The Gray Wolf howled into our hearts during his six years in purple
Despite expressing a deep desire to stay with the Colorado Rockies, the two separated at the end of the season when he was not extended a qualifying offer and officially split up on Sunday night after he inked a four-year deal with the Texas Rangers.
Gray was drafted third overall in the 2013 draft and was heralded as the “(future) ace of the Rockies” even before his MLB debut on August 4, 2015. He certainly had some ups and downs during his six-year tenure in the Mile High City and even though the Gray Wolf has moved from Colorado to Texas, he howled his way into the hearts of many Rockies fans. Here are some of the Purple Row staff’s favorite memories of Big Jon:
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Skyler Timmins – Jon Gray goes deep
There is plenty to be said about Gray’s efforts on the mound, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to talk about his first career home run. During a game against the Reds at Coors Field on July 5, 2017, Gray stepped up to the plate with a runner on in the bottom of the second. Reds starter Scott Feldman left a belt-high fastball over the heart of the plate and Gray blasted a no-doubter to dead center. The ball ended up traveling 467 feet and was the longest home run for the Rockies at that point in the season until some of the other sluggers decided to hit some moonshots. Oh, and Gray ended up tossing 5 2⁄3 innings of work and allowed just two earned runs in the victory.
Justin Wick – Gray’s MLB Debut (August 4, 2015)
I’m a sucker for big-league starting pitcher debuts. I fondly remember “Jonathan” Gray, as he was called when he was drafted with the third-overall pick in 2013. I was so excited to watch a homegrown arm take the mound after the post-2009 struggles of the franchise.
High altitude has made it tough to land a great starting pitcher in Denver unless they come from within. Gray was our guy that could make it happen; after the team finished at or near the divisional bottom from 2011-2014, it felt like the sun was coming back out again.
He didn’t make a lights-out debut, but it wasn’t awful either (4 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 4 K). What I remember most is him taking the mound in the top of the first with “Feelin’ Alright” by Joe Cocker blasting over the Coors Field speakers — and Gray looked like the coolest guy on the planet. I started college a few days after Gray’s debut and took that gem of a song with me.
Paul Elliott – Gray Strikes Out 16 Padres (September 17, 2016)
At the end of the 2016 season, the Rockies appeared to have turned a corner and were building towards two playoff appearances the next two seasons. Jon Gray’s 16-strikeout performance against the Padres late in that season was the epitome of the feeling that the Rockies were on their way to being competitive.
Jon Gray showed why he was the Rockies’ 2013 first-round pick and third-overall pick. He dominated the Padres hitters, only allowing four hits and striking out 16 in the complete game shutout. The game was Gray’s first complete game and the first shutout of his career.
The 16-strikeout performance was the most in a single game in franchise history, beating out Darryl Kile’s 14-strikeout performance in 1998. Likewise, Gray’s performance beat out Randy Johnson for the most strikeouts in a game at Coors Field.
Adam Peterson – Jon Gray in Little Rock (May 10, 2014)
Jon Gray was not my first prospect crush, but he was the first one I drove out of my way to see. Jon Gray was less than a year removed from going third overall in the MLB draft and was already considered a top-20 prospect in baseball. I was living in Memphis, Tennessee, just a short two-and-a-half hour drive to Little Rock — home of the Double-A Arkansas Travelers. When I found out he was scheduled to pitch on a Saturday night Texas League matchup, I grabbed a buddy and we made the trek to see Gray while he was still a Pebble.
To be honest, Gray did not impress that night. He had some nasty off-speed stuff going but otherwise put up a mediocre line: 6 2⁄3 IP, 4 H, 1 R/ER, 2 K, 1 BB. But still, we saw him. A little over a year later, he made his MLB debut. And anytime I got to see him pitch, whether in person or on TV, I got to say that I saw him before he made it.
I’ll always remember that game because it also led to my first ever post on Purple Row (read at your own risk). Seven years later, I’m serving on the staff here. No, it’s not equivalent to making “The Show,” but it’s a privilege I do not take for granted. So no matter where Jon Gray goes in his career, we’ll remain linked by the fact that we saw each other before we made it.
Evan Lang – Meeting Jon Gray
My favorite Jon Gray moment might be a little different from some of my colleagues here, but it’s my favorite nonetheless. Several years ago I had the opportunity to meet Jon Gray on an “autograph Sunday.” It used to be that the Rockies would have players meet fans and sign autographs on the first home Sunday of every month. I hadn’t met or spoken with a player since I was a kid, so naturally I was a little starstruck. I stammered out something about it being amazing to meet him and how I loved watching him pitch. He was gracious and kind, thanked me for being a fan, and signed a ball and my hat. Then my friend, who was at the game with me, approached Gray. My friend was wearing a “Turn Ahead The Clock” jersey before they were brought back into production. The very first thing he says to my friend is how much he loves that jersey, and the two of them start talking about jerseys and shoes.
