induce a ground out to first base. He jumped ahead of Tri-City leadoff hitter D'Andre Toney 0-2 and, after a couple of foul balls, got him to pop up to first. James Ramsay then looped a single over second base before a great play by Aberdeen first sacker Trey Mancini resulted in Marino covering first and retiring Conrad Gregor to end the game.
In the Arizona League in the summer of 2012, Marino did not allow a hit to a left-handed batter in just over 17 innings pitched. There was some thought he could wind up as a left-handed specialist, but Merullo and Mills have allowed him to face both righties and lefties so far this season.
"Whatever role they want to give me I'll be ready, but I feel I can get lefties and righties out equally well at this point," Marino said.
Marino's stats have certainly back up that point thus far. Through seven appearances, second on the club, he's allowed nine hits in 9 1/3 innings with nine strikeouts and five walks. He's 2-0 with a 0.96 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP.
Stats aside, simply having an opportunity to pitch professionally and learn from former major leaguers such as Mills is what's really important to Marino.
"It's all about perspective," he said. "If you still treat it like a hobby, the daily grind can be grueling and not all that fun. However, once you appreciate that it's your profession, you quickly realize that it's just about the best job one could possibly have."