CINCINNATI — Sonny Gray drew laughter from the media Thursday when he recounted a childhood memory of his first Cincinnati Reds game.
“I remember we parked somewhere and we had to walk over a bridge and over a river,” Gray said.
The room of reporters broke out in chuckles as they realized Gray had no idea he and his father had parked in Newport, Kentucky, and walked over a bridge spanning the Ohio River after driving from Nashville, Tennessee.
The right-handed starting pitcher the Reds acquired from the New York Yankees on Jan. 21 in a three-team deal also involving the Seattle Mariners laughed with the media. Gray enjoyed himself, something he didn’t do much last season with the Yankees, when he posted a 4.90 ERA in 30 games.
“I’ve felt welcomed here since day one,” Gray said. “I’m excited for this opportunity. It’s just fun. Baseball is a fun game and you need to enjoy it. I couldn’t be happier to be here.”
Gray’s first start with the Reds was scheduled for Saturday against the Pirates, but a rainout pushed his Cincinnati debut back to Sunday.
Cincinnati, coming off its fourth consecutive season of 90 or more losses, traded second base prospect Shed Long and a competitive balance pick in the 2019 Major League Baseball Draft for Gray and minor league pitcher Reiver Sanmartin.
An All-Star with Oakland as recently as 2015, Gray is 26-32 with a 4.59 ERA in the past three seasons. That’s a far cry from his first three seasons with the A’s, when he was 33-20 with a 2.88 ERA.
Still, the 29-year-old Gray is expected to boost a Reds rotation that also includes newcomers Tanner Roark (from the Washington Nationals) and Alex Wood (from the Los Angeles Dodgers), both acquired in the offseason.
Cincinnati is so confident in Gray they signed him to a three-year extension, during which he will earn $30.5 million on top of the $7.5 million he will take home this season. The Reds also have a $12 million option on Gray for 2023.
Gray said he thinks of his dad, who died in a car crash in 2004, often when preparing to pitch.
“I write three things in my hat, FAH [which he declined to explain], my number and dad,” Gray said. “He’d be here for every game. He was at all my games, there for the whole ride. I feel like he’s always with me.”
Gray’s excitement ramped up Thursday when he and fellow pitcher Anthony DeSclafani rode in a truck together during the Findlay Market Parade, an Opening Day tradition in Cincinnati. Gray said he was overwhelmed by the crowd of more than 50,000 on the route through downtown.
“The parade, everyone told me it was special,” Gray said. “People were very, very, very genuinely excited about the Reds. I was really glad to be a part of it.”
Fans expect Gray to be a key part of the Reds’ resurgence in the National League Central Division. Gray said he harbors similar expectations from a team that features 13 new players on its 25-man roster.
“Winning,” Gray said. “That’s all we’ve talked about. We believe it. We certainly have the talent here. We’ve gotten really tight as a group during Spring Training and it’s about going out and competing and winning together.”