“Game recognizes game,” my friend would say.
But this helped me relearn that the players are people first and foremost, and it’s become a fond memory for both my friend and I while also coloring how I interact with players to this day. Of course, as fate would have it, my friend is a Texas Rangers fan… Big Jon’s new team.
Kenneth Weber – 2017 NL Wild Card Game (October 4, 2017)
Jon Gray got the ball in Arizona for the do-or-die Wild Card game against the Diamondbacks at Chase Field in 2017, and I was fortunate enough to attend. It…did not go well for Gray or the Rockies. After enduring the clutter of the gates and concourse in Phoenix, I was finally able to get a sight-line of the action in the bottom of the first inning. Within a matter of seconds, that sight turned terrifying as I watched Paul Goldschmidt launch a hanging curve by Gray over the left-field wall for a three-run blast to give the D’Backs an early lead. We all know how that game turned out (Archie Bradley!?!) but as a fan that has long thirsted for sustainable success from the Rockies organization, 2017 felt like the start of something.
Obviously that feeling has fleeted over the past few seasons, but at that time it was still a valid emotion and Jon Gray was at the center of it. That turned out to be Gray’s lone postseason appearance with the Rockies, which is a shame, but that doesn’t change what he meant to the franchise. He was the face of a new generation of starting pitchers for Colorado, the first to arrive and change the narrative for Colorado. Gray was the proof that starting pitching could be developed successfully at elevation. That is a philosophy that has mostly gone as-planned and is what earned him the start in the biggest game of that season.
Joelle Milholm – Jon Gray, The Baseball Ghost Hunter
I always liked Jon Gray because he just seemed like a cool guy. Maybe it was the long hair or the mohawk or maybe it was the Gray Wolf nickname and accompanying howls, but every time Jon Gray took the mound I got excited. It probably wasn’t going to be a complete game (he’s only had one in 151 starts), but he was probably going to have some fun strikeouts with the potential of some amazing stuff along the way.
However, my favorite fact about Gray is his love of the paranormal. Growing up, I was a huge Ghostbusters fan and I have loved all the following movies. Having a Rockie Ghostbuster was pretty cool. I wish him nothing but the best in Texas and now he gets to be a Ranger Ghostbuster, which is pretty cool too.
Mac Wilcox – Gray’s Honest Talk About Mental Health
This one might be weird, because it’s not a web gem or a stellar pitching performance. Instead, I want to look back on something that really stuck with me personally, and that’s Gray’s raw and honest conversation regarding his battle with depression.
The interview with the phenomenal Thomas Harding took place in July of this year, and is a rare look at something athletes are often loath to to discuss – the struggles of an athlete’s mental health, and how it can affect their life on and off the diamond. So often we look at baseball players as unfeeling, robotic automatons that simply go about their games and live above us all. Here, though, was a pitcher – arguably the Rockies’ ace and the leader of their pitching staff – expressing his vulnerability and showing us that the toll this game takes on these men is far more significant than we may realize at a glance.
The great starts and nasty strikeouts were excellent, but this interview was one that will stay with me for a long time. Now more than ever, the knowledge that these gladiators are going through similar struggles to our own is so important. Gray was brave for doing this, and I’ll remember it for a long time.
Sam Bradfield – Strike Up the Rock-ies Band!
For one of my early Purple Row articles, I chose to interview as many players as possible about their experiences playing musical instruments, if they had any. As I noted in the article at the time, and in some subsequent reflections, there weren’t very many but the ones who did had some interesting stories to tell.
My favorite interview of that series, however, was Jon Gray. He and I talked for just a couple of minutes about his experience playing guitar and bass in high school, as well as his desire at that time to set up a “jam room” for his teammates who also played various instruments. He had a huge grin on his face the whole time. But the best part of the interview itself was his reaction right at the end. After I thanked him, he emphatically exclaimed, “Yeah! That was fun!”
Gray was really the first of the group to be genuinely excited about the questions I was asking him and reminiscing on his attempts at playing guitar and bass (Ryan McMahon was also excited about the topic, but didn’t play any instruments so he instead offered to help me find some guys who did). That two-minute interaction really made me love Jon Gray even more as a human because he took a genuine interest in what I was doing and had some great stories to tell.
I’ve interviewed Gray numerous times over the last four years and always had really excellent conversations with him — he has been definitely one of my favorite players to interview — but that was definitely my favorite one.
Best of luck in Texas, Jon!
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What are some of your favorite Jon Gray memories? Sound off in the comments below!