Gyorko’s Bat Leads The Mountaineers

Jedd Gyorko couldn’t help cracking a smile.

It was the final game of the 2008 regular season, and West Virginia’s then-freshman second baseman had just crushed his seventh home run of the year in the fourth inning of the game at Cincinnati. Minutes earlier, Gyorko had injured his left shoulder diving for a ball, leaving him unable to lift his hand shoulder-high. The Mountaineers’ trainer said he should come out of the game, but Gyorko insisted he could continue and head coach Greg Van Zant decided to stick with him, hoping he might feel better in a couple of innings.

Gyorko didn’t need that long. In his next at-bat, he stepped in against the Bearcats’ Matt Heber and drilled an opposite-field home run over the right-field wall.

“He could barely hold his glove on his hand,” Van Zant said. “He looked in the dugout (after the home run) and just kind of smiled at our trainer, and she smiled back. It’s one of those things where you’re like, ‘Wow, how’d that kid do that?’ “

Van Zant probably wasn’t the first person to ask that question after one of Gyorko’s at-bats, and he almost certainly won’t be the last.

Born To Hit

Gyorko grew up in Morgantown, W.Va., around the Mountaineers program. His older brother Scott played linebacker for the West Virginia football team from 2001-04, and as a kid Gyorko worked on his hitting with Jerry Mahoney, a former Mountaineers third baseman from the late 1970s. Gyorko attended Morgantown’s University High, where he was a three-time all-state selection in baseball and was also an all-state basketball player.

Still, he was not drafted or heavily recruited coming out of high school, so Gyorko stayed local in coming to West Virginia and hasn’t stopped hitting since setting foot on campus in the fall of 2007. Coaches generally don’t know exactly what to expect from their freshmen until they get into fall ball, but Gyorko didn’t need long to establish himself.

“He put up good numbers from day one (of fall ball),” Van Zant said. “That’s why when we started the spring of his freshman year, we hit him third in the lineup because we thought he was one of our best hitters.”

Van Zant and hitting coach Pat Sherald have made sure Gyorko has stayed a fixture in the three-hole in the Mountaineers’ lineup ever since. He put up one of the best freshman seasons in program history by hitting .409 with eight home runs and 63 RBIs. The season was capped off by Gyorko winning the Big East’s Rookie of the Year award and being named a second-team freshman All-American.

While moving to shortstop as a sophomore last year, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Gyorko was even better at the plate, upping his average to .421 while adding eight homers, 28 doubles and 58 RBIs. Pitches to hit started becoming rare for him, but Gyorko stayed within himself all year and wound up drawing 32 walks on the season, up from 17 his freshman year.

“(Staying disciplined) wasn’t that difficult,” Gyorko said. “We’ve had one of the best hitting teams in the country. A lot of credit for that goes to my teammates. I’m able to be real comfortable up there. You’ve got to be able to take your walks.”

When opponents did pitch to him, Gyorko didn’t have trouble taking advantage. One such occasion came last April Fools’ Day when he came up in the bottom of the ninth of WVU’s game against Ohio with two men on and the Mountaineers trailing 9-6. Gyorko took care of that, blasting a 1-and-0 pitch over the flag poles beyond the left-center-field fence at WVU’s Hawley Field to tie the game, which the Mountaineers went on to win 10-9.

Summer Star

Gyorko didn’t slow down after the Mountaineers’ season ended, either. He went on to play for the Cape Cod League’s Brewster Whitecaps over the summer and put up the third-best average in the league at .323, with five homers in 34 games.

Not surprisingly, he made a strong impression on Tom Myers, an assistant at UC Santa Barbara who served as Gyorko’s head coach with Brewster.

“He has a very advanced approach to the game and a business-like attitude every day,” Myers said. “Some guys are up there just to showcase their talents, but Jedd, in my mind, was unselfish and cared about how the team did.

“He didn’t hit over .300 just because of his physical abilities. He’d hit behind runners and do things with two strikes whereas a lot of guys are up there swinging from their heels thinking that’s what scouts want to see.”

Gyorko’s efforts for the Whitecaps earned him a trip to the Cape Cod League’s all-star game at Fenway Park last July. He went 0-for-2 in the contest, but still came away savoring the experience.

“I’ll always remember playing in Fenway for the rest of my life,” Gyorko said.

But there’s a good chance that won’t be the last time Gyorko plays on a major league field. Although he’s projected to move off of shortstop as a pro, he has a chance to become just the second first-round pick in West Virginia history, joining righthander Chris Enochs, who went 11th overall to the Athletics in 1997.

The Mountaineers have a history of strong offensive teams, but Gyorko’s .415 career batting average has him on pace to shatter the school’s existing record of .388. And the best could be yet to come.

“It’s hard to say who is the best hitter in college baseball because we don’t all play against each other,” Van Zant said. “But it would be hard to find too many hitters better than him.”