PORT CHARLOTTE — He knew for sure — as sure as he could be, at least — as he drove into spring training. He didn’t even look in the rear view to see if the Dodgers scouts were still tailing him. He knew the way by heart, and in his heart.
“Once I went (past) Price Boulevard, that’s my street,” David Price said.
OK, the county road isn’t named for him, but for the late Florida legislator, Ed Price.
But here is maybe the best temporary road sign for the Rays: When pitchers and catchers reported Friday to the Joe Maddon RV Park, David Price, of all people, parked his left arm and didn’t leave its motor running.
“I’m happy to be back,” he said.
Why, he might even unpack.
“I’m definitely the happiest person in Port Charlotte,” Price said. “I know there’s not a whole bunch of people that get too pumped up to come here, but I was definitely excited to come to Port Charlotte.”
Not exactly slogan material for the Port Charlotte Convention and Visitors Bureau, but it will do for Rays fans — and Price.
“I didn’t think I really had too much of a chance to be back,” he said.
Now meet some other happiest persons in Port Charlotte.
“It probably sounds like a lie, but I felt that he was going to be back this year,” Rays pitcher Alex Cobb said. “It would have felt wrong if he wasn’t.”
“You never want to lose a guy like David, as a pitcher or as a person,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
David Price is a Ray. If he wasn’t, Life After Price would be the story of Rays spring training, from here until Opening Day and lots of days after.
Instead, there’s talk of the Rays taking the AL East, and more.
Think that would be the chatter if Price wasn’t here?
“Him being here changes everything,” Rays pitcher Matt Moore said. “He allows the equation to be what we’re talking about here. The excitement wouldn’t be the same without him.”
Having skirted the offseason trade rumors, the arrival and fallout from Masahiro Tanaka going from Japan to the Yankees, all the possible ripple effects, here is David Price after all, one year, $14 million.
“Everything that happened this offseason kind of helped me to stay here,” he said. “If Tanaka comes in 2015, I feel like this offseason I would have been traded. I had everything kind of play in my favor to stay here this year.”
One whole year, without a doubt, no chance of …
“I can still be traded, so, no,” Price said, smiling. “Once I get into the season and stuff, then it will kind of go away. But up until Opening Day, anything can happen.”
Here’s what can also happen: Price can rebound and find his Cy Young form from 2012. He can anchor this pitching staff into another October. He can keep a loose clubhouse even looser. He’d better do all that after all this fuss.
“The fact that he’s here today, Feb. 14, means a lot,” Rays pitcher Chris Archer said. “I think it shows that ownership is really putting their chips in, signing him back.”
Price is so happy a person he has even advanced his imaginary For Sure I’m Staying date to Saturday, Feb. 15 ... today. He laughed.
“I feel like once (today) kind of starts, once I get my physical out of the way and give blood ... If I give blood, I’m not getting traded to somebody that hasn’t done blood yet, because I’m not giving it twice. That is not happening.”
He wants to be a bloody Ray.