“It was like the first day of high school,” David Price says, recalling the morning of August 2, 2014, when he entered Comerica Park for the first time as a member of the Detroit Tigers.
Up until that day, the 6-foot-6 left-hander had spent every moment of his professional career in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. Signed by the Rays out of Vanderbilt as the first pick of the 2007 amateur draft, Price made his major league debut a year later, going on to establish himself as one of the premier starting pitchers in the game, even winning the American League Cy Young Award in 2012. Price’s presence in the rotation helped anchor a team that averaged 92 wins from 2010-13 and made the postseason three times.
But the Rays’ perpetual budget limitations and attendance woes tend to keep top-shelf players from spending their entire careers in Tampa, and rumors of an imminent Price trade began to swirl as early as 2012. On July 31, 2014, with the team two games under .500 and 7.5 games out of first in the AL East, the Rays finally lowered the boom, shipping Price to Detroit in a three-way deal that sent Tigers centerfielder Austin Jackson to the Seattle Mariners, and Tigers hurler Drew Smyly, prospect Willy Adames and Mariners infielder Nick Franklin to Tampa. Price, who still had a year a half of “club control” remaining on his contract, had been expecting to be traded; even so, he says, it still felt traumatic to be ripped away from the only professional organization he’d ever known.
“The season was slipping away with every loss, and my teammates kind of saw it coming, as did I,” Price remembers. “And that was tough to go through. Those were guys and an organization that I’d been with for seven years; all the relationships I had with everyone who works for the Rays, the security guards and the guys who sit outside the locker room – I knew all of those guys on a first-name basis. And then it all kind of flipped upside down and backwards in one day.”
Another player of Price’s caliber might have begun this new chapter by making a swaggering spectacle of himself upon entering the Tigers’ clubhouse for the first time; after all, he was a Cy Young recipient who was well on his way to his first AL strikeout title (he finished the season with a career high of 271 Ks in 248.1 innings), and who was widely perceived as the final piece of the puzzle for what was supposed to be the Tigers’ first World Series championship since 1984. But chest-thumping and spotlight-grabbing have never exactly been Price’s style.
“No, absolutely not,” he laughs. “It’s something I always tell young guys: Listen with your eyes. Watch the way people go about their business; that’s gonna let you know what’s right, and what’s wrong.
“You don’t want to jump on the scene and be loud and step on people’s toes; you have to kind of feel your teammates out,” he continues. “And in order to do that, you just have to watch how everybody goes about their business. That’s the advice that I got when I first got to the big leagues, and I still think it’s great advice.”
In the baseball world, left-handed hurlers are often tagged as flakes, freaks or flat-out weirdos, and with good reason. Baseball history is filled with colorful lefties like Al “The Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky, who would stomp around the mound in a homicidal rage between pitches; or Bill “Spaceman” Lee, who sprinkled marijuana on his breakfast pancakes; or Hall of Famer Steve “Lefty” Carlton, who spent the years immediately following his retirement building and stocking a survivalist bunker in the mountains of Colorado.
David Price is not that kind of lefty. There is nothing remotely weird or unhinged about him, unless you count his Air Jordan addiction, or his recent obsession with the “Exo Zombies” mode of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. A sizeable portion of his Instagram and Twitter posts involve Astro, his adorable French bulldog sidekick, and when he tweets about breakfast food, there’s nary a mention of Spaceman-style toppings. Price also claims to be completely superstition-free – which, viewed in the context of a sport rife with superstitious players, may be the only thing about him that’s truly odd.
“I definitely have my routine that I do every single day, but I wouldn’t call it superstition,” he laughs. “I’ve got too much energy on my game day, and I need to expend some of it. [So] I like to get there four hours before the game and sit in the hot tub for 30 minutes; then I’ll be in the weight room and get on the treadmill for 24 minutes, get my light workout. I’ll get on the training table and get some soft-tissue massage done, just to loosen my arm up, and then I’ll head out to the bullpen and get my headphones on so I can get in my zone.”
Young Jeezy, Lil Wayne and Big Sean are usually a big part of Price’s pregame playlist, and as he listens, he visualizes what he wants to do throughout the course of the game. “I’ll go through the entire lineup, and visualize myself making my pitches and getting good results. The amount of time I use before the game is what catches people off-guard sometimes, but I’m just trying to make sure that I put myself in the best position to be successful. And it seems to work.”
Whether he’s prepping for a game, meticulously choosing home furnishings (he bought a new house in Nashville during the offseason), running his Project One Four charity (which supports various youth educational programs and organizations in Tennessee and Tampa), or talking to the press, Price seems to approach everything with a maximum of methodical thought and a minimum of ego, a combination that’s rather rare in professional sports.