Gryboski's experience provides instant credibility at Thomas Jefferson
Most young baseball players attend summer camps and clinics in order to receive major league instruction.
But for the players on the Thomas Jefferson baseball team, they simply need to make it to practices and games to learn the game from a former major leaguer.
That's because Kevin Gryboski, a 14-year professional baseball player who spent five seasons in the big leagues, has joined the Jaguars as their head coach.
After being drafted by the Mariners in the 16th round in 1995, Gryboski spent time with the Braves, Rangers, Nationals, Pirates and Giants organizations before working as a volunteer coach at Peters Township the last two years.
For Gyboski, his time spent with the Braves was one of the highlights of his career. He has tried to pass down some of the things he learned from the game's greats to his players.
“Once I got traded to Atlanta my career kind of took off,” Gryboski said. “I spent four years in Atlanta pitching with the Braves and playing with a lot of future hall of famers in (John) Smoltz, (Greg) Maddux, (Tom) Glavine, Chipper (Jones), and probably being managed by a hall of famer in Bobby Cox. I just learned a lot being around those guys and talking with those guys.
“I'm preaching fundamentals (at TJ). It's a totally different level. I'm trying to teach these kids to play the game the right way, fundamentally sound, and doing the small things because a lot of those small things will help you win games.”
Gryboski inherited a young team that lost several key players from last year's WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinal club, but cited that the Jaguars still have a strong core of players this season.
TJ opened the week with a 4-3 overall record, and a 1-1 slate in Section 4-AAA.
Junior shortstop Joe McHugh may be the Jaguars' best player, but seniors Colton Booher (center field) and catcher Jared Carranza also have served as team leaders.
“We do have a nucleus of a couple seniors that need to step up and lead this team,” Gryboski said. “Jared's basically the captain on the field. He's got to take charge and help our pitchers out as far as pitch sequence and location. So he kind of has to be that guy and be the leader.”
While Gryboski's expertise is in pitching, he called upon former major league first baseman and Pittsburgh Pirate Sean Casey to help shed some light on the hitting part of the game for a day.
“I brought Sean in to talk to my hitters and talk to my team,” Gryboski said. “He gave them some pointers and helped them out. He emphasized the hitting aspect, and I emphasized the pitching aspect.
“I try and teach the pitchers to limit your pitches and attack hitters and go right at them.”
Gryboski said he has seen improvement in areas such as base running and defense, but said it has been difficult at times to break players of certain old habits.
But considering he once had a sub-3.00 ERA in more than 50 major league innings in 2004, it certainly helps to give instant credibility to the lessons he attempts to teach to his players.
“I think it helps me out a lot just trying to explain the game to them, and explain why we're doing things in certain situations and times of the game,” he said.
Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.