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Kuryliw full of surprises

Ridgewood senior Derek Kuryliw is a prankster, an excellent hitter and a solid fielder. He's also an emerging star.

By JOHN C. COTEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 18, 2001


NEW PORT RICHEY -- Ridgewood shortstop Derek Kuryliw could have polished a shiny red apple, stopped by Hallmark and picked up cupcakes on his way into school. But that would have been too easy.

Instead, he brought Viagra, prune juice, extra soft toilet paper and an assortment of other items to ease coach Larry Beets into his 50th birthday.

"He's a character," Beets said, shaking his head. "He's a great kid to be around and comes up with something every day."

No wonder Beets, the county's most senior baseball coach and biggest rascal among them, likes Kuryliw so much -- they share the same sense of humor.

They also share some other things, like the love of baseball, the lazy enjoyment of a good home run trot and rather large expectations for Kuryliw's senior season.

"I'm pretty excited about this year," Kuryliw said. "I think I'm going to have a good season, and so is our team."

Kuryliw, who has orally committed to play at Pasco-Hernando Community College next season, is likely to be the county's breakout performer in 2001 if he picks up where he left off last year.

In the district tournament at Gulf, the second baseman (now a shortstop) went 4-for-4 in the quarterfinals with two home runs and five RBI. Then, in the semifinal loss to Land O'Lakes, he cracked another home run off Kurt Shafer to rally the Rams.

"My last swing of the year, a home run off Shafer," Kuryliw said. "I didn't want the season to end."

He used the finishing flourish to vault into a successful summer of camps, where Beets said he "gained some notoriety and impressed some people."

Ask Kuryliw and his eyes light up as he describes how he crushed a home run out of Orlando's Tinker Field and off the second level of the adjoining Citrus Bowl at one of the showcases.

"That was a bomb," Kuryliw said.

Beets can just imagine.

"He's just got that swing about him," he said. "It's in the hands and the wrist. He's exciting. Every time he goes to the plate he can hit one. He hit what, seven last year? It's not 16 (like the county leader in 2000), but still. He had a lot of well-hit balls. I've already told him, "I want you up there swinging the hammer."'

While he hit his fair share of home runs last year -- including a seventh-inning grand slam off East Lake's Marc LaMacchia (now pitching for Florida State) to win a game -- Kuryliw isn't ready to label himself the county's next long-ball champ.

But this season, he homered in both City Classic games and added another blast in the Tom Varn Invitational opener, making it six homers in his last five games going back to last year.

"He's definitely more intense this year," teammate Dave Hancox said. "He seems to be taking it more seriously and working harder."

A character and prankster. An excellent hitter. A solid fielder. An emerging star.

Beets can't wait to see what Kuryliw comes up with next.

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