MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Jedd Gyorko just can’t walk away from baseball.
The Morgantown native was a star for his hometown Mountaineers, and then after being drafted in the second round by the San Diego Padres, he worked his way up to the Majors, where he spent eight seasons playing for four different clubs – San Diego, St. Louis, L.A. Dodgers and Milwaukee.
Gyorko spent the COVID-shortened 2020 season with the Brewers.
Now with a baby due in June, Jedd is stepping away from his playing career – at least for now – but he’s not stepping away from baseball. This season he’s going to manage the West Virginia Black Bears, who are part of the new MLB Draft League.
When Major League Baseball announced a significant shakeup and downsizing to its minor league structure for this year, the New York-Penn League, which was a short-season Class A league and home to the Black Bears since 2015, was eliminated.
Left without a league, the Black Bears, who play out of Monongalia County Ballpark, which is also home to WVU’s baseball team, found a spot in the MLB Draft League. One of six teams, along with Frederick (MD), Mahoning Valley (OH), State College (PA), Trenton (NJ) and Williamsport (PA), in the new league that will serve as a showcase for top draft-eligible prospects. The Black Bears’ season begins the last week of May and will run until mid-August.
Gyorko will be in the dugout at Mon County Ballpark calling the shots for the Black Bears when they host the Mahoning Valley Scrappers for the season opener on Monday, May 24.
“Managing has been something I’ve always thought about doing,” admitted Gyorko in what enticed him about the Black Bears’ offer. “Being in Morgantown was a big part of it as well. If Trenton or Frederick offered me the job, I probably wouldn’t have taken it. Definitely being close to home was attractive.
“It’s a unique opportunity. It’s the first year this league has been around, and that intrigues me,” he continued. “Getting to coach kids who are getting ready to begin their careers, that’s something I wish I had had. It would have been nice to have a couple of coaches, mentors or a league that would have gotten me ready for the next level. Those are all things that led me to take this gig.”
Unlike a traditional minor league team, where its players are professionals looking to move up through the ranks, the Draft League will feature amateurs, mainly from college, who are not yet pros but hope to be one day in the not-too-distant future.
“The thing I believe I can do is not only help the players develop their skills but also help them get exposure. These kids are trying to get seen by scouts and put themselves in a position to be drafted,” said Gyorko in an interview on “MetroNews Statewide Sportsline.”
“Just because I’m so competitive, I still say winning will be No. 1, so teaching these kids how to win will be important,” he added. “I want to teach them how to compete every single day. Most of them are coming from colleges where they play four days a week, but now they’ll be playing six or seven days a week. That’s a big adjustment. So, they have to learn to compete and play at 100% even if you’re not 100%. You have to learn how to play with 100% of what you have that day; that’s important if you want to be a true professional.”
The MLB Draft League is using a similar managing formula with many of its teams. Gyorko brings Major League playing experience to the Black Bears as their manager, and Coco Crisp (Mahoning Valley), Jeff Manto (Trenton), Derrick May (Frederick) and Delwyn Young (State College) doing the same as managers for other Draft League clubs.
“These kids are fresh and young, so they’ll make mistakes, but at the same time they should be hungry and ready to learn,” noted Gyorko, who was elected last year to the WVU Sports Hall of Fame. “Being able to teach these kids what it’s like to be a professional is key. I know our team, we’re going to have daily meetings on things like what it takes to travel, what it takes to be away from your family and things like that. Everyone realizes you show up to play baseball every day, but people don’t know what things are like behind the scenes.
“You can’t get distracted by things off the field, because that can derail a career before it even gets started. Those are some of the things we’ll discuss with them.”
Jedd played for some of the best managers in the game, including Budd Black at San Diego and Mike Matheny in St. Louis. He watched and learned from them.
“It was tough to second guess guys who won manager of the year, so I mostly just sat there and kept my mouth shut,” he noted.
“Even when you play as many games as I have, you still see things you’ve never seen before, which is the beauty of baseball.”
While Gyorko is turning to the managerial side of baseball, that doesn’t mean he’s completely dismissed the possibility of returning to the playing side of the sport at some point in the future.
“I haven’t closed the door on playing, though I’ve thought about it,” admitted the 32-year-old who has always made his offseason home in Morgantown. “We have our fourth kid on the way, and it would be tough on my wife Karley to deal with the pregnancy and three other kids running away. So, it made sense for me to stay home and help her.
“As far as being retired, I’m not ready to say I’m done yet. The (Draft League) has been gracious enough to allow me the option that if a (playing) situation presents itself and it’s something I want to take, then I have that available and I can leave if I want. I’ve guaranteed them it would be before the baby is born; I wouldn’t do that.
“I’m committed to the Black Bears and I’m committed to this league. I like what they’re doing and what it can become.
“I’m not ready to throw in the towel yet,” stated Gyorko in terms of returning as a player. “I may be holding it, but I’m not throwing it in yet.”
In his eight seasons mainly as an infielder in the Majors (2013-20), Gyorko played in 846 games, garnering 659 hits, 248 walks and 121 home runs in 2,693 at bats with a .245 batting average.
For now, though, Jedd is going to be showing a new generation how to think, act and perform at a high echelon.
“At the big league level, it’s a grind – 162 games in 180 days,” Gyorko noted. “You have to take care of yourself and your body. Most of the kids coming up have to learn the balance of social life, family and those types of things. For these kids to get to where they want to go, they have to learn the sacrifices they’ll have to make. That’s something I can help teach them.”