Sonny Gray excited to make first start for Reds on Saturday

Late father, who was a Reds fan, will be on pitcher’s mind

Sonny Gray remembers a bridge, a river — presumably the Ohio — and a walk to Great American Ball Park from the spot where he and his dad parked. The details are fuzzy. He’ll fill them in later as he settles into Cincinnati.

» JOINING REDS: Gray says, ‘It just feels right’

Two hours before his first Opening Day as a member of the Cincinnati Reds and two days before his first start, Gray relived his memories of going to a Reds game with his dad Jesse when he was a kid.

“I remember it very vividly,” Gray said in a pregame press conference Thursday. “It really hit me coming over the river and coming across to the parade this morning.”

That childhood memory means more now that he’s a Red and also because his dad died in a car accident at 41 in 2004. Jesse Gray was a Reds fan and once tried out for the Reds, so he’ll be on Sonny’s mind when he pitches the second game of the season at 2:10 p.m. Saturday against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“I feel he’s always with me,” Gray said. “He’s helped me get through a lot of times when everything’s going great. He’s also been there with me when times have gotten tough. He’s keeping me in the moment, keeping me walking around with my head held high. He’s been with me the whole ride.”

» PHOTOS: Top shots from Opening Day

The Reds acquired Gray in January from the Yankees, adding another experienced arm to what should be an improved staff. Another new starter, Tanner Roark, follows him in the rotation in the series finale Sunday. Alex Wood, the third new starter, started the season on the disabled list because of a lower back injury and may not pitch until mid-April.

Gray, Roark and Wood all made their big-league debuts in 2013. They each have started between 129 and 146 games. They have won between 52 and 64 games. All have pitched in the postseason.

The goal of the new starters will be to combine with returner starters Luis Castillo, who allowed one earned run in 5 2/3 innings in the season-opening 5-3 victory Thursday, and Anthony DeSclafani to get the Reds back to the playoffs after four straight last-place finishes. Catcher Tucker Barnhart sees the pitchers as veterans ready to throw 200 innings.

“When you bring guys who have had that kind of experience to a rotation, to a team, it does nothing but help,” he said. “They’ve been through just about any situation you can possibly think of, whether it be in the playoffs or regular season.”

Before worrying about this team’s playoff chances or his first start, Gray had to figure out how to get enough tickets for his family and friends. He had a 10-person cheering section at the opener and expects more Saturday when he’s on the mound.

“I’m from Nashville,” Gray said. “It’s a four-hour drive. I got to spend time with my family (Wednesday). My family’s here. They’re decked out in red. They have been for a couple months now. I’m just so excited to get this thing started. Today’s going to be a special day. It already has been. The game is the cherry on top, especially with us going out there and doing everything we can to come out with a win. My family is overly excited about this next chapter, as I am.”

» MORE ON OPENING DAY: Manfred speaks at opener | Team will miss Gennett | Bell busy in ninth

Gray saw the excitement of the fans firsthand Thursday when he rode in the Findlay Market Opening Day Parade with DeSclafani.

“People were genuinely excited about the Reds,” Gray said. “You can tell this city really rallies around the Reds. There was nothing made more apparent to me in the parade today. I was really glad to be a part of it.”


Pirates at Reds, 2:10 p.m., FS Ohio, 700, 1410

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