March 28, 2012
Nashville sports historian Bill Traughber has recently written another book, Vanderbilt Football: Tales of Commodore Gridiron History. The 160-page paperback book can be ordered on historypress.net for $19.99.
Commodore History Corner Archive
This interview between David Price and Bill Traughber is exclusive to Commodore History Corner and vucommodores.com. The interview was conducted in early February before spring training camps opened.
When former Vanderbilt pitcher David Price left the team after his junior season in 2007, he achieved many professional baseball experiences that most hurlers will not live in a career. The Tampa Bay Rays selected Price as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 Major League Baseball Draft.
In less than four years, Price picked up a win and a save in the American League Championship Series, a save in the World Series, two selections to the All-Star game including one start, becoming the staff ace, falling one victory short of a 20-win season and earning third-place in the Cy Young Award voting.
The Dodgers drafted (19th round) Price earlier after a sensational prep career at Blackman High School in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Price had to chose between playing in Los Angeles or attending Vanderbilt University on a scholarship offer from Head Coach Tim Corbin.
"It was not a very tough decision," Price said about choosing Vanderbilt. "I was at that point in my life, maturity-wise, having to make that decision whether I wanted to play with grown men or continue to play with kids my own age. I knew I wasn't mature enough as a person to live on my own. To have my own "X" amount of dollars and to provide for myself at the time was the right decision for me to go to college.
"And just listening to [Corbin] talk made me believe everything he said was going to be true. Coach Corbin told me I was going to be the No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft. We were going to win the SEC championship and go to Omaha for the first time in Vanderbilt's history. Obviously everything he said did not come true, but for the most part he says what he means. I felt that he was very personable with all his players. He's very straightforward with them. He made my decision to come to Vanderbilt an easy choice."
Both Collegiate Baseball and Baseball America selected the left-hander as a Freshman All-American at the conclusion of this first collegiate year. Price's stats that season included a 2-4 record with a 2.86 ERA while appearing in 16 games (10 starts) totaling 92 strikeouts in 69.1 innings pitched.
In the summer after his first season with the Commodores, Price was on the roster of the United States National Baseball team. In five games, he was 2-0 with a 1.26 ERA with 39 strikeouts in 28.2 innings pitched. Price concluded the summer with a complete game five-hit shutout over Nicaragua.
With a bright future in baseball, Price felt some frustrations during that first year in Nashville that had him consider quitting the school and the game he loved.
"The combination of school and baseball was different for me," said Price. "In high school I was a very good student. I never really took a textbook home with me. I could learn everything sitting in class. I didn't have to go home and study. Then I'm at Vanderbilt, a very prestigious school when it comes to academics.
"That was a big shock to my system. It was something I had to learn. I had to learn how to study. It was tough to do at the college level especially at Vanderbilt. Everything hit me so quickly that I didn't know how to deal with it. I almost hit the panic button and Coach Corbin and my family didn't allow me to do that."
Price would end his sophomore season posting a 9-5 record with a 4.16 ERA in 110.3 innings while setting the school single-season strikeout record (155). Over a span of six starts, Price recorded at least 10 strikeouts including 17 Ks against Arkansas.
His performance made him one of five finalists for the Golden Spikes Award and a semifinalist for the Roger Clemens Award. Price was also named to the All-SEC Second Team by the coaches; First Team All-Region by the American Baseball Coaches Association and Third Team All-American by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.
Price credits most of his success to Vanderbilt pitching coach Derek Johnson.
"Coach Johnson helped me understand the type of pitcher I needed to be and the type of pitcher I wanted to be," Price said. "Everybody is different. He is going to teach guys a lot of the same methods to pitching that everybody adapts to in a different way. I definitely bought in to what he was telling me.
"I believe he was National College Pitching Coach of the Year when I signed. Two years before he had [Jeremy] Sowers and all those guys. While sitting there listening to him talk, I could tell that he knew what he was talking about. He would go into great detail about why he wanted you to do this. He didn't sit there and tell you he wanted you to do this because he thought it was right. He had reasoning behind what he wanted you to do and it all made sense to me."
After his sophomore season, Price helped the United States National Team earn the gold medal in the World University Baseball Championship held in Cuba. Price was 5-1 in eight starts with a 0.20 ERA.
Price's final season on the Commodores' mound would include an 11-1 mark with a 2.63 ERA and 194 strikeouts to break his own team record in 133.3 innings. Those strikeouts and innings pitched are Vanderbilt single-season records. Price holds the career mark in strikeouts (441). Price was All-SEC First Team and honored as the SEC's Pitcher of the Year.
Nationally, Price became an All-American and received college baseball's top award, the 2007 Dick Howser Trophy and the 2007 Brooks Wallace Award. With all the attention and accolades given to Price, his favorite moment wearing a Vanderbilt baseball uniform involved a teammate.
"My favorite college moment was my junior year," said Price. "We had a walk-on named Jason Cunningham. He walked-on my sophomore year. He would throw in inter-squad games and was out there eating up innings giving guys more looks and more at-bats in those type games. He didn't quit. He was not an SEC pitcher by any means. He is no longer playing baseball. Probably no scouts even talked to him.
"Jason was a guy that never gave up and got a chance to pitch in the SEC Tournament game against Mississippi State. He threw three innings for us. It was one of the first games he pitched with so much meaning. Jason went out and threw three zero's. I watched him come off that field and knew how much work he had put in. He never envisioned himself to be in that situation. That was probably my favorite moment in college."
Vanderbilt was ranked the No. 1 college team for most of Price's junior season including postseason. The Commodores secured home field advantage for the first time in the NCAA Regional. Vanderbilt lost to Michigan 2-1 in 11 innings in the championship game. Though he had pitched earlier in the tournament, Price asked to toss one inning of relief, which he did giving up the game-winning home run to the Wolverines.
"That was very tough," Price said. "We were the No. 1 team in the college rankings. The last pitch I threw in college was a home run to a pinch-hitter named Alan Oaks. I think the next year he didn't bat any more and was a pitcher that was drafted a couple of years later. That was a tough time for me. It was one of those things."
Price passed up his senior year at Vanderbilt and was selected as the No. 1 overall player in the 2007 MLB Draft by Tampa Bay. He signed his first professional contract on August 15, 2007 and according to The Tampa Tribune the six-year contract was worth $8.5 million including a $5.6 million signing bonus. Price was placed on the Rays 40-man roster and assigned to their minor league system.
"I had done the college thing for three years," Price said. "Professional baseball was what I wanted to do. I don't think anybody in their right mind would pass up not being the No. 1 pick. It would have been tough to go out there the next year [at Vanderbilt]. You might not have as good of a season; people might start doubting you. If they start doubting you, you might start doubting yourself.
"You could have any type of injury that would alleviate your chances of trying to get to your goal. I felt like the time was right for me and there wasn't anything stopping me from going back to Vanderbilt. If it wasn't right in my contract, I could have definitely gone back. There is nothing like playing college baseball."
Price said that after signing his contract he took time off from baseball to relax. He was sent to Single-A in Columbus, Ga. (Sally League) for a week to meet the players, coaches and administration. They told him not to bring his glove, but to see how the organization operated.
Corbin has been coaching at Vanderbilt since 2003. Under his guidance, major league baseball teams have drafted 96 of his players or recruits; 18 have been selected as All-Americans; 15 Commodores have earned Freshman All-American honors and eight players have been drafted in the First Round (including five in the Top 10).
"David is one of the greatest competitors I've ever been around," said Corbin. "He was bright-eyed all the time and always had a smile on his face. He was a pleasure to coach. I had him here for three years and on Team USA. I just think he is one of the best competitive athletes that I've been exposed to without question. He plays the game because it is pure joy for him. There is nothing about the game for him that isn't fun.
"The older he gets, the more joy he finds in the game itself. He has taken the Little League baseball love and applied that to major league baseball. That is rare because I know how some people look at that as being a job. He doesn't see it that way. He doesn't act that way. I don't think he acts any different now than when he played youth baseball. He is completely innocent."
In 2008, Price was sent on a fast track to the major leagues and did not derail. His first assignment was to Vero Beach (Florida State League), the Rays High Single-A affiliate. In six games, Price was 4-0 with an ERA of 1.82 with 37 strikeouts in 34.2 innings pitched. In July, he was promoted to Double-A Montgomery (Southern League) where his dominating pitching continued. Price was 7-0 with a 1.89 ERA in 57 innings pitched.
Price was on the move again this time to Triple-A Durham (International League). Pitching for the Bulls, he was 1-1 in 18 innings with a 4.50 ERA. In September, the Rays sent Price to "The Show" when major league rosters were expanded. Tampa Bay was also in a pennant race.
"Our Triple-A manager, Charlie Montoya, told a couple of us that we were going up as soon as we were knocked out of the playoffs,' Price said. "Obviously you are very happy. It's something that you want. It is something that you expected especially at that time. It gets kind of weird when you are in the Triple-A playoffs knowing that you are going to the big leagues whenever you are put out.
