Major Leaguer credits Catholic education for success
By Christina Leslie | Correspondent
Nearly 13 years after his graduation from St. Benedict School, a Major League baseball player returned to share the important lessons he had learned there.
“The three main values I learned in Catholic school were faith, compassion and accountability,” declared Jimmy Yacabonis, a starting pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles, during his Jan. 29 visit to the Holmdel grammar school.
During two assemblies in St. Benedict Church, the 26-year-old big leaguer, who grew up in Matawan, recounted his struggle to rise through the ranks of the minor leagues before he was signed by the Orioles in 2017.
“I stayed strong in pursuit of my dream,” Yacabonis said to the children and teachers, many of whom had taught the 2006 graduate. “My parents and my faith helped me to get through mentally and physically.”
He continued, “Accountability taught me the consequences of my actions. As I became successful, I was able to look at myself in the mirror every day.”
His compassion was put to the test as he tackled the cut-throat business of baseball, Yacabonis said.
“The personality traits instilled in you by people like this staff helped,” he stated. “Thank your staff every day. They are here to give you your moral code.”
A reproduction of Yacabonis’ St. Benedict grammar school yearbook page filled a projection screen with his youthful accomplishments. While at St. Benedict, he had been a player on the school’s baseball, basketball, soccer and track teams, as well as a member of its builder’s club and safety patrol. He chose as his favorite quote one penned by Michael Jordan: “I can accept failure, but I cannot accept not trying.”
St. Benedict principal Kevin Donahue noted, “Catholic schools made an impact on him, and Catholic education formed him. His parents [Marie and Jim] are still parishioners. They are here every week.”
After his graduation from St. Benedict School, Yacabonis continued his Catholic education in nearby Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft, where St. Benedict pastor, Father Garry Koch, had been a former teacher. The ballplayer recalled his decision to enroll in the Catholic school, saying, “CBA helped build me, helped shape me into the man I am today.”
Yacabonis continued his faith-based education by enrolling in St. Joseph University, Philadelphia, where he studied biology and sports medicine. until he left one semester short of his degree to pursue his baseball career.
The students vigorously waved their hands, eager to pose a question to the major league pitcher. Yacabonis disclosed his average pitch speed (95 m.p.h.), his reaction to having been called up to the majors the night before the Orioles were due to face the Yankees (“an immediate headache,” he laughed) and the combination of awe and nerves he felt when stepping onto the mound in his first game.
Yacabonis’ parents sat, beaming, as they listened to their oldest son describe his life as a professional ballplayer. His father revealed both he and his wife had attended Catholic schools and wanted the same for Jimmy and his brother, Michael.
“It was important for us, when we moved here, to join a church with a school,” Jim Yacabonis said. “We have been here in this parish since 1995.”
As the younger Yacabonis concluded his presentation, he advised the youngest students, “Study, stay in school, work hard, stay focused and keep your faith strong.” To the eighth grade class he added, “Persevere in anything you do, any profession. Endeavor to face the battle, fight through it if it challenges you. Use your faith.”