The future is an amazing and mind-boggling adventure. The future is filled with limitless possibilities; a blank canvas upon which we are free to paint our own hopes and dreams. And for Colorado Rockies fans, if my time with the rookie team is any indication, the future looks awfully bright.
My week with the Grand Junction Rockies was an absolute blast. I'd like to thank Mike Ruvolo, Dom Nunez, Ryan McMahon, Jordan Patterson, Zach Jemiola, and Jonathan Gray for taking their time (when really they didn't have to) to talk not just to me, but to the readers of Purple Row. Also thank you to other players I briefly talked to, most notably Zach Osborn who embodies what the game of baseball is all about.
There is so much that I missed in this piece because of time constraints. Watching Terry McLure fly around the base-paths or track down fly balls in the outfield is exhilarating. Catcher Jose Briceno struggled a bit behind the plate but hit like he was wielding a tennis racket, at one point having a stretch of 11 plate appearances in which he had eight hits, including six doubles and two home runs, a four pitch walk, and two loud outs. Raimel Tapia has a smile that lights up the whole ballpark indicative of the great attitude exuded by the team as a whole.
What a group of classy young men. And as Dan O'Dowd said to me, "they can play too."
I would also like to extend my thanks to "Mo" and Ed, the ushers who spent some time with me sharing stories before and after games. Thank you to all the friendly concession and ticket people who chatted me up, thanks to Don and Alma (the beer flag owners) and an extra special thanks to the security team without whom none of this may have ever happened.
And now for the epic conclusion and the interview many have been looking forward to the most...
I met Jonathan Gray in the exact same innocuous fashion I had met the other players; there were no bells and alarms that started flashing saying "this is the No. 3 overall draft pick and the highest rated prospect in the Rockies system!" As Gray was signing autographs before the game, I walked up and asked if he had a second to chat, and with the same quiet confidence with which he would answer all of my other questions he said, "yeah, sure!"
I asked him how it felt to be such a highly rated prospect stepping onto a Rookie team with young players who aren't nearly as highly-touted and may never end up getting a shot in the big-leagues. He shrugged his shoulders immediately in a way that suggested he was uncomfortable with the idea that he is somehow above any of his teammates, but he also couldn't completely fight away the smile that crept across his face that suggested he relishes the opportunity to be the man.
"I've got to, I want to, earn it at every level," he told me. I asked if he thought at all about time tables or if he had set any goals for his own career progression. "Not really," he said, "I'm just ready to get out there and pitch. My arm feels great, but I'm in no hurry." He made it clear to me that he values his own development and that he would much rather take his time learning and getting better than rushing into the higher levels of professional baseball.
We talked a couple of times about how his arm was feeling and how he felt about his layover. He says that even though he "threw a lot of innings in college," he felt as good as he ever has, and his anxiousness to get back on the mound was apparent in both his words and body language. "I'm ready," he said.
We talked next about what he has been working on since being drafted. "Throwing some bullpens here, they've got me working a lot more on my change-up, less on the slider," he mentioned. I double-checked, and he confirmed, that this is something management has asked him to do, but also something he has been relishing, in the coaching he is getting and the work he has put in on developing the pitch.
(Added note: My mother was at his debut last night and says he was sitting around 96 with his fastball and touched 98 on the stadium gun. Keep in mind that there is substantial evidence to suggest that the GJ stadium gun is about 3 MPH slow.)
"I love this place, great fans too," quipped Gray. And for a while, he was one of them.
It seemed like every time I looked into the home team's dugout after a big play, there was Jonathan, up on the top step, cheerleader-in-chief, just a part of a team. That same quiet confidence he carries boils over for the game of baseball.
I was struck by Johnathan's total lack of ego. He seemed fine to talk with me for as long as I wanted and was genuinely excited to be wearing a Rockies uniform and have a chance to answer some questions for you, the die-hard Rockies fan.
Maybe he (and most of his teammates) have simply practiced the art of coming off classy. Maybe this whole thing has been a puff piece building up the character of young men I met and spoke with for just a few fleeting minutes. But I assure you, had Jonathan, or anyone else for that matter, given me a reason to write something negative, I would have.
But, I can only write what I saw. And to me, Jonathan Gray comes off as the kind of guy who signed under slot both as a classy gesture and as an intelligent strategic move to help the team continue to build with him as a part of it.
We finished our conversation around the concept of pitching for the Rockies. "Hitters parks everywhere," he said, describing the Rockies affiliates' home fields. "But I look at that as a challenge," Gray added. "I was excited to be drafted by the Rockies and look forward to that challenge."
Jonathan made it absolutely clear, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he was elated when the Rockies called his name. He almost made it seem like he thought it would be cheating to pitch somewhere else. He doesn't want the excuses of pitching in a pitchers park. "I want to be the guy that proves you can be dominant for this team and in that park."
"Although, Jeff Francis, Aaron Cook, Ubaldo Jimenez ... ," Gray added, stopping there. He didn't want to put himself above any of those guys, but he certainly wasn't going to accept their careers as his ceiling.
Jonathan has the presence of mind to know that he has to earn it at every step of the way, and that right now he is just another member of the Grand Junction Rockies Rookie ball team. He has enough humility to stand and talk to some heavily bearded, hippie-looking guy with a notepad who claims to write for a blog. He talked about Jordan Patterson's throwing arm, Zach Jemiola's impressive outing, and Ryan McMahon's great attitude and baseball IQ.
Jonathan Gray is a Rockie now. And the last thing he said to me before I took my seat to watch the game still sticks out in my mind as a perspective for which I have a great deal of respect. Sure, the path might have been easier had he been drafted by some other team, but to Jonathan that seems like less fun, less of a challenge, and maybe even less glory. As he put it:
"I'd rather be successful here than anywhere else."