When Jedd Gyorko
hits the infield dirt at about one o’clock for Monday afternoon’s San Diego Padres
game against the New York Mets, there are going to be about 50 or so West Virginians among the 41,000-plus New Yorkers at Citi Field having a difficult time suppressing their smiles. And yes, some of them will probably be blinking back a few tears as well.
The little guy they used to watch whack rocks into the neighbor’s backyard with a taped-up whiffle ball bat is now a big leaguer. The kid who always wanted to be a ballplayer is now a REAL ballplayer.
“It’s unbelievable; it’s awesome,” says Jedd’s older brother Scott, who once got a whiff of the big time himself playing outside linebacker for the West Virginia Mountaineers. “He’s worked so hard his entire life for this and his dream has come true.”
It sure has.
Gyorko, the Padres’ second-round draft pick in 2010, hit his way out of places like Eugene, Ft. Wayne, San Antonio and Tucson to reach the majors. Last year, in 2012, he hit a combined .311 with 30 homers and 100 RBI between Double-A San Antonio and Triple-A Tucson and was selected to play in the Triple-A all-star game. In 334 career minor league games over three seasons, Gyorko hit .319 with 62 home runs and 255 runs batted in.
Some people are born on third base. Jedd was too, he just happened to hit the triple coming out of the delivery room.
During his three seasons at West Virginia University, Gyorko rewrote the record book with a .404 career batting average on the way to becoming the most decorated baseball player in school history. After a junior season in 2010 when he hit .381 with 19 home runs and 57 RBI for the Mountaineers, Gyorko received the Brooks Wallace Award as college baseball’s top shortstop. The Padres, overlooking his ordinary physique, his sun-dial speed and his so-so fielding range, took him with the 59th pick that summer.
His bat was just too good to pass up.Born a ball player
Jerry Mahoney first got to know Gyorko during his Morgantown BOPARC softball days playing with Jedd’s father, Randall. All of the Gyorko boys – Randy, Scott and Jedd – used to wear out Mahoney, wanting him to roll them grounders or play catch between games, especially Jedd. Mahoney almost always obliged, even when he was more inclined to get over to his favorite watering hole to throw back a couple of tall ones with the fellas.
“(Jedd) was the type of kid when you are on the field that you would say, ‘Hey, I’ve had enough.’ At his house he used to throw a ball up against a wall all day,” Mahoney recalled. “He’s a throwback.”
Randy, who is seven years older than Jedd, and Scott, who is two years younger than Randy, never took it easy on their little brother. No way were they going to let him show them up, whether it was playing baseball, football or the winner-take-all pickup basketball games they used to play outside their Cheat Lake home (Jedd and Scott were outstanding high school basketball players at University High as well).
“Even when he was little we would block his shot whenever we played basketball and never thought twice about it,” said Randy.
By the time Jedd was about 10 or 11, he could already hang with all the bigger kids. The Gyorko boys used to play a game where they would fire a tennis ball as hard as they could from a close distance – maybe 20 or 25 feet away – and the goal was for the batter to hit the ball beyond the block wall they had in their backyard and into the woods. No problem for little Jedd.
“We were throwing our hardest and Jedd was always hitting them into the woods,” laughed Scott.
When he was much smaller, Jedd used to have his mother Penny soft-toss him aspirin tablets so he could try and hit them with his bat. Even then he was working on his batting eye. Years later, when scouts put Jedd through a battery of physical tests, they were astonished at his vision.
“His eyesight is ridiculous from my understanding,” said Mahoney. “That’s why he hits – because he’s got great eyesight and he’s able to use his hands so well.”
Mahoney, a former college baseball player at West Virginia University, became a guy Jedd looked up to. Jedd's American Legion coach, Ernie Galusky, was another.
“He’s more important to the (West Virginia University) baseball program now than anybody ever has been,” said Galusky, who works at Pro Performance Center at Mylan Park and also provides commentary on Mountaineer baseball radio broadcasts. “He’s a guy who has already gotten a lot of press nationally, and every time you read about him now, or watch him on television, it’s Jedd Gyorko from West Virginia University.”
“It’s important for our program to have somebody on a major league roster,” noted current West Virginia baseball coach Randy Mazey. “That goes to show you that there is talent in the state of West Virginia, and we want to recruit this state heavily because of guys like him.”
The state has produced some decent big leaguers through the years, guys from way back such as Nitro’s Lew Burdette to Parkersburg's Steve and Nick Swisher, Kenova’s Don Robinson and Keyser’s John Kruk of more recent times, just to name a few, but all of them chose to steer clear of WVU for one reason or another.
Jedd had many offers to go elsewhere, too, but he wanted to be near his family and play for the hometown Mountaineers.
“He had other opportunities,” said Mahoney. “I know St. John’s was going to offer him the most money they had ever offered a player (college baseball is an equivalency sport which means schools award partial scholarships). But he likes Morgantown. Hell, he built his house right next to his parent’s house because he wants to live in Morgantown.”
