SAN DIEGO - Jedd Gyorko answered the questions politely as he tightly gripped his bat. He was sitting in the San Diego Padres clubhouse when Jerry Coleman walked by.
Coleman is a Padre announcer now. Played nine seasons in the bigs, all with the Yankees. Had 558 hits. Was a World War II hero. Is a San Diego area legend.
Gyorko is a Padre rookie. Has 105 major league hits. WVU baseball hero. Hit .404 in three seasons with the Mountaineers. Is already a legend in Morgantown baseball circles.
"Another interview for the West Virginia kid," Coleman quipped. Gyorko smiled. "Hi, Colonel," he said with a sheepish grin.
The Padre players rib Gyorko a lot about his roots. He smiles. A true-blue West Virginian.
So it did seem curious that when he strides to the plate at Petco Park, the song he has selected to hear is Jason Aldean's "The Only Way I Know" and not John Denver's "Country Roads."
Oh, Aldean's lyrics - "That's the only way I know, don't stop 'til everything's gone, straight ahead, never turn round, don't back up and don't back down" - work just fine for Gyorko. But wouldn't Denver's classic - "Country roads, take me home, to the place I belong" - work even better?
"They've played it sometimes," Gyorko said of the Padres' public address announcer and "Country Roads." "It's kind of a montage of photos of me with the song playing. I've heard it a couple of times. That's good enough."
Gyorko comes home - almost - this week for the first time as a major league baseball player. He'll be in Pittsburgh Monday through Thursday as the Padres, well out of the playoff race, visit the postseason-bound Pirates.
As he glanced around the Padres clubhouse at Petco Park during a recent home stand, it became rather obvious that if West Virginia was almost heaven for this 24-year-old, then this is heaven.
"Unless you are lucky enough to get to do this," he explained of being a major-league baseball player, "you don't understand what it's like. How much everyone pulls for one another in here and how much this is like a family."
Playing the Pirates in Pittsburgh will be a memorable experience for the University High graduate.
"Yes, I was a Pirates fan growing up," Gyorko admitted. "But the day that the Padres drafted me I pushed the Pirates off to the side. It's good to see them doing so well and I wish them well, but I want to beat them every time we play them."
Gyorko's personal big-league highlight reel so far puts his initial MLB homer at Wrigley Field at the top of the list. "That was pretty special," he admits.
But there is also a home run in Dodger Stadium off Clayton Kershaw, stellar play at second base and even a recent three-hit game in Philadelphia against the Phillies.
The clubhouse is his sanctuary, his home away from home, although he and wife of two years Karley live within walking distance of Petco. And he walks to every home game. Blue-collar.
"We wanted to get the experience of city living so we just rented a place in downtown," Gyorko explained. "The clubhouse is pretty special because everyone in here accepts their role on the team and I haven't experienced any animosity at all."
It's Gyorko's home away from home until batting practice calls. "Gotta run," he said as he headed out the tunnel to the Padres' dugout.
'It's meant to happen'
Tony Gwynn's likeness is in Cooperstown. His statue is beyond the center-field wall at Petco Park next to a barbecue stand. Gwynn played 20 big-league seasons, all with the Padres. He finished with 3,141 hits and 135 of those were homers.
So, when he talks about hitters, you listen.
Gwynn loves Gyorko's hitting approach and his zest for the game.
"Young players have to figure it out," said Gwynn, now the head coach of San Diego State (the Aztecs will entertain WVU in a series next spring). "I can't tell you how bad I was as a rookie with runners on base. That [Padres] lineup will be something with Chase Headley, Carlos Quentin, Yonder Alonzo and Jedd in there on a regular basis."
Gyorko, who will turn 25 on Sept. 23, made a quick rise through the Padres' minor-league system after being selected in the second round of the 2010 draft. Stops along the way included Eugene, Ore., Fort Wayne, Ind., Lake Elsinore, Calif., San Antonio and Tucson, Ariz., before Gyorko reached his destination - the big leagues.
"He's a good player," Gwynn said. "I really like his bat. He reminds me a lot of Dan Uggla.
"I bet if you asked him if he were getting himself out or if the pitchers were, he would say he is. As a young player you just try too hard with runners on base.
"What he does do now is go the other way real well. The other day he took a pitch and then hit it out to right. He has good hands and lots of pop on the ball. It's meant to happen with him, and I think it's gonna happen. I can see him easily hitting .300 with 20 homers and 90 RBIs."
One tough Mountaineer
The Padres will conclude their season Sept. 28 in San Francisco, Gyorko's rookie season will come to a close and he'll head east, back home to West Virginia. In order, he admits to missing 1) family (he smiles); 2) WVU football ("I go to all the home games."); 3) Cheat Lake ("We have a home there, spent a lot of time in that lake as a kid."); and 4) pepperoni rolls ("Oh, yeah," he says of the Mountain State delicacy).
He went to WVU - where he plans to one day get his degree in business when his baseball career is over - for three years in part because he never wanted to go anywhere else.
"He's just a hitter," said Greg Van Zant, Gyorko's coach at WVU. "I think if they ever tested him they would find out that he has exceptional eyesight. And he comes from just a great family. He's had excellent upbringing.
"We treated him like any other recruit, but I knew from the beginning he wanted to come to school here. In the three years he played for us before he was drafted, he never missed a game. He is so tough. There was one game we played, I think it was in Cincinnati his freshman season. He fell on his shoulder trying to get to a grounder and could barely lift his arm. I tried to take him out of the game, but he wouldn't come out.
"The next inning he doubled to right."
Gyorko was the runt of a family of three boys. One older brother, Scott, played inside linebacker on a WVU football team that went to three bowl games. Jedd watched all three from the stands.
"I played football [quarterback and wide receiver] and basketball in high school," said Gyorko, who's now a 5-foot-10, 210-pound middle infielder. "We weren't that good and I had to give them up whenever it was time for baseball."
On the job
"He's a blue-collar worker," Padres broadcaster Dick Enberg said, "the kind of player who is going to give you everything he's got every day."
And that's exactly what Gyorko did - until June 10, when he suffered a groin injury and was placed on the disabled list. He stayed there for the rest of June and into July.