Dunedin, Florida It was Saturday, August 7, 1993 - a night game at Grant Field, a minor-league baseball park in Dunedin, Florida. The hometown Blue Jays were playing the Winter Haven Red Sox, and 2200 fans were getting their money's worth. The Blue Jays had a 4-0 lead, and Dunedin starting pitcher Dennis Gray, a tall 23-year-old southpaw from Banning, California, had a one-hitter after six innings. "I was in a groove that night," he says. "Then the home-plate umpire called time out. A boy had stumbled onto the field and started talking to the players. The next thing you know, he turned and started coming toward me. "He got to the mound, and I saw that he was mentally handicapped. I didn't want to be mean to him. He didn't understand the rules. So I handed him the ball. And he promptly threw a strike!!!"
As security guards stood off to the side, the boy threw another pitch. Organist John Yusko played music to accompany the throw. The crowd in the stands went wild and gave the boy a standing ovation. Gray says he glanced down to see that the boy was tugging on his glove and smiling up at him. Then he gave the pitcher a hug.
That's when Gray lost his composure and began to cry. "The kid was in heaven," Yusko recalls. "It was like the world stopped for a little while, and everybody was able to love him." After the boy's mother led the youngster back to his seat, Gray tried to compose himself. But he walked two batters, and then the third hit a double. When Jays manager Dennis Holmberg went out to the mound, Gray still had tears in his eyes. They agreed it was best that Gray leave the game, which the Jays hung on to win.
Gray has spent years fighting to get to the big leagues. Staying focused and serious. Then this. He can't explain why he broke down. "It just kind of struck me that all of us are pretty blessed to be able to play baseball for a living," he says. "I had a great game going, but I wouldn't trade that for what happened for anything in the world."
-Tom Zucco in St. Petersburg TIMES.
Have a great Thanksgiving.
Special to CANADIAN BASEBALL NEWS 30 November 2002