"You don't want to lose, but you want to get into the big leagues as fast as possible. I was happy at the time. I didn't start crying. I didn't go nuts or anything like that. It was a stepping-stone in what I wanted to do. That is how I viewed it."
And what about donning that major league jersey for the first time on a big league roster?
"That's a great feeling," Price said. "I finally made it to where I wanted to be. They say the easiest part is getting there, and the hardest part is staying there. I can attest to that and agree 100 percent. The guys that get to the big leagues and continue their work are the ones that will stay there. The ones that get there and are content with being a big leaguer, are the ones that find themselves in Triple-A."
Price made his major league debut in relief against the Yankees on September 14, 2008. The first batter he faced was Xavier Nady, who grounded out to shortstop on the first pitch. Price said he threw seven pitches in his first inning and Pudge Rodriquez was his first strikeout for the third out.
Price made his first major league start against the Baltimore Orioles on September 22 without a decision.
"It was awesome standing there before the game listening to that National Anthem and knowing I'm minutes away from my first start in the major leagues," said Price. "Especially with me at the time being with the Rays when they are in that playoff hunt. Those games in September have significant meaning. That was a game we needed to win and we did go on to win. I left when it was tied 1-1. Knowing that my team needed me to step up, though it was my first start, obviously had my emotions flying high. But I needed to control myself and help the Rays win a game."
Tampa Bay did make it to the World Series after defeating Boston four games to three in the league championship series. Price was the winning pitcher in relief in Game 2 and recorded the save in Game 7 that sent the Rays to the World Series against Philadelphia.
"Going to the world championship and knowing you will pitch sometime was definitely wild," Price said. "That is the highest experience in baseball there is. There is nothing bigger than the World Series. For me to be in that position was definitely a blessing. I was very lucky to be in that position at such an early age.
"I remember before the first game I was walking off the field in batting practice. I ran into Jamie Moyer a left-handed pitcher for the Phillies. He walked over and told me, `I spent 22 years in the big leagues and this is my first time ever making it to the World Series. So make sure you enjoy it. You might not ever get back to this point.' For him to come over to tell me that when I didn't have 22 days in the major leagues was special."
The Phillies won the World Series, four games to one. Price pitched in relief of Game 2 and was credited with the save. This was the Rays only World Series victory. Price faced batters Ryan Howard, Jason Werth and Chase Utley. He knew it was a tough lineup, but "felt that I handled myself well."
Price also pitched a scoreless eighth inning in Game 7. His World Series numbers include 3.1 innings, giving up two earned runs (Game 2) with four strikeouts. Price began the 2009 season in Durham. After pitching nearly flawless in the Rays minor league system and playing in the playoffs and World Series, Price was feeling good about his future.
"Whenever you get to the big leagues, you've got to be successful to let yourself know you belong there," said Price. "You can't continue to go out there when you are a rookie or a young guy in the league and continually fail. Then maybe you begin to think I don't belong here. It trains you to know that is where you belong and you can succeed."
In 2009, Price began the season in Durham where he was 1-4 with a 3.93 ERA in eight starts and 34.1 innings pitched. On May 30, Price was with the Rays when he collected his first regular season major league victory over the Twins, 5-2. In less than six innings, Price recorded 11 strikeouts. He finished the season with a 10-7 record, a 4.42 ERA with 102 Ks in 23 starts.
Price had a breakout year in 2010 becoming the first American League pitcher to reach 10 wins on June 15. At that point he was 10-2 and led the league with a 2.31 ERA. Price was selected as the American League starter for the All-Star Game in Anaheim.
"I was the youngest starting pitcher in the All-Star game since Dwight Gooden," Price said. "I felt that was very special. When people told me that it took me back a little bit. I had a bunch of teammates that helped me. It wasn't just me pitching. I wasn't by myself. I don't go out there and win games just on pitching. I've got defense. I've got hitters and run support. It was a team effort and that was the first time the Rays had a pitcher start for them. It was good not only for me, but the entire organization."
Price pitched two scoreless innings, allowing one hit in the National League's 3-1 win. He threw 24 pitches with his fastball reaching 96-100 mph. The six-foot-six, 225-pounder faced the top hitters of the senior circuit.
"I started off with Hanley Ramirez who grounded out to first," said Price. "Martin Prado was the second out and my third batter of the first inning was Albert Pujols. He hit an absolute stud to right field and Ichiro [Suzuki] made a really good catch. I was pleased with that play since he hit the ball about 150 miles per hour. I'm glad that ended up in his glove.
"I faced Ryan Howard who was my first batter in the second inning. I was able to strike him out. That was my one strikeout in the game. It was fun, but I was relieved when I was done because my emotions were running very high and I was extremely nervous heading into that. I enjoyed it."
