Former Smyrna Bulldog Sonny Gray finally lived his lifelong dream by reaching the big show earlier this month when he was called up by the Oakland A’s.
“It’s been really cool experience, especially coming to see a lot of guys from spring training and some I’ve seen on TV,” said Gray, who pitched college ball at Vanderbilt University. “It’s kind of cool to play with them and against them.”
Gray made his Major League Baseball debut on national television July 10 in a 5-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Although he only pitched two innings in relief that night, he gave an impressive performance.
Gray finished with three strikeouts and only gave up one hit during his time on the mound. That has been his only major league appearance for the American League West division leaders heading into the break.
He said he hopes to continue the success when the A’s get off the all-star break Friday against the Los Angeles Angels, of Anaheim.
“My goal is to stay up here and do anything I can to help the team win,” Gray said. “I’m new up here, so I kind of got to get on the same page with those guys.”
Gray came from humble beginnings.
During his time playing for the Smyrna Bulldogs from 2005-2008, he helped lead the team to a couple of state titles on the football field and state tournament appearances on the diamond.
Smyrna High School head coach Barry Vetter remembers what Gray meant to the entire Bulldog athletic program.
“He has meant a ton to Smyrna, the community and school, and the baseball program,” Vetter said. “His making it to the MLB gives all younger baseball players in Smyrna the ability to dream of also making it and becoming a MLB player.
"He is a very humble and nice young man that has a great family. He is very grounded and understands that he is lucky to be where he is, but he deserves it because he works really hard and stays focused on his dream. He is very close to his family and will always call Smyrna home.”
Gray is one of the few athletes to have his jersey retired at Smyrna.
He pitched at Vanderbilt from 2009-2011. During his final season with the Commodores as a junior, he helped lead the team to its first ever trip to the College World Series. Currently, he is fourth in career strikeouts with 317, and second in career wins with 27 at the school.
Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin said he believes the college experience helped him prepare for the majors.
“The mental development in the classroom, the on-going development of social skills in a university setting, and the level of competition in our program and in the SEC certainly benefited Gray’s advancement to the big leagues,” Corbin said.
Both of his former coaches said they believe the biggest part of Gray’s success is his competitiveness on the mound.
“Gray is a great pitcher because he is a great competitor -- he really hates to lose at anything,” Vetter said.
Corbin added, “Gray is one of the best competitors I have seen in athletics, period. He’s different."
"He had a competitive spirit that very few can get to," Corbin continued. "It’s an innate ability of his. After watching him play football and baseball in high school, it was apparent that everything he was a part of, he was going to attack and win.”
In order to continue his professional career, Gray will need to continue his competitiveness on the mound as the A's continue their fight for their second consecutive American League West title and a trip to the playoffs.