The name "Sonny Gray" sounds like a fictional character in a feel-good sports movie, not a real person. And as an A's fan watching him, pinching yourself every time he starts to make sure you're not dreaming, he still doesn't seem real. Yes, he's on your team, and he's that good, and he's that young. Maybe he really is something conjured up in our imaginations. That's the only possible explanation.
The 5'11", 180-pound Tennesseean was born in Nashville, played high school ball 30 minutes out of the city for Smyrna High, then attended college a stone's throw away at Vanderbilt. He began as a relief pitcher for the Commodores, earning his starting role by late in his Freshman year. He pitched at Vanderbilt for three years until he was selected by the A's in the first round (No. 18 overall) of the 2011 draft. It was only two years later in 2013 when he got his first start in the Majors.
Gray has already made a mark for himself in a short time, being named as a Cy Young finalist and an All-Star in 2015. He's got a dangerous pitching repertoire, including a killer curve and a fastball that has come in over 90 mph since high school. And the best thing? He's only 26, and still will be for all of next season.
It's always Sonny in Oakland.
Predicting the future is impossible, but still fun to speculate. Gray was only a year older in his first All-Star appearance than Barry Zito was back in 2002, and with a third season under his belt, the possibilities are nothing but ... well, sunshine.
Gray played football and baseball in high school and grew up with a drive for competition. He led the Smyrna High football team to back-to-back state championships. Vandy even wanted Gray as a football player as well as a baseball player, but Gray's heart was on the mound, and that's where he stayed.
Gray is doing exactly what he loves and what he's always loved to do. He still has a passion for college football, he's still playing the game he's been in love with since he was a kid and he's still great at it. And through it all, he's remained humble and appreciative of where life has taken him.
When he was 14, Gray lost his best friend and father, Jesse Gray, to an auto accident. Jesse had raised Sonny to see the fun, passion and drive for improvement in sports from a young age, spending every spare moment he could supporting his son's endeavors. On the day Sonny's father passed, Gray made a life-changing decision and honored his father by leading Smyrna High football to an emotional 28-6 win. Gray threw four touchdown passes that night.