Patrick Reusse
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Autumn Pease was a sixth-grader at Thompson Middle School in Murrieta, a fast-growing California city located between San Diego and Los Angeles.

Among the 1,000-plus middle schoolers using the corridors, Pease took note of a student regularly wearing a baseball hat that she found intriguing.

"It was the scripted 'A,'" she said. "I went home and looked it up. The hat was the Oakland A's, and they were good most years back then."

John and Debbie Pease, and older daughters Courtney and Danielle, did not use much emotional energy rooting for one team or another. The daughters played sports, primarily softball, which was the reason that also became the chosen activity for Autumn.

The kid sister also decided it was time to have a favorite team, and that became the Oakland A's. That interest became strong enough for Autumn to convince her parents to make an eight-hour summer drive to Oakland to see games.

"We did that twice, at least," Autumn said. "Mom and my sisters would walk around San Francisco, shopping and sightseeing, and my dad and I would go to the game at the Coliseum."

Sonny Gray was selected with the 18th choice in the first round of the 2011 MLB draft, about the same time Autumn was adopting the A's. He was a righthanded pitcher from Vanderbilt, and Autumn was a righthanded pitcher with a youngster's hopes for success in softball.

"I paid attention to his progress," Autumn said. "He pitched one of those games we saw in Oakland, I'm almost certain. When I watched on TV, he looked calm and collected in tough situations.

"That's what I've tried to be in softball. It didn't always work, although this whole year — college and in Texas — I was pretty good in those situations."

Very good, actually, and Sonny, too — even though his calm-in-big-moments exterior might hide the most intense competitor on the Twins' roster.

Twins righthander Sonny Gray, who is slated to start Thursday afternoon against Oakland at Target Field, has a fan in former Gophers softball standout Autumn Pease.
Twins righthander Sonny Gray, who is slated to start Thursday afternoon against Oakland at Target Field, has a fan in former Gophers softball standout Autumn Pease.

Abbie Parr, Associated Press

Autumn became an excellent pitcher for Murrieta Mesa High School. She was the ace on a team that won a section title in California, which doesn't have state tournaments. Her career numbers were a 1.76 ERA, with 53 wins and 539 strikeouts.

This led to accepting a scholarship to Idaho State in Pocatello, Idaho. Why there, Autumn?

"Idaho State was the only Division I school that wanted me," she said Wednesday.

After one solid year, she sought a higher level of competition — and the Gophers, needing pitching depth, took a chance on a Big Sky transfer.

There were obstacles: first, she was the backup to Amber Fiser, an All-America who led the Gophers to the Women's College World Series in 2019.

And in 2022, she was trying to pitch after bicep surgery during the offseason. Pease was the main pitcher that season, but started to feel pain at about the 60-pitch mark in most games.

Bottom line: She wasn't back to full arm strength in 2022. And when Pease came back for a fifth college season in 2023, she was back — to the point of becoming the Big Ten's Pitcher of the Year.

The phenomenal numbers were 215⅓ innings, 27-7, a 1.46 ERA and 273 strikeouts compared with 29 walks. The Gophers went 38-19 overall, 17-6 in the Big Ten and lost in a regional in Seattle.

During the season, there was a draft by the four teams in the Women's Professional Fastpitch league, located in Texas. Pease pitched this summer for the Texas Smoke, located in Austin. That team won the title and Pease was the Pitcher of the Year.

Pease is back in Minneapolis now living on campus. "I have a second year on my contract with the Smoke, and I'm also trying to become a medical sales rep," she said.

Meantime, Autumn was at Target Field on Wednesday night, watching the lowly A's, and she will be back on noon Thursday with her support aimed directly at the Twins.

That's because Gray will be the starter, in his last regular-season start of a tremendous second year in Minnesota. The 8-8 record is a reflection of several months of untimely hitting from the Twins — what with Gray's 180 innings, 153 hits and 2.80 ERA.

Thursday's start will be his 32nd, with one more scheduled next week in wild-card round at Target Field.

"I'll be here to watch Sonny tomorrow," she said. "He's been so good this season, and tickets are cheap this week after the Twins clinched."