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Rays

Rays ace Price hasn’t let success go to his head

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Published:   |   Updated: March 16, 2014 at 08:29 AM

PORT CHARLOTTE — David Price can go through a batch of cookies or a plate of brownies with the speed and accuracy of one of his fastballs.

“I love sweets,” he said.

Ice cream?

“I can crush pints of ice cream,” he said.

Price loves playing golf and video games and playing with Astro, his French bulldog of some renown.

“Away from the field,” Price said, “I just try to blend in.”

That’s hard to do when you are David Price and one of the faces of not only the Tampa Bay Rays but also of Major League Baseball.

Price spent the offseason under a cloud of trade rumors, avoided arbitration by signing the richest one-year deal in team history ($14 million) and is expected to help pitch the Rays deep into the postseason.

And the Rays are tickled that those trade rumors went away, and Price is back for another season. Rays manager Joe Maddon said he found himself wondering during these last few weeks what the team would look like without Price at the top of the rotation.

“Not nearly the vibe we have going on right now,” Maddon said.

“He means a lot of things to this team,” third baseman Evan Longoria said.

Price is capable of winning 20 games, which he did in 2012, and winning the big game, which he did in October when he pitched a complete game against the Texas Rangers to advance the Rays to the AL wild card game.

“If we had to win one game I think everybody in here would want Price pitching,” Longoria said. “He’s that guy.”

But if Price wasn’t pitching that game, if it was, say Alex Cobb pitching the Rays past the Cleveland Indians in the AL wild card game, then the Rays want Price in the dugout.

“He’s the No. 1 cheerleader,” Longoria said, “and I say that as the utmost compliment.”

“I think he wants to see us succeed more than he wants to succeed sometimes,” Cobb said.

Price puts his teammates first, often talking about them when answering a question about himself.

On winning the 2012 Cy Young:

“It was a great feat, not just for myself but for my teammates,” Price said, who smiled when he remembered how pumped up the rest of the team was that September on days when he pitched and how mad they would get when one of the talking heads on ESPN would mention someone else as the AL Cy Young front-runner.

On what motivates him:

“I want to be the best, plain and simple. That’s why I play the game,” he said. “I want to come out here and be the best teammate and then when it’s my day to pitch, I want to be dominant.”

Relief pitcher Heath Bell, who has been Price’s teammate for a little more than a month, used two words to describe Price: “Very respectful.”

Respectful toward the Rays coaches, training staff, clubbies, PR staff and teammates, young and old, and new and old.

“Somebody at that age who is that good is usually not that way to everybody,” Bell said.

Steve Geltz, a rookie pitcher experiencing his first spring training with the Rays, admitted to being star-struck upon his first encounter with Price.

“He’s a pretty big name in baseball right now,” Geltz said. “Then you realize how down to earth he is and how cool he is.”

And Price can be star-struck himself. He was when he met Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers at the ESPYs a few years ago. He was earlier this spring when he introduced himself to Hall of Famer Dave Winfield.

“That was pretty cool,” Price said.

Said Cesar Ramos: “You’d never know he’s a superstar. If a stranger were to walk in (to the clubhouse) and not know who he was, he’d think he was just one of the guys.”

Maddon recently watched the video of the Rays’ win against Boston in Game 7 of the 2008 AL Championship Series, arguably the biggest win in franchise history. Price, a rookie who had been called up that September, recorded the final four outs of the victory that sent the Rays to the World Series. Maddon noticed how calm Price was in that moment.

“My takeaway was there’s pretty much no difference from that moment and the way he is now,” Maddon said. “That’s pretty impressive to be able to walk in the door under those circumstances and do what he did. And here he is a couple of years later with a Cy Young in his pocket and he’s the same cat. You realize how special he was by rolling back the clock a couple of years and seeing what he did to put us on the map.”

Price hasn’t changed much since those days.

Longoria said Price’s ego shows only on the day he pitches.

“He knows he’s good,” Maddon said. “He just doesn’t grind it on people.”

The days in between he is the model teammate, the cut-up who enjoys teasing his teammates and enjoys when they tease him.

Hall of Famer Roy Campanella once said, “You have to have a lot of little boy in you to play baseball for a living,” and there is a lot of little boy in the 28-year-old Price.

Price becomes wide-eyed when he comes across a member of the Atlanta Braves teams he rooted for as a kid growing up in Tennessee. Price gets a kick out of talking golf with fellow Cy Young Award winner John Smoltz. Golf!

“All he talks about is golf,” Price said.

And Price laughs at a phone conversation he had with former Braves outfielder David Justice, Price’s all-time favorite player. The two connected on Twitter and exchanged phone numbers. Justice called Price, reaching him while Price was riding an exercise bike before a game in Detroit.

“I talked to him for 10 minutes,” Price said. “I couldn’t believe it, but I don’t know if it was him or not.”

Then, in a sheepish voice behind a sheepish smile, Price said, “I hope it was him.”

rmooney@tampatrib.com

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Twitter: @RMooneyTBO

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