MESA, Ariz. -– With time, perhaps Sonny Gray will grow used to the perks that come with baseball stardom.
For now he gets a genuine kick out of it and doesn’t mind sharing that.
The A’s Cy Young finalist spent a January afternoon on location in Vancouver shooting a commercial for Xfinity X1 that was broadcast during the Super Bowl. Gray was asked to mimic what he does best –- throw a baseball -– and he joked that he almost Googled some footage of himself to see how he should look for the shoot.
“Everybody’s always told me when I come off the mound that I put my hat up and then I kind of tuck my shirt in,” Gray recalled Saturday. “That was the only thing I could think of. So I was like, ‘All right, that’s what I’ll do.’”
Playing the role of franchise star doesn’t come naturally to the soft-spoken Tennessee native. But Gray’s performance on the mound -– particularly last year’s All-Star campaign –- makes him Oakland’s face-of-the-franchise player. With that comes more exposure, more media demands, and yes, more endorsement opportunities.
But the bar also rises on the field, considering the A’s will lean on Gray’s pitching and leadership more than ever in 2016. Aside from 11-year veteran Rich Hill, Oakland’s rotation likely will feature lots of youth regardless of who fills the other three spots. Gray is just 26 himself, with two full years of major league experience, but his track record says he’s the guy his rotation mates will look to.
Gray showed up to camp Saturday having added five pounds to his 5-foot-11 frame, putting him at about 185 pounds. Last year his weight dipped into the 178-180 range, and Gray thinks the modest addition of bulk will help keep him stronger.
“Whenever you go through a couple of major league seasons and get more experience, you realize what works for you,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He thinks he feels like he needs to be a little bit heavier and a little stronger. Toward the end of the season he’s been beat up for a couple years. … He’s a very focused kid. He’s very aware of what his body’s telling him and always trying to get better.”
And about that experience in Vancouver, Gray said the most amusing thing about shooting his commercial was the actor playing the catcher was left-handed. Gray said he tried to convince the directors, who were from London, that a left-handed catcher just didn’t look right.
“I definitely noticed that, how could you not?” Gray said with a big smile. “I told them, ‘You can’t really have a left-handed catcher. They go, ‘It’s fine, it’s fine. I asked BoMel, ‘You noticed the left-handed catcher and he said ‘What?’ So half the people noticed it and half didn’t.”
A’s catcher Stephen Vogt had an entertaining, and exhausting, experience Monday night, baby-sitting Gray’s 1-year-old son, Gunnar.
“We had so much fun,” Vogt said. “He and my son, Clark, are so close in age but Clark isn’t walking yet, wheras Gunnar is. So I chased him all over the house. We were taking batting practice. We were pulling stuff out of drawers, I was putting it back in. We were watching the Grammys in the background. You couldn’t have drawn up a better night for Gunnar and I to hang out.
“If you ever wanted to know what Sonny was like at a year old, watch Gunnar. If you wanna know what Gunnar’s gonna be like, watch Sonny. They’re twins, same temperament.”
Vogt is catching bullpen sessions but not throwing the ball, as his surgically repaired right elbow heals. He is taking dry swings with the bat – meaning he doesn’t make contact with a ball. Swinging the bat is what bothered his elbow most, not throwing.
Vogt likely will begin playing in games in mid-March, and Melvin hopes to get him into roughly 12 exhibitions or a bit more.
Asked about a role for Coco Crisp, Melvin echoed the words of general manager David Forst – “It’s all gonna be about health for Coco. If he’s playing well, we’re gonna find at-bats for him.”
The same goes for Mark Canha, Melvin said.