This winter, Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Jon Gray made somewhat of a habit out of going to Starbucks with his wife, Jacklyn, and their two Yorkies, Trunks and Sophie.
A couple times a month, they’d all load in Gray’s vehicle and head to the popular coffee chain near the Rockies’ training facility in Scottsdale, Arizona. The adults got their caffeine fix there and the dogs got “Puppucinos.”
“It’s whipped cream in a cup for dogs,” Jon explains. “And if you go to In-N-Out they give you a puppy patty. It’s like a burger patty without salt.”
On the field, Gray is a hard-throwing righty who’s talented and confident enough to say with a straight face that he can become the best pitcher in franchise history. But off the field, this is Gray: Compassionate, quirky and interested in things that men who throw 97 mph fastballs typically aren’t.
In 2016, Gray completed one of the finest rookie seasons by a Rockies pitcher ever. He set a franchise rookie record by striking out 185 batters. His 9.91 strikeouts per nine innings mark ranked ninth in the MLB among all starting pitchers.
Gray, who made nine major league starts in 2015 before making 29 in 2016, showed signs of putting it all together. Rockies pitching coach Steve Foster likened his development to that of a Chinese bamboo shoot.
“In its first four years, if it’s gotten proper sunlight and it’s in the greenhouse and it’s watered a little bit, it grows a maximum of 2 centimeters per year,” Foster says. “So 2 in the first year, 2 in the second year, 2 in the third year and 2 in the fourth year. Then in the fifth year, the Chinese bamboo chute can grow up to 85 feet tall.
“So when I think of him, I think of the Chinese bamboo shoot. I saw and heard of little growth for the first portion of his pro career. Then last year — shooooooo — he shot up, man.”
As the season wore on, Foster saw a pitcher who learned to put mistakes behind him instead of letting them compound. He watched Gray develop a curveball “as quick as anybody” he’s ever worked with. And he witnessed a young pitcher who began to embrace playing at the pitcher’s graveyard that is Coors Field, where Gray posted a 4.30 ERA and 94 strikeouts in 83 2/3 innings.
Everything culminated in a mid-September game against the San Diego Padres. Gray fanned 16 batters one his way to earning a complete-game victory. The Rockies won 8-0. Gray’s 16 strikeouts were the most in Rockies franchise history. It was also a Coors Field record; Gray surpassed Randy Johnson’s previous high of 14 from 2001.
“Hands down that was the best game I’ve seen pitched at Coors,” says second baseman D.J. LeMahieu, who’s been with the Rockies since the start of the 2012 season. “I think I’ve only seen three complete games there. Sixteen strikeouts, that’s pretty incredible. He’s got stuff that plays anywhere.”
When Gray’s not playing baseball, his interests run the gamut from mundane — golfing, fishing and videos games — to more peculiar activities like drawing and ghost hunting. The paranormal has been of interest to Gray since he had a spooky experience as a 10-year-old. He doesn’t like to delve into what happened. But whatever it was inspired him to last year take up ghost hunting as a hobby.
With some of his ghost hunting equipment in tow, Gray investigated the supposedly haunted Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee on a road trip last August. He didn’t discover anything out of the ordinary, but Gray insists that it was a valuable experience.
The man who’s the Rockies’ best hope to develop into a legitimate ace knows he’s a different from the typical professional baseball player. He identifies as a nerd in his Twitter profile. “Also a Nerd,” it reads. “Big Time.” He’s not shy to share about his relationship status there — “Husband to @MrsGrayWolf22” — or his “children” — “Rescue Father of Yorkies.”
One of the Yorkies the Grays adopted six months ago, Trunks, only has three good legs. There’s no bone in his front right leg. All that’s there from the elbow down is a little bit of skin and some semblance of a paw.
“He’s basically a three-legged dog, but when he runs around he’s like a jet,” Gray says. “You can’t stop him. He’s freaking awesome.”
Watching a disabled lap dog run around the house isn’t an activity you’d expect from a guy who throws a 12-to-6 curve and a slider that buckles hitters at the knees. Gray isn’t like most guys that capable, and that sits just fine with him and his team.
“You know what? If he had jumped out of the truck and had two pit bulls that probably would’ve made a lot more sense,” Foster says. “But you’ve got two little cute Yorkies, and he loves them. And I think that that’s fine. That’s cool. But yeah, I probably would’ve pictured two pit bulls. Or a german shepherd. I don’t know.”
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