Bonnie Price remembers buying his son David a plastic bat and ball years ago.
Murfreesboro native David Price, who was 3 at the time, would spend hours hitting the ball over their ranch-style house. It quickly became apparent that David had excellent hand-eye coordination and the potential to be an excellent athlete.
"He'd hit the ball, then unlock the gate and do the same thing," Bonnie recalled. "He would go out and do it all day long. He'd be doing it when I got home from work.
"It was amazing," Bonnie continued. "He has two older brothers, but they didn't show what he showed (athletically)."
Fast-forward 18 years.
The boy who hit balls over his house is now one of the nation's premier baseball players. Collegiate Baseball recently named the Blackman High School graduate and Vanderbilt star its Collegiate Baseball Player of the Year, and he also earned first-team All-American honors.
The 6-foot-5 junior southpaw entered the NCAA tournament with an 11-0 record and 2.71 ERA. Entering the NCAA tournament he was the Division I strikeout leader with 175 strikeouts — a single-season school record — while walking only 29 batters in 123.0 innings. He's second in the nation for most strikeouts per nine innings with 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings. Only Troy's Josh Dew has more with 13.6 strikeouts per nine innings.
"His work ethic and approach to the game set him apart," