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Price's rah-rah attitude sets him apart

Opening Day starter draws on college experience to bring enthusiasm to Rays

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Joe Maddon recently had the opportunity to watch a video of the Rays' win over the Red Sox in Game 7 of the 2008 American League Championship Series.

Most Rays fans would call the game the biggest in team history, and all of them would remember how David Price finished off the game in dominant fashion as the Rays closer. The Rays manager is not one to live in the past, so he didn't dwell on what he saw while watching the video. Only, he did comment how calm Price appeared to be 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, who will be the Rays' Opening Day starter Monday against the Blue Jays, smiled when asked about that special moment in his career, noting that he wasn't scared or nervous at the time.

"I was pretty dad-gum calm at that moment," Price said. "I felt good. It was a situation I was in as a kid. I put myself in that situation all the time. It's a situation you put yourself into. It might not be to go to the World Series; it might be to win it. But it's still a situation like one you envisioned as a kid. I'm probably more nervous riding to the field."

Price is still calm on the mound when the game gets hot. That hasn't changed a bit. What has changed is Price the pitcher. And those changes have been significant.

"In 2008 I was a two-pitch guy, with a four-seam fastball and a slider," Price said. "Now I've got a four-seam, a two-seam, a slider, a curveball and a changeup I can throw when I want to. So I'm a much different pitcher. In '08 I wanted to strike everybody out. That situation was a good time for a strikeout. But it still didn't matter if it was the first hitter or fifth hitter of the game. I still wanted to strike everybody out.

"I think I have a better grasp of what type of pitcher I am and what type of pitcher I want to be. I think that's helped me out a lot, understanding that."

Price became the first Rays pitcher to win 20 games in 2012, resulting in a Cy Young Award, and though he didn't have his best season in 2013, he came through when the team needed him by pitching a complete game against the Rangers in the playoff game that put the Rays in the AL Wild Card game. The sky is the limit as far as what he can do on the field. But according to teammates and manager Joe Maddon, Price's ability on the field will never reach the level he's reached as a teammate.

Maddon noted that he's been in the Major Leagues since 1994 and Price is "one of the Top 10 teammates, ever."

Evan Longoria called Price the "No. 1 cheerleader" on the team and he was sincere when pointing out said praise was a compliment. Fellow starter Alex Cobb said that Price gives off a vibe that tells others he wants them to succeed more than he wants to succeed himself.

For a visual, just look in the Rays' dugout during a game when Price is not pitching and one will quickly notice the rangy 6-foot-6 dude standing on the dugout steps who never stops chirping.

Obviously, a part of that is just who Price is. But another part of that comes from Price's college background, where rah-rah is more ingrained.

"Coming out of high school and talking to scouts and talking to college coaches, they said college is probably your last chance to really have the feeling on the baseball field that you'll have," Price said. "It's like a band of brothers out there with you.

"Guys that are going to be in class with you, in study hall with you, out there on the field, eat together. A couple of you are probably staying in the same dorm room, stuff like that. That was awesome. Having guys that can pull together for one common goal -- kind of like we do here with the Rays -- and then just have fun together. That's something I feel everybody should have. It makes everybody feel better; it makes everybody play baseball better. If you can genuinely care about the guys you're surrounded by, it makes going to work a lot more fun."

Cobb, who could have gone to Clemson, but signed with the Rays out of high school instead, said he never knew how unusual it was to have a college-type atmosphere in the clubhouse until recently.

"It really wasn't brought to my attention until the newer guys started coming in and really pointed out the fact that we were a close-knit group and the camaraderie among ourselves, we're all about the same ages," Cobb said. "We kind of came up together, that really helps that fact. I think when we're rooting people on, that really dates back to when [James] Shields was here, and along with Price, and they really established that mentality among the rotation members, to really root on each other.

"When these new guys came in and said how weird it was, it was odd to me to hear that other teams don't do that. It's very odd and awkward for me to see an opposing pitcher walk off the mound after a questionable outing and not be picked up by the other members of the rotation, or teammates for that matter. I guess the unusual for us is absolutely normal."

While Price sets the tone with his enthusiasm; he does likewise with his competitiveness. He's never satisfied with an outing and likely would find something wrong if he pitched a perfect game and struck out 27 batters on three pitches each.

"That's quote, unquote, setting the bar," Cobb said. "That's a great mentality. Why would you ever be happy with anything when there's always something you can get better at?"

That's just David Price and one of the many reasons why he's one of the best pitchers in baseball.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for

Tampa Bay Rays, David Price