It’s probably fitting that Jedd Gyorko’s final Hawley Field at bat last Saturday afternoon against Villanova ended up being a walk.
It’s almost as if Handle With Care has been stamped on the front of his batting helmet. For anyone that’s followed West Virginia baseball closely through the years, there is little arguing where Gyorko belongs on the list of the best hitters in school history.
Scott Seabol, Darrell Whitmore, Tim McCabe, Justin Jenkins, Joe McNamee, Steve Rolen and Tyler Kuhn were all outstanding hitters – and Mark Landers was probably Gyorko’s equal against right-handed pitching – but no hitter has hit more balls harder and more frequently than Gyorko has during his outstanding three-year Mountaineer career.
When he hangs up his college spikes for the final time, Jedd will either own or finish second in six different career batting categories at WVU including: batting average (first at .403), doubles (first with 71), hits (second with 277), runs scored (second with 205), RBI (tied for second with 174) and home runs (tied for second with 33).
It’s also a strong possibility the Morgantown native and University High product will become the only player in school history with more than 300 career at bats to finish his career with a .400 batting average.
“There are just a lot of things that make Jedd a tremendous player in addition to his bat speed,” said West Virginia coach Greg Van Zant. “He understands the game.”
Of his many outstanding attributes, Van Zant believes his overall knowledge of the game is what separates Jedd from most other outstanding players.
“Some kids play baseball but they never watch a baseball game,” the coach said. “There are fans in the stands that probably watch more baseball than some guys that play the game. Jedd watches the game.”
Following Saturday’s 3-2 win over Villanova, Van Zant brought up several plays Gyorko made in the field at shortstop over the weekend that helped West Virginia take two of three from the Wildcats to qualify for the Big East tournament on the final day of the regular season. Specifically, Van Zant singled out two plays that illustrated his keen knowledge of the game.
“Jedd was in real good position on the one hitter when he hit the ball in the hole and he was right there to make the play,” Van Zant said.
The previous night, with WVU clinging to a two-run lead and the tying run on base, Villanova’s Kevin Stephens hit a sinking fly ball to medium center field that was too far in for speedy center field Mark Dvoroznak to get to. Gyorko, knowing his centerfielder was playing deep to protect a two-run lead, positioned himself a little deeper and was able to get to the ball to record the final out and preserve the victory.
“We’re in no doubles and he gets a great jump on the ball,” Van Zant said. “Not many shortstops go back there and catch that ball. He just went back there and caught it – game over. You can’t coach that kind of stuff.”
Van Zant has coached some outstanding players during his 15 years at West Virginia, but none as well-rounded as Gyorko. Jedd will likely garner some All-American recognition at the end of the season, but because he plays in the Northeast, he is still not as well known throughout the country as some of his contemporaries in the SEC, ACC and Pac-10.
Plus, Van Zant has chosen not to over-hype his best player – Jedd’s picture is one of four on the cover of this year’s baseball media guide and full-page spreads are only reserved for the team’s four senior players. Of course that hardly matters to Gyorko. The team has always been first and foremost to him and staying home and playing for the Mountaineers was something he says he always wanted to do.
“It’s been unbelievable to play here and stay at home,” he said. “My parents get to come to every game and I can’t say enough about what it’s been like.”
Combining college and American Legion games, Gyorko estimates he has played more than a couple hundred games at Hawley Field during his career.
“Too many to count,” he laughs.
There is an entire support group of friends and family that come out to watch him play, from big brother Scott (a former linebacker on the Mountaineer football team) to legion coaches Ernie Galusky, Jerry Mahoney and Dale Miller to even MSN announcer Kyle Wiggs, who called many of Jedd’s high school and legion games on the radio. It’s obvious their passion for baseball has rubbed off on him.
“He’s like having a coach on the field,” said Van Zant.
So it really comes as no surprise to anyone who knows Jedd that he would agree to hit leadoff this year despite being one of the best power hitters in the country. West Virginia had lost three outstanding hitters from last year’s team and Van Zant knew teams were going to pitch around Gyorko this season. By batting Jedd in the leadoff spot Van Zant figured his best hitter would see more good pitches to hit.
“Coach asked me to do that and that’s what I did,” Gyorko said. “I am willing to do anything to help out the team. I don’t know what coach’s thinking is or his philosophy, but it makes sense.”
In a couple of weeks, Gyorko will be in line to make a lot of money when the major league draft gets underway June 7-9 in Secaucus, N.J.
Baseball America has Gyorko rated the No. 4 shortstop in the draft and the first to go in the supplemental round (between the first and second rounds). Another online mock draft has Gyorko going to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays with the 31st overall pick. If he is taken that high it would make him the highest WVU player picked since pitcher Chris Enochs was selected 11th overall in 1997.
Gyorko refuses to get ahead of himself, saying pro baseball will remain in the back of his mind until his college career is officially finished.
“I haven’t thought about that too much,” Gyorko said of his high draft status. “Until the season is over I’m not going to give that too much thought. I am committed to this team and just worrying about the postseason. Until that ends, I am going to keep worrying about that.”
And while West Virginia baseball may be first and foremost on his mind Gyorko doesn’t live in a cave. He has heard what others are saying and writing about his pro potential and he knows enough about that to realize a position change is likely when he moves up the ladder.
“It will probably be second or third,” Gyorko said. “I think I fit the mold for that more likely, just because of my range and hitting ability. They put more hitting into second and third, and more defense into shortstops.”
As he did earlier this year when Van Zant approached him about hitting leadoff, Gyorko said he will once again do what is asked of him when the time comes.
“Whatever they want me to do I will be more than willing to do it,” he said.
Pro baseball organizations can count on that.
By John Antonik
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