FORT MYERS, Fla. — Steven Wright kids that he will respectfully decline further opportunities to play catch with David Price. Nothing personal, but his thinking is that a knuckleball could go awry, and, well . . . “I have 30 million reasons not to do it.”
Wright, like the majority of Red Sox players who have interacted with Price, has come away impressed with the team’s most important player.
“He’s been great to deal with,” said Wright. “He’s a regular guy. He’s come over and introduced himself, shakes your hand, and he engages you.
“He already seems to know a lot about each guy. He’s really done his homework, which is unbelievable that someone of his stature in the game would take the time to get to know each person individually.”
That’s precisely what Price is doing now, and also what he did in Detroit and Toronto.
Maybe this isn’t an important topic among the fan base, because performance will trump everything else. But to the players who spend about nine months together, the camaraderie in the clubhouse is extremely important, and to have the highest-paid player take that kind of care to meet and greet everyone means a lot to them.
“He’s been awesome,” said Mookie Betts. “We certainly knew each other from facing each other, but he’s come here and takes the time to really get to know you and how you tick. He talks about a hitter’s mentality at the plate.
“It’s all good. He’s going to be fun to be around. We’re also both from Tennessee, so we have that going for each other, so there are some things we can discuss and get on each other about.”
When Price got to Toronto last July, he immediately became a favorite teammate of stars like Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson. Troy Tulowitzki was amazed at how quickly Price adapted to the team, because Tulowitzki also was new, and his transition from years in Colorado took a little bit longer from a social point of view.
Before his recent travels, Price acknowledged, he was apprehensive about life after Tampa Bay, where he played the first 6½ years of his career.
“At first, it was probably the most worrisome thing I faced — not knowing if I could be myself anywhere but Tampa Bay,” he said. “I guess it was kind of like [Jon] Lester when he was traded from Boston to Oakland. It really opened his eyes to show him he could be himself with another organization and still do his thing on the mound because it’s still 60 feet, 6 inches to the plate.
“Going through it two times in the last two years for me, it’s definitely easier now.”
Other than a third-year opt-out in his contract, it would seem that Price won’t have to worry about moving again or adapting to a new team. Which is why he wanted a complete evaluation of the Red Sox farm system when he was in negotiations with them.
He has even introduced himself to Yoan Moncada and other Sox prospects in camp.
“I just go up to them,” Price said. “If I don’t know them, I try to get to know them.”
He learned his people skills, he said, from Vanderbilt baseball coach Tim Corbin, who continues to influence him today because Price works out at his alma mater in the offseason.
“Coach Corbin always talks about people skills,” Price said. “And I believe the same thing. That will take you a long way, and I just want to make myself available to everybody and make sure I get to know everyone on a personal level so I can be more genuine.”
A natural alliance seems to be Price and young lefthander Eduardo Rodriguez.
“Absolutely,” Price agreed. “He’s a lefty like me who has a good fastball. Everything that’s coming out of his hand is so explosive.
“It doesn’t really remind me of myself at that age because he’s a little bit further advanced. At that time, I was just a fastball/slider pitcher, and he can mix in a changeup and cutter. He’s more advanced at that age. It’s good to see.”
Price thinks that having six weeks of camp makes the getting-to-know exercise much more relaxed than the in-season jam.
“This gives us time to get to know everybody,” he said. “I’m not one to just want to be friends with the pitchers. I want to be friends and identify with everybody.
“I just want to help everybody out with any knowledge I can bring, and I’m all ears on things that can help me on the mound on any given day.
“You can learn a lot talking to hitters, and I’m looking forward to those conversations with Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz and the other hitters.”
Of course, his conversations with Ortiz in the past weren’t always so nice. They battled one another as opponents in Rays-Red Sox games.
After Price hit Ortiz with a pitch in May of 2014, Ortiz went off, saying, “We got to talk on the phone. We kind of straightened things out. He was kind of upset, you know? Me, as a veteran, I’m going to kind of let him know how things go in this game.
“Later on he called me and apologized because he knows he was wrong. He apologized in public. He apologized to myself and everything was cool.
“So first at-bat of the season against me, he drilled me? I mean, it’s a war. It’s on. Next time he hits me, he better bring the gloves. I have no respect for him no more.”
They are teammates now. Price has said he wants Ortiz on his side and looks forward to never facing him. Ortiz has said that Price is his teammate and he’ll respect him as a teammate.
I expect they will laugh off their past. Now they are two powerful forces together. They have been bitter enemies and now they’re likely to be the best of friends.
Price will surely see to that.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.