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Common ground for Sabathia and Price

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports

NEW YORK – Imagine, David Price(notes) said, believing you are different than every other kid on your baseball team.

Imagine believing you are different than every other kid in your baseball league.

"It's tough to get started," he said, "and even tougher to stay out there."

He stood Friday night in a clubhouse with two other black players, in a ballpark with four other black players, in a league with three other black starting pitchers.

It is baseball's lingering issue, the game having missed out on a generation's worth of athletes and thinkers and leaders and workers, and a regular source of regret.

The percentage of African-American players in the major leagues increased in 2008, according to a study by the University of Central Florida's Richard Lapchick, from 8.2 percent to 10.2 percent, the first increase over a previous year since 1995. Price would account for some of that gain.

And yet it is the unique show of probables that has African-Americans Price, Tampa Bay's rookie left-hander, and CC Sabathia(notes), the Yankees' ace, share a game Saturday afternoon. They have not faced each other. They have never even met. Without a doubt they will have more in common than the pitcher's mound at Yankee Stadium.

"That's good for baseball," Rays outfielder Carl Crawford(notes) said. "Good for the fans."

Price, 23, has made three starts, pitched 23 regular-season innings as a major leaguer and projects as the Rays' ace for as long as they can afford him. Sabathia, five years older, has won 122 games and this winter signed the richest pitcher's contract in history, for $161 million over seven years.

In the moments after rain delayed the meeting for a day, Price said the matchup with Sabathia was "absolutely" significant for him.

"I look up to the guy," he said. "He's handled himself the right way on and off the field."

They share a dominant appendage (left), ferocious stuff (Price runs his fastball to 98 mph and pitches easily at 96), towering stature (Sabathia is 6-foot-7, Price 6-foot-6) and the potential to open the game to kids who might not want to be so different.

Asked what separates the two, one AL scout grinned and said, "About $160 million."

Beyond that, and recognizing Price has barely begun, he said, "They're both dominant-type starters, the both have plus command, and they both can win without their best stuff."

They're also pivotal players in their organizations, Sabathia for who he is, Price for what the Rays expect him to become: Something like Sabathia.

As Derek Jeter(notes) and Mariano Rivera(notes) age, and as Alex Rodriguez(notes) stumbles, Sabathia becomes the face and personality of the Yankees. Price could be the same for the Rays. He might not bring the daily impact of Evan Longoria(notes), but, like teammates B.J. Upton(notes) and Crawford, he becomes a standard for inner-city boys and girls. On one field or another, he maybe makes them all a little less different.

"I know what CC does in his camps and in the cities," Price said. "That's huge. That's what we should be here for."

But first, before there can be impact, there must be baseball. He must give them all a reason to follow, just as Sabathia has.

"I want to be better, to be honest," Price said. "I don't want to sell myself short and I don't want to be anybody else. I don't want to settle for anything."

So he'll take the ball Saturday and press the lessons of six minor league weeks he might not have seen coming in spring training, and the two major league starts he's made since, after Scott Kazmir(notes) was hurt. Rays management – GM Andrew Friedman, field manager Joe Maddon, pitching coach Jim Hickey – asked him to sharpen his fastball command, to tease out his changeup, to tighten his breaking ball. They kept his workload light, their intention being to limit his regular-season innings to 175.

"The way he handles all this," Maddon said, "is fun to watch."

Among other qualities, Maddon added, "He never, ever, ever makes an excuse. Never comes out of his mouth. He doesn't duck anything. He believes in himself and it's a pleasure."

In the visitors' clubhouse, after he'd played catch for 15 minutes in a cold drizzle in left field, Price rushed to make the first bus back to Manhattan. Down the hall, Sabathia's uniform never left its hangar, either.

They would be back Saturday.

It's not a major thing, maybe, just a game on a spring afternoon, the Rays trying to get it going, the Yankees trying to keep it going. It is, however, worthwhile, both Price and Sabathia making it OK to be a little different. You know, left-handed.