David Wright followed Howard and recorded an infield hit. Price was able to end his two innings with outs to Ryan Braun and Andre Ethier. He finished the season tied for second best record (19-6) with Jon Lester (Boston). Price's 188 strikeouts was eighth best in the league while his 2.72 ERA ranked third. He finished third in the Cy Young voting behind Felix Hernandez (Mariners) and CC Sabathia (Yankees).
Price helped Tampa Bay to the American League Division Championship Series as Eastern Division champs. He lost Game 1 and Game 5 to Texas and their ace Cliff Lee. With experienced coaching in the major leagues and more instructors, Price was asked if he learned technique or new pitches to improve his productivity.
"It's a combination of both," Price said. "Being at the big league level they constantly work with me. If you are not going to change with it, you are going to get left behind in the dust. I think every big leaguer knows that they've got to change things up from the year before and do things a little bit differently.
"Hitters at this level are way too smart for that. If you continue to do the same things over and over again they will get to you. That is the thing they try and teach you the most. Make sure you are not afraid or scared to adapt to the game. That was one thing I did not have a problem doing. I had no problem listening to people and trying to learn new things."
The 2011 season was not as impressive stat-wise for Price. He was 12-13 in 34 starts with a 3.39 ERA in 224.1 innings pitched and 218 strikeouts. Price was selected to his second all-star game, but did not make an appearance. The Rays did make the AL Divisional Series as a wild card, but lost to Texas in four games, 3-1. Price started Game 3 and pitched six scoreless innings until the Rangers scored four runs in the seventh to eventually win the game, 4-3.
"It just wasn't happening for me," Price said about last season. "Everything wasn't coming together for me like in 2010. Right now I would take the pitcher I was in 2011 over the pitcher I was in 2010. Obviously that bothered me and I wanted to do better. In the pitching areas I wanted to be better, I was. I wanted to get more innings, which I did. I wanted to have more strikeouts, which I did. I wanted less walks, which I did. That told me I was more or less pitching not just throwing. I became a better pitcher last year even though I didn't have the wins or ERA the year before. I was hands down a better pitcher in 2011."
Who was the toughest batter Price has faced in the major leagues?
"One of the toughest hitters for me right now is Robinson Cano [Yankees]," said Price. "With him being left-handed, and I love facing left-handed hitters, I wish the other team would put out nine left-handed hitters for me to face. I do have success against left-handed hitters, but there is something about Cano's approach. He's got a very good approach. He's been a very tough out for me the three years I've been in the league."
Price said he has faced former Vanderbilt teammate Pedro Alvarez (Pirates) in spring training. He walked Alvarez on four straight pitches the first time they squared off. A few weeks later Price stuck out Alvarez for revenge.
Price, 26, was also asked his favorite moment as a major league pitcher.
"I would say coming into the game with the bases loaded and two outs in that eighth inning in Game 7 against Boston to go to the World Series," said Price. "I faced J. D. Drew in a 3-2 game. At that time in the game, I had pretty much zero experience especially as a reliever.
"I had been a starter my entire life and they made me a reliever just for the postseason. Coming into that situation to face a hitter like Drew, who had so many good postseason moments, was pretty tough for me. I was able to strike him out. That was one of the biggest moments in my career and then going back in the next inning and getting those final three outs. I was able to help the Rays get into the World Series for the first time ever."
Price said that the best thing about being a major league baseball player was just living out his dream since childhood and being rewarded with financial security. Except maybe for the travel, Price could not find anything negative about playing major league baseball. He is having too much fun in Tampa Bay.
Price's major league totals include: 94 games (89 starts), two complete games, 41-26 record, 3.38 ERA, one shutout, 575.1 innings pitched, 520 strikeouts, 490 hits, 200 base on balls and 55 home runs allowed.
Price lives in the Nashville area and works out at Vanderbilt during the off-season. He's working on completing his degree in the off-season and loves the university that prepared him for life in major league baseball.
"Vanderbilt not only helped turn me into the baseball player I am today, but Coach Corbin, Coach Johnson and all those coaches helped turn me into the man I am today along with my parents," Price said. "I believe that is the biggest compliment I could pay them. They helped me to mature as a person. At the time I was coming out of high school, I wasn't ready for everything I am dealing with right now. At Vanderbilt, they definitely helped me prepare for the next step."
If you have any comments or suggestions you can contact Bill Traughber via email WLTraughber@aol.com. Look for Traughber's new book on Vanderbilt basketball history in October 2012.