“He got that big signing bonus from the Padres and right away he built a house right next to his parents and his brother. Most of us who would come into money like that probably wouldn’t build a house in a hollow right beside our parents,” Galusky added. “He paid cash for it and I was like, ‘Jedd, what are you doing, man? There is no return on your investment because your parents would never let you sell it.’ He said, ‘Why would I ever leave?’”A product of Morgantown baseball
There have been some really good baseball players from the immediate area – Morgantown’s Legion program the last 10 years developing more than 40 college players and a handful of pros, including Fairmont’s David Carpenter and Morgantown’s Josh Judy, but Jedd Gyorko is the player everyone around here on the ball fields always talks about.
“A lot of the people who came out to watch our legion games were people who wanted to see Jedd play,” said Mahoney.
Galusky believes Gyorko’s professional success could change the way local kids in the future think about choosing sports to play.
“Our kids in Morgantown grow up watching the Mountaineers and they see big-time football, they see big-time basketball, but we really haven’t seen big-time baseball here,” he explained. “Unless you are going to Pittsburgh to watch a big league game they don’t have a guy to look up to. The football kids have all of the Mountaineers with Pat White, Steve Slaton and all of the names through the years. The same thing with the basketball program and that’s why a lot of our kids become football and basketball players and quit playing baseball at such a young age.
“Now, I’m hoping that this is going to energize baseball and they are going to go up to the Town Centre in a couple of years and watch the Mountaineers play Texas or Oklahoma and see some of the best college players in the country, and after that watch professional baseball all summer. Then, they will have a local guy like Jedd who they can follow in the big leagues.”
In the fall, Morgantown is often referred to as “Touchdown City,” and basketball clearly takes over during the winter months, but in the spring baseball is frequently an afterthought. That changes, however, when the weather gets warm in the summer and the American Legion team begins playing games at Hawley Field. There are many people in the local community who are dedicated to the development of youth baseball by investing their time, effort and money to see that it’s done right. At the top of that list is Dale Miller, President of West Virginia Radio Corporation. Dale’s American Legion expertise revolves around an encyclopedic knowledge of the St. Louis Cardinals and a love for his country.
“Dale’s dad was a veteran and his dad was a part of the American Legion,” said Galusky. “He said growing up playing American Legion baseball meant everything to him. The American Legion program through the years has developed a bunch of kids who got scholarships to play college baseball - and now three pro players - and I’m not sure that is possible without Dale.
“I don’t know if any of those kids would have gotten the exposure they needed (by playing) 40, 50, 60 games a summer against good competition without Dale,” Galusky continued. “The way baseball is going, you’ve got to spend $6, 7 or 8 thousand dollars to go play for a travel team out of Pittsburgh. A lot of these kid’s parents couldn’t afford to do that. But because of Dale these kids got to play a very good level of baseball at home in Morgantown for free. Dale deserves a lot of credit for that because he changed a lot of those kid’s lives.”
Galusky believes there are local kids here good enough to play at a high level - they just haven’t had the access that kids in some of the bigger nearby states have, or the belief in themselves that they can do it. This same story plays out in many other sports as well.
“You can’t tell me just because you’re born in Austin, Texas that you’re genetically a better athlete than a kid born in West Virginia,” Galusky explained. “Regardless of the sport, there are more kids there and the competition is better. If the West Virginia kids can just get to college - they may need a redshirt year or some time to adjust to the level of competition - but just look at what Jedd has done, or some of the other kids once they got themselves into that situation. We just can’t create that situation in West Virginia right now.”
But that could change soon. West Virginia is now playing in a strong baseball conference with outstanding coaches and players, a new ball park is on the horizon provided it can clear some final political hurdles, and affiliated professional baseball
is committed to coming to Morgantown once the new stadium is completed.
And to top it all off, Jedd Gyorko, the face of local baseball around here, is about to begin his major league career.
“All of this is exciting for people who love baseball in this community,” said Galusky. “I have a son who is eight years old who loves baseball. All of this is going on right now and he’s going to have some really good baseball around him, where 10 years ago that wasn’t the case.”
Randy Gyorko, who has traveled around the country watching his little brother play in places such as Eugene, Ore., Ft. Wayne, Ind., and Tucson, Ariz., can’t wait to take his young son up to the Town Centre on a warm summer evening and watch some of professional baseball’s top young prospects and then compare them to Jedd.
“I am so looking forward to taking my son to a ballgame up there,” he said. “I am ready to do something here in the summertime with my family, and a ballgame in the middle of the summer would be just perfect.”
Yes it would.
In the meantime, here’s to hoping Jedd gets a couple of gappers for the Padres on Monday afternoon against the Mets, just like he used to imagine himself doing with that taped up whiffle ball bat out in the backyard when he was little.Check out Antonik's new book The Backyard Brawl: Stories from One of the Weirdest, Wildest, Longest Running, and Most Intense Rivalries in College Football History now available in bookstores. A portion of the sales benefit the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Also, be sure to "Like" the new Backyard Brawl Facebook page and tell us your personal WVU-Pitt story.