April 13, 2007
By Will Matthews
LEXINGTON, Ky. – When Vanderbilt Head Coach Tim Corbin awoke early Thursday morning to a telephone call from All-American pitcher David Price, he immediately thought the worst.
“When you see your phone ringing at one in the morning, there is nothing good that goes through your mind,” Corbin said Thursday, a day before his No. 1-ranked Commodores opened a three game series against Kentucky with a 10-8, 12-inning victory over defending SEC Eastern Division Champion Kentucky. “Your heart is beating like an infant and all you are thinking is what could be wrong.”
Lucky for Corbin and Vanderbilt, there was nothing wrong. All Price wanted to do is rib his New England-native coach about the drubbing the Boston Red Sox took at the hands of the Seattle Mariners the night before.
“For me, David Price’s greatness has nothing to do with his arm, really,” Corbin said. “It has more to do with the type of kid he is. He just absolutely loves the game, he loves talking about it, it doesn’t matter to him what time of day or night it is and I think that contributes to his being the great player that he is on the field.”
Price’s greatness was on full display Friday, as he cemented his name in Commodore history by racking up the 351st strikeout of his career when he froze Kentucky catcher Sean Coughlin with a fastball on the outside corner to end the fourth inning.
Price is now Vanderbilt’s career strikeout leader, eclipsing the previous mark of 350, held for almost 35 years by former Vanderbilt and Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Mike Willis. In his 6+ innings of work Friday, Price struck out nine, increasing his career strikeout total to 355.
“This is something that is meaningful because of the names that are already on there,” Price said of his record. “It is nuts that my name is on the top just because of all of the great guys that I have surpassed so far. It is a great honor to have.”
Price said he didn’t think much during the game about the impending record, but you wouldn’t have guessed it based on the way he threw in the early innings. Price struck out four of the first five batters he faced, three of them swinging.
“He is absolutely one of the better pitchers that I have ever been around,” Corbin said. “To compare him to Mark Prior and Kris Benson and other guys that I have been able to coach is easy to do. He is right up there with guys like that and he may be the very best.”
Corbin said Price’s achievement is especially significant given that the junior is only in the midst of his third full season.
“In order to be able to accomplish something like this you have a special mindset and you usually have to have longevity. In this case, he didn’t even need the longevity and that is the thing that makes this so incredible.”
Willis, who played for former Vanderbilt coach Larry Schmittou from 1969-1972 before enjoying a five-year major league career, now lives in Houston and was able to see Price pitch in Vanderbilt’s season opening game against Rice in the Houston Astros Baseball Classic.
Willis said it was immediately clear to him that Price has electric stuff and said there is no shame in ceding the record to someone of Price’s caliber.
“He was pretty impressive,” Willis said of Price’s Feb. 9 start in which he struck out six in 5.2 innings of work. “He has got a lot of size and very good mechanics.”
For Corbin, what is even more meaningful than having Price earn a spot in the Vanderbilt record books is being able to watch him develop from a timid freshman into a dominant Friday night starter who relishes being able to set a tone for his team.
“He has always been a good thrower, but there is no doubt that he has evolved into what I would call a pitcher,” Corbin said. “His competitiveness is higher than it has ever been, his confidence is higher than it has ever been, and he still works like a guy who is trying to make the team rather than like a guy who has figured things out. Because of that he keeps progressing in the game. And I really think that when he goes to the next level of baseball he is going to continue to improve. I don’t think he is done.”
Will Matthews spent three years as an investigative reporter with the Los Angeles Newspaper Group in Southern California. He is currently in his third year at Vanderbilt Divinity School.