Major League pitcher Yacabonis speaks to Saint Benedict students

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You need a lot of faith to grind through Minor League Baseball.

Players spend years in Podunk towns playing for very little money. In this environment, it is often hard to survive a slump or two.

Matawan native Jimmy Yacabonis was one of these minor leaguers for four years in the Baltimore Orioles’ system. But unlike many other players, the 13th round pick in the 2013 MLB Draft, had no trouble keeping the faith.

After all, the right-handed pitcher spent his childhood building “a moral foundation,” as he called it. He attended the Saint Benedict School in Holmdel, Christian Brothers Academy in Lincroft and Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

Yacabonis credits his Catholic education with instilling the necessary values that pushed him through the minors and up to Baltimore’s Major League roster in June of 2017. Now, he is on the verge of his third season with the big club in Baltimore.

He kept the faith, continued working and it paid off. That was Yacabonis’ message to Saint Benedict elementary and middle school students on Jan. 29 in the school’s chapel.

From 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., Yacabonis spoke to two separate groups of students and teachers at his first alma mater.

He offered three values for the students to live by.

“Faith, compassion, accountability,” Yacabonis said.

Then, he expounded on each.

“In the minors you’re living paycheck to paycheck, and I thought my career was over in Single-A,” Yacabonis told the students. “Faith helped me stay strong in pursuit of my dream.” 

“Accountability is important because you guys are getting to the age where you know the consequences of your actions,” Yacabonis continued. “I made mistakes but I became a better person when I took accountability.”

“Compassion is instilled in you through Catholic school, which is a credit to these teachers,” Yacabonis added. “They are here to build you up and give you that moral code.”

The elementary school students were a little young to understand this message. They asked Yacabonis questions like, “How fast do you throw?” and “Do you like baseball?”

But the seventh and eighth graders seemed receptive to his talk.

“I’m going to train harder and play baseball better,” said middle schooler Zachary Archibald.

“His speech made me feel confident in the future that things are going to be good,” added another middle school student, Olivia Ulrich.

“I do martial arts and now I want to train harder to be the best I can be,” said a third student, Joseph Deleonibus.

At the end of his talk, Yacabonis gave the eighth graders some practical advice, too.

“Don’t choose a high school based on where your friends are going,” he said. “Choose the school that you feel is best for your future.”

“It’s very strong advice,” Deleonibus said.

Yacabonis’ own future looks bright. He should end spring training on the roster for the Orioles. He also might be playing an exciting new role.

After a 47-115 season in 2018, Baltimore hired a new general manager, Mike Elias, and a new manager, Brandon Hyde, in the offseason.

“They might want me to be an ‘opener’ type starter, like go four or five innings,” Yacabonis said.

The righty has a 5.04 earned run average in two MLB seasons. But he is still confident in himself. He is developing a curveball to add to his sinker-slider-changeup repertoire.

Yacabonis also has faith that the Orioles will improve under their new regime.

“You have to stay optimistic,” he said.