In a recent sit-down interview session with several Rangers players, I had a lot of questions and a little time. I would rattle through the queries rapid fire, trying to maximize the answers and minimize the players’ time away from game preparation.
“Who taught you to play?’”
“What is your earliest memory of baseball?”
“When did you know you could make it to the big leagues?”
“What pro team did you follow growing up?”
That’s to name a few. It was an answer to that last one that was most surprising. I thought “baseball” was implied in the question, and most of the players did too. The answers were varied. Several guys loved watching the Mariners because Ken Griffey Jr was their favorite player. Many others were Yankees fans growing up because of Derek Jeter.
Then came Jon Gray. He grew up north of the Red River in Chandler, Oklahoma. When I asked him which pro team he followed he didn’t miss a beat, “Oh the Dallas Cowboys,” he said. “I mean they had Troy Aikman, who is from Oklahoma and Emmitt Smith – he’s my favorite player.”
Having talked to Jon a few times since, I can tell you that he may soon be your favorite player.
Consider his answer to the question, “What do you like about living in Texas?”
“The thing I love most is just the down-to-earth people,” he began. “I mean, if you hold a door for someone they say thank you. And people hold doors for you. Everybody seems like friends. I love that.”
Gray was one of the players signed during that historic free-agent spending spree the Rangers went on last December. His contract was not as eye-popping as those of Corey Seager or Marcus Semien, but four years for $56 million is significant. And if you listen to Mark McLemore on Rangers Live, which I’m sure you do, it all starts with pitching.
Gray is the ace of the Rangers staff and was the starting pitcher on opening day in Toronto. Since then he has battled a series of nagging injuries that have kept him from hitting his full stride as the ace of the staff, but Chris Woodward is confident Gray will be pitching to that title before too long.
Jonathon was one of those kids who played every sport as a kid. Wrestling was his first love, but eventually he gravitated to the big three, football, basketball and baseball.
His junior year in High School the Chandler Lions made it to the State Championship game. They lost the game, and after that season they lost Gray to baseball. He realized that it was time to concentrate on the game that might pay him 14 million dollars a year someday.
Jon’s brother Jack is back at Chandler High – he is the head coach of the Lions football team. Which tells you what Jon might be doing today if this baseball thing had not worked out. The brothers Gray might be the head football and baseball coaches at Chandler.
Instead, Jon is a part of the 50th Anniversary Rangers team in Texas. I asked him about that, too. He was only 3 years old when this man retired, but it is still the first name that comes to mind when asked about the 50 years of Rangers baseball in Texas.
“It’s obviously Nolan Ryan,” he said. “I mean I know he had a 100-mile-per-hour fastball, but I love his attitude. He wasn’t scared of anything.”
If it sounds like Jon is saying all the right things, that is because he is saying all the right things. But he is not saying them just because they are the right things to say. He is saying them because he believes them.
He is one of us now. He may be the one holding the door for you at the BBQ place or the one thanking you for holding it for him at the gas station. He said everybody feels like friends here, and he meant it.
If he accomplishes his goal of leading the Rangers to a World Series Title imagine the friends he will have then. They will stretch all the way from here to Chandler, Oklahoma.