There’s an old baseball saying that every time you go to the ballpark you have a chance to see something you've never seen before.
Kane County Manager Butch Hobson, a former Major League player and manager, has been involved with pro baseball for about twice as long as his pitcher Connor Grey has been alive, but it was Grey who recently showed Hobson something he hadn’t witnessed before as a teammate or a manager – perfection.
Grey tossed the first perfect game in the 27-year history of the Cougars and the first in the Midwest League in 13 years on Sept. 1 in Iowa against the Clinton LumberKings. Coincidentally, also 13 years ago – in 2004 – was the only time a player for the Diamondbacks fired a perfect game as Hall of Famer Randy Johnson accomplished the rare feat against Atlanta. Grey became the first Diamondbacks minor leaguer to do it, so now he is sort of destined to be included in the same conversation as Johnson, which has to be incredibly cool.
“It feels pretty good to be alongside [Randy Johnson’s] name, so that’s quite an honor,” Grey said. “I would’ve liked to have done it at home, but any place, against anyone, is such a rare thing to accomplish.”
He kept it simple, like he has in his previous starts, by constantly attacking the zone and never backing away from doing such.
“I just tried to throw a lot of strikes and not shoot myself in the foot,” he said. “That’s been my game plan all season, to fill the zone with strikes, and it begins by getting ahead of the count and just letting them try to hit my pitches.”
The 23-year-old right-hander had a no-hitter going into the eighth inning last year at Missoula in the Rookie League and combined on one in high school, but they pale far in comparison to perfection.
“You always go out there doing what you can to help your team win so this was something else,” he said. “It’s still pretty unreal when I think about it.”
Hobson spent eight years in the Major Leagues and not only did he never witness a perfect game, but he never saw a no-hitter in the Big Show either. Cleveland southpaw Len Barker tossed the only perfect game in the Major Leagues against Toronto during Hobson’s playing tenure in the Major Leagues, but the Cougars skipper was then playing for the California Angels during the strike-shortened 1981 season. Hobson was a part of three no-hitters, though, including two while managing in the minor leagues, as well as one when he was playing in Double A.
“You don’t see this kind of thing very often, so it was quite the performance to see,” Hobson said. “He threw strikes, and he competed. It was kind of a rejuvenator for this bunch of kids, and it’s a great thing for a good kid like Connor.”
Grey has kept his defense on its toes all season, which had it well prepared for whenever the ball was put into play last Friday. You tend to do that when you’ve only walked one batter in 47 innings. He’s fanned 39 guys at the same time, while surrendering just 36 hits for a 0.79 WHIP.
The defense certainly responded in his perfect game from beginning to end, which included center fielder Marcus Wilson making a highlight-worthy catch to open the game, and several other players coming up with big defensive plays throughout.
“That first play from Marcus Wilson was one of at least five or six great plays,” Grey said. “Adam Walton made two nice plays, including one back to me that was off my glove. Ramon Hernandez made a few nice plays on balls to him, including a bare-handed play, and Steven Smith caught one up against the wall. They were great, and Jose Herrera called a great game. I love throwing to him.”
After a couple of great defensive plays in the early going, Kane County pitching coach Rich Sauveur told Grey that something special was going to happen. Grey wasn’t for sure if he believed it at the time, but by the time he finished off the LumberKings in the bottom of the sixth and seventh innings he started to believe Sauveur could be onto something.
“Some guys eventually started to recognize what was happening, so they started being quiet,” Grey said. “I was on my side of the dugout and they were on the other side all keeping to themselves.”
Grey needed only nine pitches in the eighth inning as he mowed down the LumberKings to set the stage for history that was long overdue.
The 20th round draft pick out of St. Bonaventure opened the ninth with two straight strikeouts to up his total to eight during the game before getting a game-ending fly out to Smith on his 100th pitch. Perfection was achieved.
He then celebrated with his teammates, and by the time he returned to the clubhouse his phone was overflowing with laudatory texts. Mike Bell, vice president of player development for the Diamondbacks, was one of the guys who reached out to Grey from the organization.
“It was a lot of old teammates and friends from back home, college alumni and some other guys,” Grey said. “They were all reaching out and saying congrats and telling me how proud they were for my accomplishment.”
The celebration is now over, though, for Grey as the Midwest League playoffs begin this week and Grey could see action out of the bullpen against Cedar Rapids in the opener on Sept. 7 or as a starter later.