Jon Gray’s struggles on the mound have been well documented this season. They may even have started with the 2017 Wild Card game. After Friday night’s particularly awful outing against the Cubs — the first time in Gray’s career that he has posted three consecutive losses — most writers and fans will focus on things like mechanics, and rightfully so because they’re key. But for topics like that, he’s got Rockies coaches Bud Black and Steve Foster. What I want to offer is more spiritual.
Jon, it’s time for a change. It’s time to cut your hair.
When reading interviews with Gray, I’m struck by how philosophically he talks about pitching. Gray said of the Wild Card game against the Diamondbacks, “I got outside myself. It stinks when it happens that fast.” After he’d had the winter to contemplate the game, here’s how he described the atmosphere:
“I definitely know now that it’s far different than a regular game. . . . The atmosphere changes and it’s a lot tougher than it looks. It’s so much harder to stay in the element and just pitch. Your tempo is harder to find because there is so much energy.
“What I learned, I think, is that if you can find a way to harness all of that energy, it can be a positive thing.”
In his disappointed self-evaluation the next day, Gray said he strayed from a mental checklist before each pitch that includes a strong stride, staying in line with his target and throwing through the target rather than to it. Instead, he strived for added nastiness – and let his thoughts drift to the hitter, whom he doesn’t control.
”I’m trying to get the guy to swing and believe it’s going to be a fastball,” Gray said. “But when you tense up and really throw, you’re trying harder but throwing the ball higher, and it gives the guy a chance.”
The spiritual aspect of pitching is fascinating. When Gray describes “staying inside himself,” that’s what he means: Thinking about what he can control (the throw) and what he can’t (the hitter), and keeping his focus where it needs to be.
While watching Gray struggle this season, I’ve been thinking about a VH1 Behind the Music documentary on Lenny Kravitz, a musician with the most amazing dreadlocks, maybe ever. In it, Kravitz describes hitting a rough patch in his life:
I just wanted to change my energy, and there’s a lot of energy that’s held in your locks. So one day, I went off to see [ex-wife Lisa Bonet], and she said, “We have to cut your hair right now.” And I kept trying to change the subject, and she’s like, “No, Len, you have to cut it NOW.” . . . We’re sitting in the window, and the mountains were there, and she starts cutting, and I start cutting, and I started [breathes deeply], and I could feel this stuff coming out of me, and, man, it was incredible. I felt so light when it was done. It was beautiful.
That is, Kravitz changed the energy.
Gray’s hair is his signature, a rebellion against the “clean rule” authoritarianism he played under in college and the minors. His teammates acknowledge that he has pretty amazing hair, and more than that, he donates it to Locks of Love, an organization that makes hairpieces for children with pediatric cancer.
When Gray last cut his hair, catcher Tony Wolters was worried, as Gray remembered in April of 2017: “He’s like, ‘You better not cut it. You better not cut it. You look like a lion out there,’” said Gray. “It will be back before we know it. We’ll find another way to be intimidating.” And they did, with the Rockies going on to play in the Wild Card game.
But these are different times.
In addition to listening to Bud Black and Steve Foster (and Lenny Kravitz), I’d urge Jon to take the advice of fashion maven Coco Chanel: “A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.”
Change your life, Jon. Hair is a powerful part of how others see us and how we see ourselves. Nolan came back from his suspension with a new look, I suspect in part because of all the attention his hair got during the brawl and in part because he was ready to change the energy. Conversely, there’s Charlie Blackmon’s beard, “birthed from superstition and self-discovery.”
Jon, you’re a spiritual person – you’ve defined yourself as the Gray Wolf – so you know that symbolism and symbolic acts are powerful. Give what you’ve grown to Locks of Love, and change the energy.
As you’ve said before, “It will be back before we know it.”