Honor or curse, Gray is excited
scottsdale, ariz. »
He might not be stuck with the most mind- freaking job in sports, but Rockies pitcher Jon Gray is definitely on the shortlist.
Bestowed the honor of taking the mound for the season opener at Milwaukee, Gray responded with a nonchalant grin and said, “I’m just looking to go out there and get that first W.”
Me? I would have reacted to the news like that dude Edvard Munch painted in “The Scream,” then scurried home, jumped in bed and hid under the covers for a week.
“It’s a feather in the cap to be named the opening- day starter. It’s a special day for all of us in baseball,” Colorado manager Bud Black said Thursday.
For fans, the annual return of baseball is all about the poetry, odes inspired by the heady mix of beer for breakfast, the smell of freshly cut grass and hope springing eternal. What’s the reality? Being named the opening- day starter for the Rockies might indeed be an honor, but it also can be a curse that quickly ruins a perfectly fine pitching career.
With a shout of “Play ball!” the Rockies will open their 25th season as a National League franchise in 2017. Try to wrap your mind around this factoid without freaking out: Gray will be the 18th different starting pitcher for Colorado on opening day.
Want to be the ace for this team? Are
you sure? From David Nied to Bill Swift, and from Jeremy Guthrie to Kyle Kendrick, the list of casualties condemned to this dirty job is long and ugly.
The real burden for Gray is not the significance of the first start but the responsibility to lead a young Rockies pitching staff in all the starts that follow, against the likes of San Francisco stopper Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw, who has won the Cy Young Award three times for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“You want to set the tone. … Go out there and do your job every time,” Gray said.
There was never a doubt about his slider, a pitch so nasty it earned Gray a $ 4.8 million signing bonus before he won a single game in the big leagues. Whether Gray had the stuff to be an ace at Coors Field, a place wickedly unfair to pitchers, was always a question about his mental toughness.
Gray is 25 years old, with a scant 38 career starts. Where he has grown most as a pitcher is not as obvious as his long, shaggy hair. The maturity of Gray can be measured by the calluses on his heart. Yes, his mind was initially blown by the cheap home runs manufactured at Coors. He nevertheless learned to love the ballpark as his home.
“I had to take ownership of everything that happens. The negativity. The good things. Own it all,” said Gray, who realized that playing the victim earned him neither victories nor sympathy. “I was in the passenger seat. Now I’m in the driver’s seat.”
We all want to believe this year will be the first time since 2010 the Rockies will enjoy a winning season. The optimism begins with Gray.
Without question, his shoulders are strong enough to handle the job. It’s the strength of the head on those shoulders that will determine whether Gray thrives in the job.