CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

December 24, 2009

COLUMN: Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Price give kids plenty to remember

By Michael A. Cummings
The Cullman Times

CULLMAN — David Price doesn’t get nervous on the mound. That’s just the way he’s always been.

No, it takes something much more fearsome than Major League hitters and playoff pressure to get the Tampa Bay Rays pitcher ruffled.

Something like Wednesday.

“I was more nervous walking out there than I ever am walking out to the mound,” Price said after speaking to about 150 youth baseball players at a camp hosted by former Major Leaguer Steve Woodard and Triple Play Sports Academy. “I’ve (pitched) my entire life — this is normal for me now, there’s no nerves involved.”

Don’t worry about facing the kids, David. From the looks of things, you’ve already got the right idea.

See, for Price, it’s all about impact — that is, making an impact on the lives of others. Especially baseball’s next generation.

In other words, pitching the final outs in Game 7 of the 2008 American League Championship Series, just a few weeks after being called up from the minors — that’s no sweat. And there’s definitely no pressure.

But speaking in front of 150 impressionable young baseball players in Cullman — now that’s something worth getting nervous about.

Confused? Don’t be. Price knows exactly what it means to be a role model. That’s how he makes an impact on baseball’s next generation, at places like TPSA’s Christmas baseball camp.

“Whenever I look at myself, I’m just as normal as everybody else,” said Price, who was the first overall selection in the 2007 Major League Baseball Draft. “But whenever they see me, I’m an icon.”

“These guys hold me on a pedestal,” he added. “Everything I do, everything I say, is going to be put under a microscope, and they’re going to look at it and look into it.

“And that’s awesome. I love it.”

Let’s all take a moment and appreciate those words, which came out of the mouth of a Major Leaguer who turned 24 just a few months ago. They’re the kind of words that nowadays, in our era of me-first athletes and steroids in baseball, are as refreshing as they are unexpected.

But make no mistake — Price is genuine. Maybe that’s because as a youngster, his role model was one of the finest in the business.

As a youngster, Price idolized former Atlanta Braves outfielder David Justice, a pretty clean-cut player from one of the most successful franchises in baseball during the 1990s. Though he has still never met Justice, Price models his career after the former Braves star.

“I’ve never met him. I’ve only heard good things about him, how he was a great teammate,” said Price, who wore Justice’s No. 23 as a kid. “No one ever has a bad thing to say about him.”

Which is something Price hopes the next generation of Major Leaguers say about him one day.

For now, the Tampa Bay Rays star is saying all the right things — and staying on the straight and narrow. As long as he keeps it up, Price will be a hero to at least 150 kids from the Cullman area.

Maybe millions more across the country, if he makes good on his potential.

Now that would be some major impact.

“I do this because I love being around these kids,” Price said. “And what I said today might impact their baseball life, it might impact their personal life.

“And I hope it did.”

So do all the rest of us.

Mike Cummings can be reached by email at michaelc@cullmantimes.com or by phone at 734-2131, ext. 258.