With a daughter who attends Seacrest, former Major League Baseball player and ESPN analyst John Kruk has paid attention to the Stingrays softball program since moving to Naples six years ago.
The three-time all-star was bothered by the instability of the team, so he took matters into his own hands.
Kruk, who played professional baseball for 10 years, will be Seacrest’s new varsity softball coach. He’ll be the fourth coach in four years, which is exactly why Kruk wanted the job.
“It’s tough to build a program when you have a new coach every year,” Kruk, 55, said. “It’s not fair to the girls.”
After retiring from the MLB in 1995, Kruk has been involved with the Seacrest athletic program since moving to town in 2010. His daughter, Keira, is in fifth grade at the school while his son, Kyle, is an eighth-grader who plays with the Stingrays varsity baseball team.
This year Kruk has coached Seacrest’s middle school baseball team and worked as a varsity assistant. Kruk’s team won the middle school conference championship this season.
The Stingrays play in the Class 2A semifinals next Wednesday, but Kruk has been away from the team the past few weeks after having knee surgery.
Since 2004, Kruk has been a baseball analyst for ESPN. He said he plans to continue to work for the sports network. The high school softball season ends in late April or early May, while the MLB begins in early April.
Coaching softball isn’t new to Kruk, a .300 career hitter for the Padres, Phillies and White Sox. He’s coached his daughter in little league before. Because Seacrest is a private school, Keira Kruk will be eligible to play varsity as a sixth-grader next year, but her dad didn’t know if she would.
To prepare for his new job, Kruk reached out to University of Florida softball coach Tim Walton and Alabama coach Pat Murphy for advice. The two have combined to win three Women’s College World Series titles. They told Kruk to coach the girls just like he would the boys.
“This is nothing new to me,” Kruk said. “Male or female, it’s no different. If you concentrate on fundamentals, play hard, be aggressive and try to eliminate mental mistakes you’ll be successful.”
The Seacrest softball team hasn’t had a lot of success since becoming a varsity program in 2009. The Stingrays made the FHSAA regional playoffs the past two seasons by virtue of playing in a three-team district (the top two teams make regionals), but had losing records both times.
This spring, under new coach Steve Vargas, Seacrest went 6-7. Athletic director Mark Marsala said the program moved forward, but Vargas got a good job opportunity and had to resign.
“We’re looking for someone to give us stability,” Marsala said. “John really knows our kids and loves our kids. He’s a big advocate for women’s athletics, and he’s always been a big advocate for softball.”
Kruk will coach on the Seacrest softball field he had a large part in creating.
After moving to town and enrolling his kids at Seacrest, Kruk was bothered that the school didn’t have a softball diamond. He hosted fundraisers with celebrity guests — including former Phillies player and Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt and current Orioles manager Buck Showalter — which raised enough to build the field.
The Stingrays’ new coach sees a bright future for his team. Seacrest started nine underclassmen in its regional game, including four eighth-graders, and graduates just one senior.
“When we start practice in January, it’s going to be a learning process,” Kruk said. “It’s going to take some time for me to get to know the kids and what they’re best at and then try to implement that in games.”