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Tampa Bay Rays' David Price is proud son of Murfreesboro, Tenn.

MURFREESBORO, Tenn.

The house on Mayfair Avenue doesn't look like much these days: small, nondescript, in need of some work. But the historic value could someday make it a landmark, the kind of place worthy of notation on a map, a sign, maybe even a stop on a tour.

Because it was there that little David Price showed the signs that he might be a little different — and a lot special.

"He'd get out there with this little plastic ball and bat, and smack it over the house, then he'd run through the gate, go get the ball and hit it back over," his mother, Debbie Price, recalled.

"He was doing that at the age of 3. I'd never seen a child with such good eye-hand coordination — just to be able to toss it to himself and hit it. I remember (oldest son) Jackie, for instance, tossing him a ball at age 6 or 7, and he couldn't even catch it. Here David was at just 3 years old. It was amazing to me, and I thought, 'Wow, there's such a difference.' "

• • •

There are other guideposts around this burgeoning city of 110,000 in the geographic center of Tennessee — right down the middle of the plate, you could say — that shaped the path that led David first up Interstate 24 to Vanderbilt and eventually to Tampa Bay and the fame and fortune he has achieved with the Rays, including winning this year's American League Cy Young Award.

"It's where I grew up," David, 27, said. "It's all I ever really knew until I went to college."

There's the back yard of the Prices' next house, on Elizabeth Drive, where father Bonnie's attempts to switch the youngest son of their three sons from left-handed to right-handed, like the rest of the family, was — thankfully, they joke now — an abject failure.

There's the McKnight Park complex where youth league coaches complained David was too young at 8 to play until they saw what he could do on the field. ("It was obvious," Debbie said.) The Blackman High field where scouts initially came to look at others but invariably ended up watching the lanky lefty popping catchers' gloves who quickly became the main attraction.

Also, there's the Hardee's where he would go for his (still) favorite breakfast biscuit (well done, or it will go back like dozens of others have); the Stones River Mall, where he developed his insatiable tastes for fine shoes and Dippin' Dots; and the Skate Center, the movie theater, the McDonald's where he planned to go work when he threatened to quit baseball and leave Vanderbilt as a freshman.

And there's certainly Toot's, the restaurant-sports bar on Northwest Broad Street — the first full-service eatery in Rutherford County when it opened in 1985, the year David was born — that may best illustrate how far he has come. And yet how little has changed.

When David was growing up, he would go to Toot's to eat (he loves the wings) and just hang out, maybe catch on TV the Braves and his favorite player, David Justice.

Now Toot's has David's photos on the walls, touts on its marquee when he's pitching so people can go there to watch, and celebrates his successes.

And when David is back in town to visit, he'll still go in to eat and hang out. No special table, special treatment, special orders. (Though he does occasionally plea on Twitter for Toot's to send him its hot sauce.)

"He's pretty much a local hero here," said Jessie Scruggs, a Toot's manager. "There's Colton Dixon, who was on American Idol. But as far as Murfreesboro, David is it. But he's just normal. It's never a bother. Everything he has, he deserves, because he's such a modest person."

Basically, it's like that wherever David goes around town. He'll get asked for autographs and stopped for photos sometimes, but he tries to live in as much of a time warp as possible — staying at his parents' new house, driving himself, heading over to play video games with his school buddies.

"To go into Toot's like that and eat, he loves that," said agent Bo McKinnis, who lives in nearby Nashville and visits Murfreesboro frequently. "The people there don't treat David any differently for what he's accomplished, and David doesn't act any differently. It's very, very neat."

• • •

Debbie and Bonnie, who met in Murfreesboro as Middle Tennessee State students and married in 1971, wouldn't stand for it if he handled things differently. But then again, he wasn't much trouble growing up.

"If he got in any, I didn't know about it," Debbie said.

He seemed to have a good sense of right and wrong, spending most of his time playing baseball and basketball (he was all-state in both), and getting good-enough grades.

"That's the way I grew up seeing things, just normal," David said. "My parents never treated me any different. The older I got and the more acknowledgment I got for my athletic ability, they always treated me the same. I was always just David to them, and that's the part I love the most."

Not that they aren't plenty proud of the son Debbie called "our little surprise"; David is 11 years younger than their second son, Damon, and 18 younger than Jackie.

("Thank the Lord for that one," McKinnis cracked.)

The middle-class Prices' current house has a prominent display area, with floor-to-ceiling shelves for David's biggest trophies and soon-to-be-cleared space for the Cy Young plaque he'll get in January. Scattered around are jerseys, photos and other memorabilia related to his Project One Four foundation, which his parents administer and helps youths and school programs around Murfreesboro.

David makes it back several times during the offseason, and though he spends more of his time in Tampa now, he said he always will be a proud son of Murfreesboro.

"It's just a good place to grow up. I really loved my time there."

Tampa Bay Rays' David Price is proud son of Murfreesboro, Tenn. 12/15/12 [Last modified: Saturday, December 15, 2012 9:52pm]

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