Bridgeville pool hall owner takes cue from experience
Jimmy Marino was rusty.
Wrist surgery and a punctured lung in the past year kept the 65-year-old former world champion in one pocket from picking up a pool cue, but he decided to give it a go again last week.
His first shot ended in a scratch as the cue ball found the pocket, and the next two ended in misses. But then the form began to return. He sank one shot, then another when he banked the 3-ball off the side felt and into a middle pocket. He followed that by using the 8-ball to smoothly propel another ball into the corner pocket.
“It's still there, but ...” Marino said, trailing off.
Marino, who lives in Whitehall, owns Bridgeville-based South Hills Golden Cue, which celebrated its 35th birthday in February.
Like its owner, the club doesn't quite measure up to its golden days. But Marino believes both still have plenty left to offer.
“The knowledge is an important thing in this game, almost as much as golf,” Marino said. “You can make up for physical (limitations) with knowledge.
“Nothing is there but you and the ball and the pocket. Like anything else, really, experience is a valuable asset.”
South Hills Golden Cue opened in 1978 at the suggestion of a girl Marino knew. Marino, who lived mostly in California from 1970-80, didn't quite know what to expect.
“Who would've guessed — it's been a lot of fun,” he said.
Marino said the club attracts regulars who range in age “from 8 to 80.”
That includes Luca Tomassetti, 9, of Canonsburg, who learned to play at the club last year and said he wants to play for the “rest of my life.”
Luca will be traveling to New Jersey soon to play in a tournament and plays about 20 hours of pool per week at the hall.
“On the weekend, he plays an 83-year-old man,” said Luca's father, John Tomassetti. “They play for a few hours. So you get all kind of regulars here, young and old.”
While Marino said pool was hit by the recession because people had less money to spend, the club still sees a lot of business in part because of the relationships developed among the regulars.
“(There's) a lot of camaraderie down here,” manager Brandi Brown said. “If you need help with something, someone from here will come and get you.”
Along with Marino and Brown, the club employs three other people. Marino said all but one excel at pool.
Of course, Marino boasts the biggest resume. The Whitehall native began playing the game at the age of 12 and dropped out of college during his junior year to pursue the game full-time.
“I was in a way born to play, although I was good in all sports,” Marino said. “Pool, I just became fascinated by it — plus there was money around.”
Marino moved to Los Angeles after dropping out of Penn State and lived in California from 1970-80, where he became a fixture in the pool scene. He won Hustlers World's All Around Pocket Billiards championship in 1971 and became the world one-pocket champion in 1974.
Along the way, Marino was featured in publications like Sports Illustrated and the Los Angeles Times.
He remembers plenty of characters from those days, and plenty of hustling — although he said he wasn't much of a hustler himself.
“I thought it would be better, more profitable, to be straight with them,” he said.
“I'd say, ‘I'm going to kick your a*&,' and that would get them to the table faster.”
Marino moved back to Western Pennsylvania in 1980. He lived in Crafton and Bridgeville before buying his childhood home in 1993.
While the wrist and lung problems slowed him down somewhat, he expects his pool game will come back eventually.
“I think I'll be able to play a very respectable game,” he said. “But as far as competing with these young lions that are around now on tour and gambling ... I'll never compete at their level. They're just too hungry. It's hard to beat that hunger.”
Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-8527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.