Matchup with Gray a 'full-circle' moment for A's rookie

Jefferies used to take BART to Coliseum to study Gray's routine

May 18th, 2022

OAKLAND -- typically doesn’t pay much mind to the starter he’s opposing. The personal significance of Wednesday’s matchup, though, was much too special for him to ignore.

The prospect of taking the mound in Oakland's series finale against the Twins at the Coliseum on Wednesday afternoon struck a large sum of nostalgia for the A’s right-hander. Lining up opposite , Jefferies found himself anticipating a pitching showdown against somewhat of an idol.

Gray, of course, was a homegrown A’s product, a first-round Draft pick in 2011 who developed into an ace and All-Star during his time in green and gold from 2013-17. His downright electric performances made him a wildly popular figure amongst fans in Oakland. Few likely shared a grander admiration than Jefferies, whose time attending nearby UC Berkeley coincided with Gray’s impressive run.

What Jefferies viewed in Gray was much more than just a favorite pitcher. He saw a blueprint. A model he could pattern his pitching style after. When he wasn’t going down the rabbit hole of watching Gray’s pitching highlights on YouTube, Jefferies strategically planned his frequent visits to the Coliseum as a college student around games in which Gray was starting.

Jefferies remembers those days quite vividly. He would hop on a BART train from Berkeley to Oakland early enough to catch Gray’s pregame workout. Setting up with a pen and notebook in the lower-level seats near the A’s bullpen, Jefferies treated the experience as if it were one of his college classes. He studied everything about Gray’s routine, jotting down observations from his delivery to his sequence of pitches during bullpen sessions.

“I would stand on the walkway at the top of the section because I didn’t want to look like a weirdo,” Jefferies said with a laugh. “I kept my distance. But I’d stand right by the bullpen while he warmed up and take notes on the pitches that he would throw. He was someone that I always tried to emulate. He’s still my favorite pitcher to watch and [he's still] doing it at such a high level.”

The similarities between Jefferies and Gray are evident. Both were first-round Draft picks by the A’s. Both are undersized -- Gray is listed at 5-foot-10, 195 pounds and Jefferies at 6-foot, 200 pounds. According to many people on the internet, the two also appear to be doppelgangers of each other, an opinion Jefferies himself and several of his A’s teammates agree with.

“I didn’t have the same stuff he did back then," Jefferies said, "but we have similar stuff now. He has the really good big breaking ball. I’m still kind of learning mine. He has the cutter, sinker and rise-up fastball. A lot of things we do are pretty similar. You try to take things away from guys you look up to and make sure you’re doing the best thing that works for you. I wanted to take away things Sonny does, but be the best me.”

Jefferies, who was drafted by the A’s in 2016, got a chance to first meet Gray in 2017 shortly before the star pitcher was traded to the Yankees later that season. It came while Jefferies was a member of the Single-A Stockton Ports, when Gray was sent there to making a Minor League rehab appearance.

“He was just the nicest guy,” Jefferies said. “You wouldn’t believe that he was one of the best pitchers in the world just because of his personality and how humble he is. That’s another thing I try to emulate.”

Five years since that interaction, Jefferies spotted Gray in a Twins jersey on Monday afternoon just before the start of a three-game series against Minnesota. Admittedly still a bit starstruck, Jefferies was hesitant to make his approach. It took some convincing from a couple of teammates, but Jefferies ultimately made his way over to reintroduce himself.

“I was kind of nervous,” Jefferies said. “But he’s awesome. He remembered my name and said 'Hi.' I just told him he was fun to watch and that I looked up to him and that I used to take BART to watch him pitch. He was like, ‘When are you throwing?’ and I was like, ‘Oh, I’m throwing against you,’ and he was like, ‘Oh man, that’s awesome.’”

Pitching against Gray is one of a couple of “full-circle” moments Jefferies has been able to experience in what is still his rookie season as a big leaguer. The Merced, Calif., native was also able to reflect on his first opportunity to pitch at Oracle Park in San Francisco last month, a stadium he grew up visiting as a teenager.

“I’m just looking to take these moments in,” Jefferies said. “When you’re done with the game, you’re not going to remember every stat or record. You remember those cool moments like this one.”