'Mom Gray' always in tune with Sonny

Right-hander's mother led family through tough times after death of husband

'Mom Gray' always in tune with Sonny

OAKLAND -- Neither mom nor son remember exactly when it started. There were so many long trips in that van. But on one such venture to yet another ballpark, Cindy Craig told her boy, "Listen to this song."

To this day, Sonny Gray can still sing along to all 8 minutes, 28 seconds of Meat Loaf's "Paradise By The Dashboard Light," or at least the male vocals. Mom would handle the female harmonies.

"He just loved it," said Craig, "and it's something we just started singing. It kind of became our thing, I guess."

"Very recently, I remember that song came on," said Gray, "and we still remembered most of the words."

Both laugh when thinking about the rock opera. The A's pitcher considers it to be one of his favorite memories with Craig, who cherishes it more than he'll probably ever know. For her, it was about more than passing time on the road.

"When your kids are in the car, they can't get out, so you get that time with them," she said. "It's just a good time to talk."

And sing.

Often times, Craig would also pile several of Gray's teammates into the van, all of them ending up at the Gray house on Saturdays, sprawled across floors and couches before waking to a big breakfast prepared by Craig, who played the role of team mom for nearly all of her son's Little League games. Gray's late father, Jesse, coached them.

Even in high school, the sleepovers continued after Friday night football games, and Craig -- since remarried to Barry Craig -- became known around her son's circle as Mom Gray.

"To this day," said Gray, "in a lot of my friends' phones, it's Mom Gray."

She never minded the business of it all, the balancing of three children's schedules and her constant involvement in each of them. On the contrary, she relished it. Along the way, she learned to love the game that her late husband and son cherished so much.

Growing up in Nashville, Tenn., where Gray was raised, Craig didn't watch a lot of baseball. Her father was a Braves fan, but she never latched on to the game the way she does now. It wasn't until she started following Jesse to his softball games and, later, Sonny to his Little League affairs, did she understand its beauty.

"It became a thing, and you come to love it," said Craig. "I want to watch baseball all the time now. I know a lot about it, even though Sonny would say, 'Ma, you don't know what you're talking about.'"

Gray is now a father himself, to three-month-old Gunnar Cormack Gray, and going through the lessons of parenthood that Craig knows so well. In turn, his appreciation for the woman he already so greatly admired has swelled.

His father, Jesse, died in a car accident during Gray's freshman year of high school, leaving Craig a single mother of three. In the days that followed, she continued to do what she did best -- taking care of everyone around her.

"I wanted to make sure that [Sonny] knew he didn't have to take care of me," she said. "He was told that so much, 'You're the man of the house.' I didn't want him to have that pressure."

"It seemed like she never missed a beat," said Gray. "Being older now and knowing what she was going through, it's just super impressive and super awesome the way she could do that. She had so much going on with her life. But to us, she made sure everything was great, everything was cool. Nothing was going to change. She's a super-strong person."

Similarly, Craig sees that in Gray every fifth day on the mound.

"I just like to see his drive," she said. "He's never been one to stand still, even when he's on the mound. He's constantly moving. I like watching his face and his determination. I text him before every game, 'Have fun today,' to try to help him remember it's work but it's still a game, and it's fun."

"It's just weird to see him on TV and read articles about him. I have to take a step back. It's just kind of surreal, because he's just Sonny to us."

Gray's competitiveness, too, has remained a constant, since those days in the backyard when Craig would beat him at croquet, and Gray would ask to keep playing until he won.

Texts are exchanged every day between the two, phone calls usually every other day. If not, Gray will hear about it.

"Sometimes," he said, smiling, "if a few days have passed, I'll get a text from her that'll say, 'Don't forget to call your mom."

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.