Someday, it will just feel like a bad day at the ballpark. Nothing worse than that.
Someday, when the Rays have witnessed enough greatness to count on it coming again, this will seem like just another visit by reality. Someday, on the other side of Hall of Fame careers and golden moments, this will feel like one more chapter in a glorious book. Someday, when the return has blossomed into other players worth cherishing, this may feel like an investment in a better day.
Someday, when David Price is winding up a superb baseball career somewhere else, we will reflect fondly on the part of the journey he spent here.
But for now?
For now, it just stinks.
David Price is gone, and somehow, it feels as if the heartbeat of a franchise is gone, too. The book on the best pitcher the Rays have ever had, and perhaps the best player, is closed. Price was shipped to Detroit Thursday in a three-team deal, bringing infielder Nick Franklin from Seattle and left-hander Drew Smyly and shortstop prosect Willy Adames from Detroit in return.
Someday, perhaps this will feel like an even trade. Not now. Now, it feels as if the best part of the trade is leaving town. It feels as if yesterday is better than tomorrow. It feels as if the Rays have been priced out of David Price.
Yes, it happens. Other great players have left other great franchises, too. Albert Pujols left the Cardinals. Josh Hamilton left the Rangers. Robinson Cano. Prince Fielder. Franchises often reload and begin again.
The thing is, this franchise has never really had enough great players to fall in love with. There was Carl Crawford, and he left. There was James Shields, and he was traded. There at the end of his career, there was Wade Boggs.
Not many have worn this Rays' uniform as well as Price. Not many have competed the way he has, and not many have cared the way he has. It always seemed as if Price was outnumbered on the mound. He seldom had the kind of offense behind him that he was in charge of shutting down. But he battled without complaint. He enjoyed his teammates. He enjoyed his town.
Fans can feel that. There are players in the big leagues who are merely wearing laundry, and whatever team that pays them is just fine by them. But Price genuinely seemed to like it here. No, he wasn't going to turn down millions of dollars to stay — who would? — but he was more than an athlete just stopping by.
Now, the Rays have other decisions to make. Eventually, all of baseball knew they were going to have to trade Price. But what about everyone else? Organizationally, the Rays face a critical decision of how much to rip up and start over. Can the Rays stay competitive if they hold onto Matt Joyce? What if they keep Desmond Jennings and Yunel Escobar? How about James Loney and Grant Balfour?
The lesson with Price, and with everyone else, is that nothing lasts forever. The Rays had a terrific run from 2008-13. Can the team get healthy enough, and productive enough, to challenge for the playoffs without wholesale changes?
We'll see. This team doesn't draft in the top 10 anymore. It doesn't have years of top draft picks gathering in the minor leagues.
In some ways, the next run of competitive Rays is going to be a lot more difficult to come by than the first batch. Oh, Tampa Bay paid for that first one by watching an inept franchise go through the motions for years. On the other hand, players such as Price and Longoria and Crawford and B.J. Upton gathered. When a smarter franchise than most arrived, it gave those players a chance to offset a lot of advantages held by other teams.
None of those advantages was more significant than Price, a prospect who blossomed into a star in front of us.
He was worth the money, worth the draft pick, worth the attention. There have been so many others who were not, who fizzled out in the minors or who blew up once they reached the majors. For so long, this franchise was defined by the busts it left lying in the grass.
But not Price. He won one Cy Young Award, and he finished second in another. He wasn't always perfect, and he wasn't always diplomatic. But he was usually the best bullet his team had. He was usually enough.
There is a story about Price from the early years. Manager Joe Maddon had been kicked out of the game, and was in the clubhouse trying to keep up with the proceedings when Price came up to him.
"Can I manage?" Price said.
"The game. Can I be the manager now that you've been kicked out?"
Maddon looked at him and grinned. He shrugged. "Talk to Davey," he said.
So Price scurried up to bench coach Dave Martinez and asked the same question. Martinez rolled his eyes and shooed Price away.
The point is, Price was ready. Who knows? He probably would have won.
Me? If he'll stay, I'll offer him the job right now. Special back-up manager. What do you say?
Oh, and David?