PITTSBURGH — San Diego is a vacationer’s heaven.
Mexico to the south, white sand beaches to the west, desert and mountains to the east, Del Mar Race Course, Sea World, Coronado Island, Anaheim and Disneyland to the north.
But did you ever wonder where people from San Diego go to get away?
With the Padres in Pittsburgh to open a three-game series with the Pirates, it seemed the perfect time to see what wonderland one of that city’s highest-paid performers takes his vacation in.
“I go to Morgantown,” said the Padre wearing the No. 9 uniform in front of his locker.
Morgantown? From San Diego? In the winter?
“Morgantown is home to me,” explained Jedd Gyorko. “I like seeing the snow every once in a while. Shoveling snow, that’s my workouts.”
The San Diego second baseman and cleanup hitter laughed when he thought about it.
Not if you know Gyorko — down to earth as anyone who signed a $35 million contract can be — who is as West Virginia as the hills themselves.
In fact, as soon as the team landed in Pittsburgh, he headed to Morgantown, where he was a star at MHS, for American Legion Post 2 and for West Virginia University.
“I saw family and friends yesterday,” he said. “It wasn’t something you expect to be able to do during the season. It was a nice little break.”
Not that Gyorko actually needs a break. He had enough of one when he missed 44 games with Plantar Fasciitis in his left foot, the last straw on a season gone haywire in a year to remember … and forget.
He went into the season with a $510,000 contract coming off a solid rookie season in which he won the job in the spring, hit .246 with 23 homers, more than any rookie in the major leagues last season while he became the first rookie second baseman to ever lead his team in RBIs.
On April 14, the Padres worked out a five-year extension for that $35 million, making him probably the highest paid man in Morgantown, higher even that WVU football coach Dana Holgorsen … but as Babe Ruth once said when it was pointed out to him he was earning more than President Herbert Hoover, Gyorko had a better year than Holgorsen.
Two weeks later Gyorko and Karley, his wife since 2011, celebrated the contract with the birth of twin sons, both born prematurely and one needing to spend a few extra days in the hospital.
“The twins, they’re getting big,” Gyorko said. “They’re healthy. That’s pretty much all you can ask for.”
He hasn’t yet got them swinging a bat, but “they enjoy watching games on TV. They stare at the screen. That’s as far as they’ve gotten so far,” he said.
The truth was, Gyorko wasn’t swinging the bat very much, either, mired in a deep, puzzling slump that saw his average drop into the .160s.
“It was more me getting myself out this year than anything. My swing was out of whack and that’s pretty much it,” he said.
Then, there was that case of plantar facitis that totally disabled him. He wasn’t sure how it started.
“It just started to come up. It’s a little bit of mystery injury. It’s hard to predict. It’s hard to tell where it’s going go,” Gyorko said. “Being injured sucks, but I was able to spend some extra time with the twins and that made it a little easier than it would have been.”
Still he was in a hard cast and pretty much immobilized, unable to swing a bat any more than the twins could, his workouts limited to some upper body stuff.
Every morning when he woke up, what was staring him in the face was that .167 batting average.
“It sucks, but it is what it is,” he said. “You just have to go out and keep playing.”
While injured he watched a lot of video, worked on his swing when he finally went on rehab assignment and began feeling a lot better, helped no small amount by knowing that he and his family had solid security from the contract.
“The contract, to have that security, you don’t have to worry about a whole lot, just go out and play the game,” he said. “Obviously, me and Karley will be taken care of and our kids will be taken care of. That’s one of the reasons we play this game, to get that security.”
Of late, his bat has come to life, hitting .313 with two homers since coming off the disabled list.
“You look at it like a new start. I’ll base my performance for this year on what I do in the second half. Obviously, you can’t change what happened in the first half, but it’s something you can learn from,” Gyorko said.
The best part of it is that he’s remained West Virginia at heart.
In fact, his manager Bud Black said that everywhere he goes there’s a lot of relatives to see him, relatives from West Virginia.
“I know this,” Black said with a smile, “if we’re lucky enough to get invited to a bowl game we’ll travel well with the West Virginia Gyorkos.”
Despite all that’s happened in his life this year, he has kept a close eye on West Virginia and its baseball resurgence under coach Randy Mazey.
“If they don’t struggle there at the end they get into the tournament. Any time you can get hot late you have a chance. It’s a long year and you have to finish strong. If you ask me, they were probably one of the top 64 teams in the country the entire year but went south at the wrong time,” he said.
And, he admits, he’s going to lament the loss of Hawley Field when the new stadium comes.
“Between Post 2 and college I’ve probably played more games on that field than anyone. It’s exciting where they’re headed, but I think it was needed to get an upgrade. It will be good for the program, but it’s tough to see Hawley Field go,” he said.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel