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Rays phenom Price savoring moment

NEW YORK

The trip to the Bronx had been planned for months. Bonnie Price and his wife, Debbie, had never seen Yankee Stadium and knew time was running out on America's most famous ballpark.

They had had their reservations and game tickets lined up since earlier in the summer and arrived in New York on Friday evening just in time for the game to be rained out. So they went back to the city for dinner and were heading to the hotel when they got a call around 10:45 p.m. from their son in Durham, N.C.

"I'll see you tomorrow," David told his father.

"I know where I am," Bonnie replied. "Where are you going to be?"

And so began David Price's career in the big leagues. The most celebrated pitching prospect in Tampa Bay history was told of his promotion to the majors after Durham's playoff loss Friday night and, about 14 hours later, was in a Rays uniform in New York with his parents sitting behind home plate.

"This is a blessing for us," Bonnie Price said. "How perfect is the Lord's timing? I know a lot of people don't like to hear that, but that's the only way we can look at it. I mean, we couldn't have scripted this. This is totally beyond us; it has to be in God's hands."

• • •

He was up at 5 a.m., on a plane by 7 a.m. and in heaven by 10 a.m.

"We got here early, I took him on the field, and he's taking pictures with his phone," said outfielder Jonny Gomes, who was recalled from Durham with Price. "It was awesome to see a guy who has that much money, and is that talented, but yet still so excited to be in the big leagues.

"He was big-eyed. He said, 'Where are we staying?' I said, 'Times Square.' He was like, 'Oh, wow.' It's cool to look at this big ol' 6-foot-6 donkey and see his little boy side come out."

The visitor's bullpen in Yankee Stadium is right next to Monument Park in centerfield, and this is where Price spent his first afternoon as a major-league ballplayer.

It's also where he got his first dose of bullpen ribbing.

It seemed the story of Price wanting to quit baseball and go to work at a fast-food joint during his freshman year at Vanderbilt had not gone unnoticed by Rays pitchers.

"We teased him a little bit about that. He explained to us that he'd had a rough fall, not just on the field but in the classroom, so things felt like they were spinning out of control for him," reliever Trever Miller said. "That cleared it up, but it didn't stop us. So we asked him, if things went a little rough today if we should go look for him behind the counter at the nearest Burger King.

"The point is just to help him relax and get his mind off everything, even for a few minutes."

• • •

Now that he is here, the trick is what to do with Price. Should he be a starter or a reliever? Should the Rays go to a six-man rotation or use him as a late-inning setup man?

"I'll be the bat boy," Price said. "It doesn't matter to me."

Plans for Price are still evolving, but this much seems clear:

The Rays are not afraid to use him out of the bullpen, and they have no intention of dramatically altering their rotation to accommodate him. If they have a need for a starter — such as Wednesday at Tropicana Field against Boston, or Sept. 23 in Baltimore — Price could be the choice.

Meantime, manager Joe Maddon will let the situation dictate how he uses Price in relief, while keeping in mind the role is a new one.

"Our only concern is giving him enough time to get loose," Maddon said. "He's going to have to shorten his routine somehow. We've talked about that, and he will. For instance, you'll see him playing catch between innings in the outfield, just to keep his arm loose."

For all the talk of the Rays possibly using Price the way the Yankees handled Joba Chamberlain last year, the more hopeful comparison is Francisco Rodriguez with the Angels in 2002.

Chamberlain made his big-league debut Aug. 7 and pitched in 19 games before flaming out in the postseason. Rodriguez didn't hit the majors until Sept. 18 and pitched in five games before becoming a postseason phenom with a 5-1 record, 1.92 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 182/3 innings.

The Angels, with bench coach Joe Maddon, won the World Series.

• • •

He had waited forever for this day to arrive, then waited almost as long for it to end.

From the time he left one hotel to the time he settled into another, Price had survived 18 innings and just about as many hours. The danger is that anticipation now gives way to expectation.

The No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft and USA Today's Minor League Player of the Year for 2008 was 12-1 with a 2.30 ERA in three minor-league stops this season.

But it should not go unnoticed that in four regular-season starts at Triple A, he was 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA.

"It's just the natural progression. They just have sharper hitters, more patient, more difficult to get out in Triple A," Maddon said. "He's ready for this, I know that."

Standing in the clubhouse on the day his career began, Price had no doubt about that.

"This is something I've been waiting to be a part of."

Rays phenom Price savoring moment 09/13/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 15, 2008 3:43pm]

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