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David Price's late friend still near in Tampa Bay Rays All-Star's mind

Rays left-hander David Price, who started for American League, threw two shutout innings.

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Rays left-hander David Price, who started for American League, threw two shutout innings.

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Did you see him? He was the kid on top of the dugout, pumping his fist, savoring the moment. He was the guy leaning over the rail, grinning and beaming as David Price stood on mound, fighting his nerves preparing to throw the opening pitch of the All-Star Game.

Did you hear him? He was the one who kept shouting out Price's name as Price worked two scoreless innings. He was the one who told everyone around him that he called this, that he has always known what a star Price would become, long before he threw a 98-mph fastball to strike out Ryan Howard.

Ah, that Tyler. No one enjoyed Price's performance in Tuesday night's All-Star Game as much as he did. He was in the upper deck. He was behind the dugout. He was behind the plate. And, yes, he was on the mound with Price.

After all, as far as Price is concerned, Tyler Morrissey always is.

This is a story about friendship that lasts longer than a lifetime. This is about a player who will not forget about his friend even when the friend has been taken from him. This is about a moment when a young star thinks about an old friend.

This is about David and his friend Tyler, who teamed up to start for the American League.

Tyler Morrissey was 21 years old when he was killed in a car accident in April 2008. The driver of the car he was in had been drinking too much, and he hit another car. When Price, who was in the minor leagues for the Rays at the time, heard about it, it left a hole inside of him. Nine months earlier, another close friend, Nathan Stephens, had collapsed on a basketball court and died of a heart attack.

"They're always with me," Price said. "That's why I have their names on my glove. Tyler and Nathan. I think about them before every pitch. They would have been sitting up there having a good time. I know they're watching me."

If so, they saw a treat. Price came out dealing fastballs again, and according to a somewhat inflated radar, he threw 98 mph or faster on nine of his first 10 pitches. One of them registered 100.

"I've never thrown 100 in my life," Price said, grinning.

Still, others were willing to accept it.

"If the gun said he hit 100, he hit 100," Rays teammate Evan Longoria said. "Who is to say he didn't. He did throw the ball well."

Okay, maybe, Price said. However, asked if he believed deep down he had hit 100 for the first time, he said "No, not really."

For a player who says he wants several All-Star Games in his future, this was a nice start. Even if you don't quite buy into the announced speeds, it was clear that Price had the adrenalin showing. He threw only one off-speed pitch in the first inning.

"I started getting butterflies when I was playing catch before the game," he said. "My stomach was in a knot, and my legs were wobbly. It was definitely nerve-wracking. This is an experience. It's like the World Series packed into two days."

Say this for Price. He didn't keep his experience all to himself. He gave tickets to John and Melinda Morrissey, Tyler's parents.

"I know Tyler and Nathan would have been here," Price said. "I wanted their parents to see this game."

Hours before the game, the Morrisseys sat in an outdoor patio outside the Marriott, talking about old memories and good friendships. It was Price they came to see, and it was Price who got them tickets to the game.

"It just shows how special David is," Melinda Morrissey said. "He hasn't forgotten us, and he hasn't forgotten Tyler. It just shows what kind of person he is. He's a superstar player, but he's a superstar person, too."

"They were great friends," John Morrissey said. "I still remember when they played high school basketball together. Tyler had to be the one who warmed up with David. It's good that David hasn't forgotten."

He was smart and funny and outgoing and witty, Tyler Morrissey. He was better at soccer, but on the basketball court, he was the scrappy overachiever, and Price was the gifted star, yet the two of them clicked.

"He was so proud of David," Melinda said. "He was convinced David was going to make it."

The two of them were in high school when David first showed up at the Morrissey house. They were playing cards. A little later, Melinda said, she heard them whooping and bouncing on the beds "like they were 12 year olds."

"That's the thing I see in David," Melinda said. "He hasn't lost that. He's still that kid bouncing around."

Watch Price, and you can see it. In interviews, he is guarded, careful with what he says. But in the dugout, he's the kid blowing a head-sized bubble, or reacting to a big moment like a fan seeing his first game.

Of course, Tuesday night was one of those moment to show how nicely Price is growing. He is 24 years old, and this was only his 42nd start. And still, he walked past the best pitchers in the game on his way to the mound for the first inning.

Just think of the names who have started All-Star Games: Sandy Koufax and Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan and Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens and Don Drysdale and Warren Spahn and Tom Seaver and Robin Roberts and more. This is a big-armed assignment.

Now, Price is one of them. There is every reason to believe he'll be back for more.

Tyler would tell you that. Nathan, too.

When it comes to starting, Price is just getting started.

David Price's late friend still near in Tampa Bay Rays All-Star's mind 07/13/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 14, 2010 7:38am]
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