Price is right for Rays
By Jeff Passan, Yahoo Sports
June 4, 2007
Like during his senior year at Blackman High in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Price stands 6-foot-6, throws left-handed and snaps off 95-mph fastballs, which made him prom king to every baseball scout in the South. After too many calls during third-period math, Price changed his outgoing message:
"This is David Price. If this is a scout, I'm going to college. Thank you."
So Price matriculated to Vanderbilt, and three years later is much more than prom king: He's the object of everyone in Major League Baseball's desire, though it's almost certain he'll end up with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays as they own the No. 1 pick in Thursday's amateur draft, set to be televised for the first time on ESPN2 at 2 p.m. ET.
Little will the audience know that Price's preferred conversations come at 2 or 3 in the morning. It was around then, after Felix Hernandez threw his April gem against the Boston Red Sox, that Price rang Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin.
"Did you see Felix Hernandez pitch a one-hitter?" Price asked.
"Yeah," Corbin replied. "You called me at 2:30 in the morning to tell me that?"
"Were you asleep?"
Corbin recounted the story with a hearty laugh. Price does that to people. The assistant coaches who he wraps in wet, naked hugs after victories. The teammates who have to find plain food, because Price refuses to eat anything that isn't good-old American, even though he took a class where he had to go to an Indian restaurant. The friends who beat him at a video game, then come back the next day only to hear that Price stayed up all night because he refused to believe he wasn't the best.
"He'll bowl 200," Corbin said. "He's an incredible basketball player. He's the best at Madden. When he does well in a class, he'll call me, tell me about his A and hang up."
And that's to say nothing of his pitching.
Price has been the best in the country this season, going 11-1 – his lone loss coming in relief Monday on a 10th-inning pinch-hit home run against Michigan that eliminated top-ranked Vanderbilt from the NCAA tournament – with a 2.64 earned-run average and 194 strikeouts against 31 walks in 133 innings. Perhaps his best performance of the season came last week, in the Commodores' first NCAA game, when he struck out 17 in a 2-1 victory against Austin Peay.
"One weekend, you'll think he has an incredible performance," Corbin said. "And then the next, he goes one better. And then again, then again. Sometimes you get spoiled."
Corbin had an idea of how good Price was when he came to Vanderbilt. The Los Angeles Dodgers had taken a flyer on him in the 19th round, even after the voicemail admonition, because of the potential he flashed even before he was out of elementary school.
As an 8-year-old, Price pitched against kids four years older, and playing up a few levels kept him interested. His father, Bonnie, played basketball, as did his two brothers, but it never captured Price as baseball did.
He continues to find his love for the game somewhat curious, with the way it has lost a majority of its African-American players, but understands that soon it will be his job to stand alongside pitchers C.C. Sabathia and Dontrelle Willis in reintroducing baseball's appeal to inner-city youth.
"For kids growing up in the city, baseball isn't deemed cool," Price said. "It's not like football or basketball. I've loved it for 20 years, though, and to not play baseball wouldn't seem right."
Not to Price. And certainly not to those who see the way he complements his fastball with a slider two scouts said is even better than that of the best college pitcher last year, Andrew Miller, who was up with Detroit in September.
"Everyone knows how good he is," said Vanderbilt pitcher Brett Jacobsen, one of Price's closest friends. "You read about it. And it's a good place for him. We know he's probably going to go No. 1."
And still, Price is Price. He's always the one on the top step of the dugout, leaning on the fungo he calls his Pimp Stick. He is proud of being among the Vanderbilt leaders in "runs cheered in," which is another way of saying that his voice can be heard from a county or two away. He hangs out on campus with his older brother's son, who isn't even in kindergarten yet. And he likes to surprise his roommates, who mock him for everything from being late with rent to his 30-pair shoe collection, by baking cookies on occasion.
"I like it here," Price said. "Under the lights, big crowds. I'd like to keep doing this. There's nothing like going out and throwing on Friday nights.
"But I know it'll be over soon."
Yes, Price's cell phone will ring Thursday with the most important call of his life. He'll grin, and he'll thank the Devil Rays, and he'll try to savor it as much as he can, knowing that when he hears that click, his life will never be the same.
Jeff Passan is a national writer for Yahoo! Sports. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jeff a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated on Monday, Jun 4, 2007 9:55 pm, EDT