NEWTOWN SQUARE >> Kyle Virbitsky’s biggest takeaway from his senior season at Episcopal Academy has nothing to do with his accomplishments on the baseball field.
The Georgia-born Media resident would rather talk about teammates than brag about his accolades. You wouldn’t know it from spending an hour with him on Stone Field’’s new state-of-the-art grass turf that Virbitsky was a three-sport star at EA. He is selfless to the bone.
In his final season with the Churchmen, the Penn State-bound pitcher was excited to play alongside his younger brother, Brian, who was Kyle’s catcher. And that’s what he will remember the most.
To Kyle, he couldn’t have asked for a better batterymate, despite Brian’s uphill climb as an incoming freshman who was asked to fill the shoes of the incumbent who had suffered a season-ending injury.
“I couldn’t be more proud of him. I don’t tell him that enough because, you know, you’re always hard on your younger brother,” Virbitsky said. “He had to step into Will Park’s shoes. I developed a great relationship with Will and he caught all of my innings last year. To come into the year expecting to pitch to him, and then he gets hit with the injury, that’s hard. So, your options are the sophomore or my freshman brother. I’d rather throw to my brother, because the chemistry is already there.”
Kyle Virbitsky was going to excel, no matter who was fortunate enough to catch his games. But to hear him tell the story of his 2017 season, he would not have tied for first in Delaware County with eight wins, or post a county-leading 97 strikeouts over 66 innings with a 2.05 ERA, if it wasn’t for his little brother.
“It’s funny. We would go to school every morning and talk about things, and maybe talk about stuff right after the
game, but for the most part we never talked” about pitching and catching, Kyle said. “We just kind of did it. It was really unique. If there’s a mound visit and I’m rattled, I guess it’s calming to see a familiar face. For being thrown to the wolves, he really stepped up. I think he made the most of his opportunities. I don’t think I would’ve had the year I did without someone like him catching. It was definitely a really unique opportunity.”
You could say that Brian Virbitsky played an integral role in Kyle’s journey to becoming the Daily Times Player of the Year, the first ballplayer from Episcopal Academy to earn the honor.
Joining Virbitsky on the All-Delco team, which is selected after consultation with local coaches, are Archbishop Carroll’s James Kelly, Bonner & Prendergast’s Tim Dougherty, Cardinal O’Hara’s Jim White, Garnet Valley’s Liam Bendo and Mason Miller, Haverford School’s Bryan Hyland, Marple Newtown’s Scott Hahn and Cameron Mathes, Springfield’s Jared Morris and Mike Smith, and Strath Haven’s Will Carey.
Years before Virbitsky was a three-sport star in football, basketball and baseball, he was a precocious young boy throwing the ball around with his dad, Bill. His earliest memories are also his fondest.
“When I was probably six or seven years old, my dad worked for a pharmaceutical company, in the warehouse part of it,” Virbitsky said. “So he brought home these tarps, brand stuff, and in our basement we set up this makeshift batting cage. From when I was 6 or 7 until I outgrew it, we would hit and throw, just do a bunch of stuff down the basement.”
Virbitsky credits his dad for getting him started and for a coach in Media Little League, Tony Antonello, for teaching him how to be a fundamentally sound and driven baseball player.
“He was renowned as the guy who was all about fundamentals — bunting, defense, doing first and thirds. He’s a guy that not everyone wants to play for, but if it wasn’t for him I really don’t think I would have the baseball knowledge that I have today,” Virbitsky said. “I was a pain in Little League. I remember being annoying and my dad would yell at me a lot. (Antonello) always stuck with me, along with my dad, and always saw the potential in me.”
Virbitsky arrived at Episcopal Academy the same year that Mike Hickey, who headed nationally-ranked teams at Malvern Prep, was hired to take the program to the next level. Last spring Virbitsky, a 6-6, 210-pound righthander, went 9-1 with a 1.66 ERA with 66 strikeouts in 59 2/3 innings as the Churchmen went 19-15 overall. Though his overall pitching record and ERA may not suggest it, Virbitsky was better — nastier — in his senior campaign while the Churchmen played a difficult national schedule and finished 11-12 in the won-loss column.
“I thought my junior year was awesome. What I thought was interesting about last year, we had a good group of guys and it’s in some ways a lot easier to play when you’re younger,” he said. “But when you get to senior year, you get to be a captain and so you’re trying to lead. The last four years of EA baseball, from my freshman year until now, we’re a completely different program. We went from having one or two wins in the Inter-Ac my freshman and sophomore years to going 5-5 or 6-5 the last couple of years. It’s a big testament to Coach Hickey. If it wasn’t for Coach Hickey, this program wouldn’t be where it is today. I don’t think it would have the potential it has now.”
Virbitsky throws a four-seamer, spiked-curveball and a circle change. He credits first-year pitching coach John Duffy for his improved arsenal. He also played all around the infield, including first base for the first time his senior year. He produced a .340 batting average. Virbitsky made one final impression at the Carpenter Cup at FDR Park last month, twirling three flawless innings with six strikeouts in a head-to-head matchup with Will Carey of Strath Haven.
On the subject of the MLB First-Year Player Draft, Virbitsky knew early his senior season that he likely wouldn’t get selected in the higher rounds. He was perfectly content with his decision to attend Penn State, where he’ll get plenty of chances to play his freshman year.
And in three years, Virbitsky expects to get a call on draft day.
“I had a conversation with a Red Sox scout. He basically told me — and I agreed with him completely — that my best days are ahead of me,” Virbitsky said. “At the end of the day, I was fine with it. I’ve been excited to go to Penn State since my sophomore year. I couldn’t think of a better place to go where I know I’m going to get better. Hopefully three years down the road, I’ll be in a much better situation.”
Top photo: Episcopal Academy’s Kyle Virbitsky is the 2017 Daily Times Player of the Year (Photo by Pete Bannan – Digital First Media)