ST. PETERSBURG — The video tribute, now a Rays tradition, right up there with unloading star pitching for cheaper brands, came in the middle of the second inning Tuesday night. There he was, up on the big board at Tropicana Field, getting big outs, building Rays history.
Many in the crowd rose to applaud.
As he stood along the railing of the visitors dugout, David Price doffed and waved his Detroit Tigers cap.
There used to be a Cy Young winner here.
The locker Price used in the home clubhouse is vacant. Someone put up a toy basketball backboard in it.
“It's cool. I wish I had done that when I was here,” Price said.
Yes, it was David Price Boomerang Baby Night. Nineteen days after the Rays traded him, Price was back, hugs here, there, everywhere. Price in a Detroit uniform still looks weird. Then there's Thursday, when Price pitches for the first time against his former team. Price was asked about his plans.
“I guess maybe throw one behind Longo to the backstop,” he said with a grin.
Pitching against friends, it's always the worst.
“I'm just going to try not to smile when I'm on the mound,” Price said.
He sat in the Detroit dugout an hour-and-a-half after he threw in the visitors bullpen, in front of all those empty seats before the Trop gates opened, as opposed to all the empty seats after the Trop gates opened, which, when you think about it, is a big reason why Price is gone.
Expect another ovation for him on Thursday.
“I've made my last start at the Trop three or four different times,” he said. Another grin. “Every time I walked off the mound, they gave me some good cheers. That'll probably be the coolest part. But if I could have come here and not thrown, that would have been real cool.”
He headed for the Rays clubhouse as soon as he arrived at the Trop in the early afternoon. He put in some video work.
“1-0 in NHL today,” Price said. “I beat Jake Odorizzi ....”
It's weird. Tuesday, meeting with media, Price even slipped a few times, referring to the Rays as “We.”
“These guys will always have a special part of me,” Price said. “I'm gone from Vanderbilt, but I still say 'we' whenever I talk about that place. I try not to do it, but I guess I've done it a few times during this interview.”
“It's more of an adjustment off the field,” said Rays pitcher Alex Cobb, who'll oppose Price on Thursday. “For us, it's tough to lose a friend, a guy who, when you show up in an away city, you drop your bags off and text David to see what room we're hanging out in ... The normal is not the normal anymore. It's something you don't want to get used to, but you do.
Then again, this is normal in Rays ball: guys going away. Only this time the departed has almost immediately shown back up at the front door. Hey, nobody died. Price will eventually get a huge contract. The Rays will continue to use their bargain-barn business model as a flotation device.
“This is the way the Rays have operated, and I get that,” Price said. “I've seen multiple teammates traded away who are good buddies and done a lot of good things for the Rays. That's how we got Jake Odorizzi and Wil Myers and Brandon Guyer and Chris Archer. That's how this team operates. It's done a tremendous job of doing that, not only staying afloat, but putting together an extremely competitive team.”
Price repeated: He wanted to stay.
But he wanted that big contract, too.
Two different worlds.
“This was home to me,” Price said. “And just stating I wanted to stay, I don't think that was a bad thing. Our ownership knew I wanted to be here, so did all my teammates and coaching staff … I guess it kind of made me feel better, because all of my Twitter followers thought I wanted to be traded or had a say in it.”
Alex Cobb expects more cheers for Price.
“He's been the perfect guy on and off the field that Rays fans could have asked for,” Cobb said. “You think Rays, you think David Price.”
He's a Tiger. You think Rays these days and you think that, too.