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Former major league pitcher hoping to guide Thomas Jefferson back to playoffs

| Tuesday, March 19, 2013, 12:41 a.m.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Thomas Jefferson's Joe McHugh is one of four returning starters for the Jaguars baseball team.

After toiling as a major league relief pitcher for parts of five seasons, Kevin Gryboski knows how to handle walking into tough situations.

Now, however, the 39-year-old will attempt to manage the game from the bench instead of on the hill as he will begin his first season as coach of the Thomas Jefferson baseball team.

“I've basically seen it and done it all in baseball and I'm trying to teach these kids to play the game the right way,” Gryboski said. “You have to respect your game, respect your opponent, respect your teammates and, if we can do all that, we'll build a successful program.”

Gryboski, who was 12-8 with a 4.07 ERA in 238 regular season appearances with Atlanta, Texas and Washington and also played in the NLDS with the Braves three consecutive seasons from 2002-04, was hired in December to replace Rich Krivanek, who was let go in October. Krivanek was 48-32 in his four seasons at the Jaguars' helm and in 2012 guided the team to the Section 3 title, a berth in the WPIAL Class AAA semifinals, the school's first-ever spot in the state playoffs and a PIAA Class AAA win against Warren.

One of the major reasons for the team's success was pitcher Greg Schneider, who was 9-2 with a 0.43 ERA and also hit .514 with four homers and 30 RBI. He had initially signed to play at Pitt, but has since withdrawn from the university. Thomas Jefferson also had four other players who committed to play baseball collegiately.

“They were very successful last year, but they graduated quite a bit of the kids and it's going to be a rebuilding year,” Gryboski said. “This is a young team and hopefully we can build on some of the younger kids and look forward to a good season.”

As a former major league pitcher Gryboski certainly knows the importance of having good arms, but Thomas Jefferson lost most of its bullpen to graduation and the remaining Jaguars have limited experience.

Finding players to effectively fill those slots has been a priority as the team prepares for its exhibition opener at 4 p.m. Friday at home against Seton-La Salle.

“Everybody keeps asking me that question because it's going to be tough repeating anything that (Schneider) did,” Gryboski said. “We've got a lot of young kids and we're going to have to count on them to throw strikes and to get guys out. Eric Fairman is one of those kids and he's a little bit behind the 8-ball because he was on the basketball team that went to the state playoffs.”

The team returns four starters — shortstop Joe McHugh, outfielders Jordan Campano and Jonathan Fouts, and catcher Jared Carranza.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is one that may be a bit easier than expected. Because Gryboski is new to the area he hasn't really gotten to know many of the teams Thomas Jefferson will be playing. But because of the state's biennial realignment, the Jaguars move from Section 3 to Section 4 this year and the only familiar teams will be West Mifflin and South Park.

Thomas Jefferson will also have section games against Ringgold, Carrick and 2012 WPIAL Class AAA runner-up Belle Vernon.

“It's tough for me to gauge these teams for the first time through the section,” Gryboski said. “Maybe by the second time it will be easier to have a game plan and a pitching rotation. But that first time, it's going to be tough.”

Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kbarnes@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KBarnes_Trib.

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