Conner Grey returns to the Hillsboro Hops in 2017. The right-handed pitcher first came to the Hops in late 2016 from the Missoula Osprey where many young Hops start out. In 2016, Connor was drafted in the 20th round, 599th overall. In his first year, he became a midseason All-Star for the Osprey before being assigned to Hillsboro. Fans got to watch him start two games, going 1-1 with eleven strikeouts. By the time a young professional reaches this point in his new career, he already has the seasoning of years behind him.
The native New Yorker was born and raised in Frewsburg, New York where he also played high school ball. Before that, he started organized play like many young hopefuls by swinging the bat in T-ball leagues when he was five years old. The future pitcher didn’t get much practice hurling a fastball at that level but he was already learning the life lessons of “teamwork and staying humble”. At that early age, it helped him concentrate on his craft.
During his years at Frewsburg High School, his favorite pitcher to emulate was Clayton Kershaw, a three-time Cy Young Award winner. The lefty was a “favorite to watch the way he pitches”. Kershaw is known for his deceptive delivery as well as being called a ‘perfectionist’ by his teammates. A strikeout artist himself, Connor played varsity all four years, going 12-4 the final three years of his high school career as a starter. He also played catcher and batted .384 with four home runs and 75 RBI.
Connor decided to attend St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, New York but for more than just baseball. It would surprise those who know him through just his baseball accomplishments that Connor went to college to become a doctor. St. Bonaventure is also known for its medical program. Being an asthmatic and suffering bad allergies while growing up, Connor developed a young interest in the medical profession. He was a biology major when not striking out most batters on the diamond.
The University does have a storied sports program and comes with a history of Hall of Fame athletes. Hughie Jennings, who played in the major leagues from 1891-1918, was a part of three championships with the Baltimore Orioles during the 1890s. He would later coach the Detroit Tigers from 1920-1925. John ‘Little Napolean’ McGraw played from 1891-1906 and was a teammate of Jennings during the Baltimore championships in the 1890s as well as in college. McGraw is better known as the fiery manager of the New York Giants. In 1970, basketball legend Bob Lanier started a hall of fame career in the NBA. In football, ’51 alumnus Jack Butler played for the Pittsburgh Steelers and was elected to the NFL Hall Of Fame in 2012.
Following in the footsteps of those legends, Connor played in Division 1 with the Atlantic 10 Conference. There, Connor set the season record with 95 strikeouts in 92 innings and was the team’s ‘Friday Night’ starter. His career strikeout total was 201.
Big moments have followed Connor throughout a young career that has brought him this far. In 2016, Connor took a no-hitter into the eighth inning while he was still with the Missoula Osprey. He finished his collegiate career with a 15-strike effort over Saint Joseph’s. He was named a National Scholar Athlete. To Connor, his biggest moment so far came when he was drafted. “Hearing your name called” was the realization of another step in his dream. That Saturday afternoon in June, he realized he was going to be a professional. It is a thrill he will always carry with him. This year, Connor has already tasted pro ball from the A+ Visalia Rawhide to the AAA Reno Aces.
To go with all of the excitement and achievements during an exciting time in his life, Connor does need to step back from time to time. As do all young athletes trying their best every day to succeed. For Connor, relaxing can be to “hang with the team after the game. Get something to eat.” It gives him and his teammates a chance to wind down from the competition of the game. It is also a chance for bonding. All of these young men are reaching for the same goal. To make it up another level. It isn’t said but it is known some of these teammates will be with them if they make it to the next level. It is also known that several of them won’t. The pressure can be suffocating if you let it. Connor doesn’t let it. If not eating a meal with a fellow Hop, he is watching a movie to relax. “Not the scary ones” he quickly added.
One of his escapes from the game has been another game: the game of golf. As a youngster, he would walk the golf course with his dad, Randy Grey. The fact that he was “always getting beat by Dad,” made him concentrate even harder to improve his swing and putting. It was not a lesson of tough love though his dad didn’t take it easy on the young athlete. It was more inspiration that he could be better tomorrow than he was today.
There was one time he was close to beating his dad for the first time. They were on the final hole and his dad was putting from 30 feet away. Connor wondered if this would be the day until he watched his dad’s 30-foot putt sink into the cup. It is still the closest Connor has come.
They still play golf together during the offseason. One day, Connor may very well start a game in the majors like his hero Clayton Kershaw. One day, he may even best his dad on the links.
The inspiration still drives him. He remembers when he would wear “eye black like Bryce Harper” down his face. He also realizes that he is now doing some inspiring of his own. He looks out over the crowd and sees the little leaguers and high school players who aspire to be where he is standing one day. On a professional ball field. His advice for those who stand where he stood not so long ago?
“Keep your head up” and “be a good teammate”. If you had a “bad outing, start with a clean slate and do your best.”
Hops notes: Connor also played basketball and enjoys bowling. His mother’s name is Lyn Grey. He has three brothers: Randy, Rich and Kyle.
By Greg Stoker