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Tampa Bay Rays pitcher David Price proud to be "a 5-year-old" in a grown-up's body

PORT CHARLOTTE — Of course, David Price was the Rays player to get hurt last week toweling himself off too vigorously in the dugout. Of course he was.

The 26-year-old left-handed pitcher is something of their twirling dervish, bouncing around the dugout and clubhouse in constant motion, a steady stream of noise coming from his mouth, always up to something and then, given his short attention span, something else.

So if there were going to be a Rays player getting national attention for something so odd, it only figures it would be Price. And once the Rays knew he was okay, they could barely contain themselves, with a CAUTION!! TOWELS CAN BE DANGEROUS sign by the shower, with manager Joe Maddon joking about "a self-inflicted towel wound," with talk of mandatory toweling instruction and drills.

"I don't even know what to say about that one," outfielder Matt Joyce said, laughing to the brink of tears. "You watch him and every day he has something new."

• • •

This one time, at spring training camp, Price went to the dugout to watch the game wearing a team jacket with nothing — no T-shirt, no jersey — underneath, claiming, as he often does, innocence: He had a device from the trainers hooked to his shoulder, wanted to be there for his teammates, didn't think anyone would notice. Which explains everything except how he was caught standing on the field, smiling, pulling the jacket open when he got his picture taken. "That was pretty outlandish," third baseman Evan Longoria said. "He continues to surprise me."

• • •

On the day Price pitches, he is as serious, focused, self-critical — and often as good — as anyone. But the best way to describe his mind-set on those other four days?

"A 5-year-old."

Now before you think that sounds harsh, know this:

That was Price's answer. "Perfect," he added.

"He definitely reminds me of a little kid just having fun with the game of baseball," veteran starter James Shields said. "Like when we all were little kids cheering on our teammates, messing with the guys. … He just has to distract himself from getting bored."

"He's like a full-grown child, and in the best way possible," centerfielder B.J. Upton said. "He's like the curious kid that's just trying to figure out stuff, so he's just kind of into everything."

Though, Upton said, "giving him '5-year-old' is stretching it."

• • •

This one time, during batting practice, Price actually hit a ball into the seats. And to mark the occasion he launched into what may be the most entertaining home run trot in history: Cartwheels at first base and again at second, a pop-up slide into third, then a grand finale he later described on Twitter as "my flip into home was my best FIFA celebration … the front flip roll with the 'shoootteerrr' fingers"

• • •

Ask around the Rays clubhouse for stories on the funniest, silliest, craziest things Price has done, and you tend to get one of two replies:

The "Oh my God, where do I start," from Shields. Or the, "I don't think you can print this," from infielder Elliot Johnson.

From the answers given, this much is known:

He has fun. He loves his teammates. He is a great cheerleader and a not-so-great singer. He has no filter. He loses his phone a lot. And he likes not wearing clothes.

"He was trying to do a handstand in a towel one time," Upton said. "That was pretty bad."

"He likes to do a lot of stuff naked," Johnson said. "He likes running around while he's naked and doing stupid stuff. He's very proud of his body."

• • •

This one time, in Boston, Price decided he could blow the biggest bubble and kept adding more and more gum. "Funniest thing I've ever seen," Shields said. "It was basically the same size as his head, and then when it popped it covered his whole entire face." Slightly funnier than sliding on a magazine down the aisle of the team plane upon takeoff, than wearing a swim ring as part of the team's Beach Boys-themed road trip, than snapping one golf club and throwing another in the water on the same hole, than riding a toddler-sized bike around the clubhouse.

• • •

The Rays think a lot of Price, raving about what a great teammate he is. It's just that they use some unusual terms of endearment. "A big goofball," said pitching coach Jim Hickey. " 'Different' is an understatement," added Ben Zobrist.

Maddon puts Price in elite company, in the conversation with two of baseball's best pranksters, Bert Blyleven and Rick Sutcliffe. "You never know what they are going to do," Maddon said. "He's kind of the next generation of that. He's always in the middle of something. He has a great time. He's a great supporter of everyone else in the group. He's always got a smile on his face.

"And there's always danger lurking or something sinister lurking in the back of his mind. Never in a vindictive way, but it's lurking nonetheless."

• • •

This one time, on Twitter, Price posted that he flew his own plane back from a West Coast road trip. (He was on the team flight.) He posted that he couldn't attend the team FanFest. (He did.) He posted that he was going to propose to Jennifer Lopez. (He hasn't, we don't think.) He posts on @DAVIDPrice14 what he had for lunch (often pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup), his favorite smoothie flavor (Peanut Power Plus, with strawberry), when he's at the mall, how good he is at the FIFA video soccer game and challenges to fans to play him online. He has posted photos of text messages from his dad, of his dog Astro doing "business" on a lawn, of his fuel tank on empty (while driving 46 mph). He re-tweets, he replies, he once even called a fan who asked nicely, some 5,500 tweets, all unedited.

• • •

Price is a pretty big star, given his success on the field, marketability and outgoing personality. He shares his time and his money though his Project One Four Foundation and other charitable causes, and he shares the spotlight with Astro, his French bulldog.

When Price works out at the Trop, even before something as important as the decisive Game 5 of the 2010 AL Division Series, Astro runs around on the field. When Price was a grand marshal of the Gasparilla parade, Astro rode along. When the Rays wanted to do a Price figurine giveaway, Astro was a part of it.

And that led to another of Price's now "signature" moves: affixing one of the toy Astros to the dugout roof when he pitches. "That's the thing I like the most," Maddon said.

• • •

This one time, in the clubhouse, Price actually didn't have an answer. What did he think was his funniest, silliest, oddest act? "I don't know," he said.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@tampabay.com.

Tampa Bay Rays pitcher David Price proud to be "a 5-year-old" in a grown-up's body 03/10/12 [Last modified: Saturday, March 10, 2012 9:45pm]
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