ST. PETERSBURG — When David Price strolled into Tropicana Field shortly before 1 p.m. Tuesday, he went right into the Rays clubhouse. Not by rote, not by accident, not surreptitiously.
"I went through the front door," he said. "I went on purpose."
Price has been a member of the Detroit Tigers team for 21 days now, but he'd been a Ray for the first seven years of his professional life, so there were people, dear friends actually, to see, to talk with, to hug, even to play a quick game of video hockey with. (He claimed he was rusty then beat Jake Odorizzi.)
"When he walked into the clubhouse today, it was like David walking into the clubhouse," Rays pitcher Alex Cobb said, indicating how normal it seemed. "Kind of like he was in the weight room, (just) hanging out."
A few hours later, Price walked out of the visitors' clubhouse in Tigers shorts, sweatshirt and cap. He sat in the third-base dugout and talked for 10 minutes about the trade, how he wanted to stay but understood the reasons for the deal, the adjustment he has had to make and his new team — and still referred a couple times to the Rays as "we."
"These guys will always have a special part of me," he said. "I try not to do it, absolutely, but I guess I've said it a couple times during this interview. I don't know, I still care about those guys."
They've tried to stay close, sharing text messages of "Happy Start Day" and good luck, mixing in some humor and some trash-texting from pitching coach Jim Hickey. But it's not the same.
Price also has been getting acclimated and ingratiated with his new Tigers teammates and their routines, acknowledging the challenge of an in-season deal. And the Rays are getting used to life without him.
"It's just like, if you've got a group of friends and one took a job and uprooted and left. You try to stay in touch as much as you can, but you're interacting with somebody every day and they're just uprooted and sent off somewhere else. It's just weird," Cobb said.
"The normal is not the normal anymore. It's just something you don't want to get used to, but you do."
Things will be weirder Thursday, when Price pitches against the Rays. He said he preferred that his turn would have not come up this series.
"Pitching against friends is always the worst," Price said, joking about throwing a pitch behind good buddy Evan Longoria. "I'm just going to try not to smile when I'm on the mound. I definitely want to have fun when I'm playing baseball and pitching. I'm definitely going to have to be a little more focused on Thursday."
He is looking forward to what should be a loud and perhaps emotional ovation from Rays fans who never got a chance to say goodbye before the trade. (There was a small sample Tuesday when the Rays showed a short video tribute of Price highlights during the game, and he tipped his cap in return.)
"I'm excited for that," Price said. "I think that's probably going to be the coolest part of it."
Rays manager Joe Maddon, who had issues with fans cheering for Yankees star Derek Jeter over the weekend, said he hopes Price gets a big ovation, noting the difference in the situations.
"There absolutely should be a great response to David," he said. "He's done some really good work for the Rays in the recent past."