Former Rockies pitcher Jon Gray takes a trip down memory lane in return to Coors Field | Colorado Rockies

DENVER • Jon Gray is back at 20th and Blake for the first time since signing with the Rangers last fall. Before the longtime Rockies starter walked into Coors Field to see his old team, he had an important group he needed to check on.

His squirrels.

Gray befriended his neighborhood squirrels over seven seasons with the Rockies, getting close enough to the usually feral creatures that they would jump on him as he approached with a handful of almonds. Sadly, there was no reunion.

Despite the disappointment, Tuesday was a pleasant trip down memory lane for the 30-year-old Gray. He reunited with ex-teammates, hugged trainers, and was honored on the video board before the two-game Rockies-Rangers series that opened with a 7-6 win for Colorado.

Gray sat alone as the showcased his accomplishments during the pregame tribute, receiving applause from the modest crowd. Owner Dick Monfort, on the field to give out employee of the month awards, went over briefly to shake Gray’s hand.

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“It’s been crazy,” Gray said from the visiting team’s clubhouse. “There are so many good memories here. That’s really what I think about. I really do miss this place. It feels like a second home.”

Gray, drafted by the Rockies third overall in 2013, grew up in pro ball with the Rockies, hitting five stops in the farm system. Despite his love of Colorado and Coors Field — and a desire to stay — the Rangers gave him a four-year, $56 million offer he couldn’t refuse.

Gray was the Rangers’ opening-day starter this season, and he was on track to have one of his best seasons before a left-oblique injury sidelined him earlier this month. He was 7-6 with a 3.83 ERA over 18 starts. It made his return to Coors easier, he noted, as he doesn’t have to worry about performing on the mound — in competition with his emotions and the franchise that drafted and helped develop him.

“It would have been really tough to focus on the game,” Gray said. “You are trying to soak everything in, it would have been a distraction.”

Despite the injury, Gray is pleased with his decision to leave for Texas. The Rangers not only offered him considerable more money, but also the chance to lead their budding pitching staff, something he’s embraced. He’s settled into Dallas, and added to his animal family. He now has three cats and two dogs with plans to get another dog in the offseason to even the ratio.

“Things were going really well until this happened,” he said, referring to his injury. “It’s been a lot of comfortability. I feel a lot better about myself being on the mound right now. It’s freeing me up. I feel like I can take a chance here and there and get creative, knowing I have something to fall back on . It’s been a lot of fun.”

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What happened: The Rockies beat the Rangers 7-6 to open the quick two-game set.

On the ground: Germán Márquez was tapped from the start, giving up two home runs in his first nine pitches. He went on to pitch six innings, giving up six earned runs on eight hits.

“I feel frustrated,” Márquez said. “I’ve been so good for a month. To have a game like that is freaking frustrating.”

Reliever Justin Lawrence struck out the side in the seventh, and Daniel Bard earned his 26th save.

At the plate: Elias Díaz hit his first home run in a month in his return from the injured list. CJ Cron also hit one out of the park, a three-run shot to give the Rockies the lead.

Stars of the night: Wynton Bernard continues to inspire, earning his first three-hit game. He has 10 hits in his eight games since making his major league debut at 31 years old earlier this month.

on deck: Texas Rangers (Martín Perez, 9-4, 2.80 ERA) at Rockies (José Ureña, 2-4, 4.71 ERA), 1:10 pm Wednesday at Coors (AT&T SportsNet).

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