I was introduced to Sonny Gray [not personally] through a phone call from Randy Sallis, who was reporting a Lebanon High freshman football score to open the 2004 season.
Randy’s son, Daley, was the Blue Devils’ quarterback. But it was Smyrna’s signal-caller whom Mr. Sallis was gushing about.
Sonny Gray lost his father that morning in a car accident. But he insisted on playing anyway and passed for four first-half touchdowns in a 27-8 Bulldog victory at Smyrna.
Gray’s athletic career only skyrocketed from there. He became one of the nation’s best high school pitchers while quarterbacking Smyrna to back-to-back state championships in 2006 and ’07.
Not that all of his meetings with Lebanon went as well as that freshman opener. The Blue Devils beat Gray’s defending state champion Bulldogs – twice, two of the highlights of Bobby Brown’s nine-year tenure as LHS coach. Like Gray, Brown was a football/baseball standout during his prep career at Watertown.
“Sonny Gray is a heck of a competitor,” said Brown, now a Cumberland assistant coach, on the CU practice field where he prepared his Blue Devils for those Smyrna matchups in ’07 and ’08. “At quarterback, he doesn’t have the great heighth. He’s probably 5-10 1/2, 5-11. On the baseball field, the same thing. He’s a great competitor and somebody when the game is on the line, whether it be football or baseball, you’d want him to be in there for you.”
Oakland A’s manager Bob Melvin decided Gray, a rookie, was the man he wanted on the mound for Thursday’s winner-take-all Game 5 of an American League division series against the Detroit Tigers, picking the 23-year-old over 40-year-old former Cy Young Award winner Bartolo Colon.
That game didn’t turn out the way Gray or Melvin wanted. But the way last year’s Cy winner Justin Verlander was dealing, Gray would have had to match the zeros he posted in is Game 2 matchup with Verlander, who won the clincher 3-0.
Everyone who’s followed sports in middle Tennessee for the last decade has known Gray for his pitching exploits at Vanderbilt, from where he was a first-round draft choice by the A’s in 2011. He made the Show this year and posted a 5-3 record with a 2.67 earned-run average.
In Game 2 against Detroit, he was eating the Tiger hitters alive with his sharp curveball and 94 mph fastball.
Despite Thursday’s setback, Gray’s future looks Sonny. Every baseball fan will soon know who he is if they don’t already.
Football cleats, Pickler’s Red High Heels leave mark on Robinson Stadium
Writing about the history and ambiance of Watertown’s Robinson Stadium last week, I forgot all about the stadium’s main claim to fame for country music fans.
It was the stage for a Kellie Pickler video.
My wife took her volleyball team for a match at Watertown a few years ago and saw the video crew filming on the football field.
Turns out, it was Pickler was filming portions of her “Red High Heels” video.
The male extras in the video even played football on camera, but they were obviously in their 20s, not the Purple Tigers. How Pickler’s crew managed to wrest the field from the Tigers on a weekday afternoon during football season when they would normally be practicing I don’t know.
But anyone can check it out on YouTube. Pickler struts around the field in her red high heels. Though her fans outside middle Tennessee have little idea where this was shot [most of the rest of the video was filmed in downtown Nashville], the painted “W” on the 50-yard line is easily visible, as is the “Robinson Stadium Home of the Purple Tigers” sign beyond the north end zone.
Robinson Stadium will live on as the home of the middle school Purple Tigers, in the memories of generations of players, coaches and fans, and on a country music video.