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Three-sport athlete focuses on baseball

As a walk on with the St. Johns River Community College baseball program, former Crystal River centerfielder Kyle Griffin will head to Palatka this fall on his own dime.

No problem.

The Vikings might lack scholarship money, but not opportunity. They return one starting outfielder from last season's 19-22 team, leaving two spots open.

"I might get to start," Griffin said. "I just have to put up good numbers in the fall.

"I'm going in there thinking nobody else is going to be better than me. If somebody wants to play out there, they're going to have to beat me."

The 5-foot-10, 167-pound Griffin started three seasons at Crystal River. He also earned four letters in soccer (was Times All-Citrus/Hernando pick in 2001 and 2002) and one in football.

Griffin has been guaranteed a spot on the St. Johns roster.

"I would not have asked him to come if I didn't think he could contribute," Vikings coach Sam Rick said. "He has the speed we're looking for, and he has a good arm from the outfield."

Griffin batted .333 with 1 home run, 3 doubles and 18 RBIs in helping lead the Pirates to the Class 3A final four this spring. He was errorless in the field.

"I think he can definitely play at the next level," Crystal River coach Brent Hall said.

"He's extremely fast, and he handles that outfield as well as anybody. He has an above-average arm, and he came up with some timely hits the last two years. We're real excited about him moving on. I've got complete confidence in his ability."

As Griffin prepares for college, his primary focus is his hitting.

"I need to work on off-speed pitches and hitting toward right field," he said. "I tend to not follow through all the way and not hit the ball as hard as I should. It causes me to hit little lazy popups sometimes.

"Coach Hall has worked with me, and I'm starting to drive the ball better. He said to just keep working on it."

Hall said: "He has to really decide he wants to become a complete hitter. (In college) you've got to hit. Kyle can hit the fastball with anybody, but he has to work on the breaking ball. Once he gets that down, he'll be much better."

Griffin will travel to Monroe, La., later this week to play for Crystal River in the Dixie Majors National Tournament.

When he returns, he will spend much of his time in the batting cage and at the gym.

"I think I can (start) if I work hard enough," Griffin said.

Keith Niebuhr can be reached at 860-7337.