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Sonny Gray, Pitcher / New York Yankees - The Players' Tribune

You’ve gotta have the hat.

The hat’s the key. My son, Gunnar, is only 2½ years old, but he already loves baseball. And when we play ball around the house, well, it just being the two of us, you might imagine that rules-wise it’s pretty lax. And that’s true, to an extent. For starters, we barely even have enough players to field two teams — just me on the mound (it’s a thin rotation), and then Gunnar at bat. But no matter how ragtag our games are, there’s always one thing that he insists on: Everyone has to wear a hat. That’s the rule. And I guess it makes sense, right? Your hat says what team you’re on.

But then it comes time to choose our teams. And that’s when Gunnar (he’s the commissioner too) will put on an A’s hat, and he’ll say, “I’ll be the A’s.”

Then he’ll take another A’s hat, and put it on my head. And he’ll say, “And you’ll be — you’ll be the A’s.” It’s pretty complicated, but we make it work.

I’ll pitch to Gunnar … and he’ll hit ’em … and he’ll run the bases … and then we’ll do it all over again. But man, I’m telling you: If that hat falls off … Gunnar’ll flat-out stop the game and make you put it back on before you start playing again. That’s just The Rule — because that’s just how it works, I think, in his mind. When it comes to baseball, that’s all he’s ever known: You put on your A’s hat, and you go out and play.

And the truth is, I kind of know how Gunnar feels. Because when it comes to my career as a professional baseball player, the A’s are all I’ve ever known as well. I was drafted by the A’s in 2011, came up through their minor league system, and then got called up in 2013 — and I’ve been playing for them ever since. As a professional, the Oakland A’s have been my entire baseball life.

Which makes it tough to say goodbye.

I built a lot of great relationships, over these last four years in Oakland, with a lot of great people — from Bob Melvin all the way down throughout the organization.

I’ll always be grateful for the trust that BoMel placed in me, and for the honest way that he treated me, both as a player and as a person. He’s someone who I felt like I could really talk to — about baseball and even beyond baseball, about life. And at this point I would just consider him a friend. I’d consider a lot of people in Oakland friends — and those friendships are definitely some of the things that you’re going to miss the most, anytime a trade happens.

I also made a lot of special memories in Oakland — memories that I’ll keep with me for the rest of my life. Those are some great fans there, and they always treated me with a ton of warmth and affection. I remember as a rookie, being just 23, and getting sent out to start Game 2 of the ALDS against Detroit. And of course, that’s the kind of game that you dream about pitching, growing up as a kid — which means there are definitely also some nerves involved. But that crowd … man, they just had my back the whole way. It was like there were 50,000 people on the mound with me that night, cheering me and supporting me. And I can still hear them, can still remember it exactly, when I left the game at the end of the eighth inning after recording my last out. I had to make that long walk, you know, from first base to our dugout — and for the entire walk, it was just as loud as could be:

Son-ny! Son-ny! Son-ny!

To get to hear that, as a rookie, from a sellout crowd in a playoff game, as their way of letting you know that you did good … I mean, what can you say. It was unbelievable. It meant a lot to me.

And it meant a lot to me every time A’s fans chanted my name after that.

My wife, Jessica, is always one step ahead of me. And when we found out about the trade, she knew exactly what the first move was: Buy Gunnar a Yankees hat. And of course, he loved it. But with him being so young, you know — there was still some questioning going on at first: “Why, Dad? Why we’re not playing for the A’s anymore?”

The beauty of 2½-year-olds, though, is that they’re also very understanding. And so I just told him, “Well, buddy … we’re going to play for the Yankees now.” After that, he started doing this thing, where he would repeat the words out loud, over and over: The Yankees … the Yankees … the Yankees! I think that was him just sort of trying them on — all part of his advanced process. Thankfully, the process worked, and slowly but surely he came around. I can now report that Gunnar is fully onboard with the trade.

As for me, I couldn’t be happier.

One of the baseball teams that really meant something to me growing up was the 2009 Yankees — the World Series winner, with CC and A.J. Burnett at the top of the rotation. That was the year after I’d graduated high school, and had gotten drafted, but then decided to go to college — and it was right around the age where I was really trying to figure out if baseball was something that I could turn into a career. And I just remember loving to watch that Yankees team, as they made their run that year, and being so impressed by them, and I guess kind of pumped up about baseball by them — just getting very caught up in it.

And so it’s pretty cool to look back on that time — and now think about how, eight years later, I got traded to the Yankees in the middle of a pennant race.

The pennant race … that’s something I’m especially excited about. I’m not much for talking about myself — but if there’s one thing I could say as an introduction to Yankee fans, I think it would be this: I’m a competitor. I love to compete. And when I get on the mound, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to compete, and I’m going to come at guys. I’m going to challenge guys, straight-up — with my best stuff against their best stuff. And sometimes it’s going to work out, and sometimes it isn’t. But I think that’s just how my mentality is, especially being on the smaller side. It’s just how I was raised to play. And I think that’s what you can expect me to bring to New York. Both on my good and on my bad days — I’m going to compete all the same.

Tonight’s my first start as a Yankee, and I’ve gotta say — I’m looking forward to it. The guys have been awesome since I arrived, and have welcomed me with open arms. And I know, just from having played against them earlier in the season, that I’m joining what’s a really good team to begin with: with a deep and talented pitching staff, and a deadly lineup that has no breaks in it. This is a tough, tough group. So I’m just coming here to play my part.

But I’m excited — and I’ll be ready.

I’ve got my Yankees hat and everything.

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