PORT CHARLOTTE — Relatively speaking, Port Charlotte is less than the ideal locale to spend February and March, lacking the beaches, bars, restaurants, entertainment options, and the high society of even Fort Myers, Sarasota or the Tampa Bay area.
But as the Rays welcome 39 pitchers and catchers today in advance of Saturday's first workout of spring training, there is one player in particular who could not be more elated or relieved to spend the next six weeks there.
"Absolutely," pitcher David Price said Thursday. "You know it."
After living through an entire offseason of not just speculation but expectation that he would be traded, the left-handed ace reported early to start working out at the Charlotte Sports Park, confident, though not assured, that since he made it this far, he will spend another season with the Rays.
And his teammates are equally excited that he will again be at the front end of their rotation.
"I'm so thankful and so happy every single day that our anchor is still going to be here," second-year starter Chris Archer said. "He's the true anchor of our staff, and the numbers go to prove that. When he came back from the DL last year, he was arguably the best pitcher in baseball.
"He elevates the game of everyone else around him with his presence in the clubhouse alone. It's just different. When we get to see him go out there and perform at a high level, that is the standard. We don't settle for anything less than excellence, and DP is that."
The trade speculation was merited, given Price's salary and contract status, and the present dynamics of baseball economics. The theory was that since the Rays couldn't afford to sign him long term and he will be a free agent after 2015, that they would maximize his value, and save what will be a team-record $14 million salary this season, by trading him before spring training.
"To be honest, I did not think I would be here," Price said.
But while there was plenty of talk, there was no action, a combination of the high price the Rays set and a confluence of market circumstances, tied possibly to the slow-developing bidding process for Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, who eventually signed with the Yankees.
Price wanted to stay and, though he had no control, he spread the word as best he could, whether in public comments or posts on his @DAVIDprice14 Twitter account. On Christmas Eve: "We have the best owners!! I love those guys...#rays #family." And then Wednesday: "This will be my 7th big league spring training!! wow time flies when you're in a good environment and love what you do!! #blessed."
In just a few days of informal workouts, Price has made it obvious to team personnel how happy he is to be back, however unlikely it seemed that he would be.
"Love him, love having him," manager Joe Maddon said. "We're talking about all these different components within the clubhouse that make a difference. Who makes more of a difference than he does?
"With all these wonderful things we're doing right now, to have him there to spearhead the starting rotation, what trumps that? I don't think anything does."
As the offseason unfolded, the other starters would talk or text, wondering whether Price, the 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner, would still be with them.
"Obviously we're very excited having David come back to camp with us," lefty Matt Moore said. "That was the big question mark in the air. He's kind of been the man at the helm for us, and he's been a leader for us definitely in the clubhouse. So we're looking forward to getting behind him again and seeing where we wind up."