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Price attended Vanderbilt University for three years before turning pro. Only then did his schooling begin in earnest. It has been an education as Yeats understood it: not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.
Price officially became a professional on Aug. 16, 2007, when he signed a six-year contract that could ultimately be worth as much as $11.25 million. The Rays invited the first pick in the draft to throw a bullpen session that day for Hickey at Tropicana Field. Price performed his personally choreographed sequence of 44 pitches from the stretch and windup, moving the ball in and out, up and down.
"It was very regimented, which is unusual for a young pitcher, but lends a little insight into the kind of kid he was," Hickey says. "Plus, his mother and father were there, and you could just tell he had a tremendous upbringing, probably more blue collar than not, with a tremendous amount of respect and love within the house. You could tell this was the product of some really good parenting."
David's father, Bonnie, who worked in a warehouse, and Debbie, who worked for a health care provider, had both read a book by Derek Jeter and were astounded by the similarities between their families: a black father who studied sociology in college and a white mother who studied accounting.
They raised David and his two brothers in a modest, single-story brick house in Murfreesboro, Tenn., 35 miles southeast of Nashville. From the time he was two, David would grab a bat and ball and play for hours by himself, tossing the ball up and whacking it over and over in the fenced-in backyard. As he grew, he could whack it over the house. He would unlock the gate, run to the front yard to retrieve the ball, run back, close the gate and happily repeat the process again and again.
Humble and quick to smile, David was a popular kid who had a core of six close friends who loved competing against one another in sports, video games and Monopoly marathons that ran until three in the morning. One of those friends was Nathan Stephens, Price's basketball teammate at Blackman High, who was known for his strength and will. Stephens, who began doing 200 sit-ups and 200 push-ups nightly in the sixth grade, never wanted to come out of a game. He went on to the University of Tennessee, where he served as a manager on the basketball team.
Another of Price's best friends was Tyler Morrissey, a class valedictorian, soccer player, host to the core of friends for televised big-time boxing matches and coconspirator with Stephens in those $20-winner-take-all Monopoly battles.
"Tyler and Nathan would make a deal, and I would go, 'That is just so pathetic!'" Price says. "'You gave him Park Place for Ventnor? You all are in it together!' We would get so mad, and it was so much fun."
One of Price's college buddies, Jensen Lewis, was in Tampa the day Price signed his contract. Lewis, a pitcher for the Indians, and Price celebrated at a local shopping plaza before Price returned to his hotel for the night. When he awoke as a professional for the first time, Price was alarmed to find more than 20 missed calls on his phone. "I knew it was something serious," he says.
It was Nathan. He had been playing pickup basketball at Tennessee when he suddenly collapsed and was rushed to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead from cardiac arrest. One of the first people Price talked to was Tyler. They couldn't believe their buddy, the guy who always was in great shape, suddenly was gone.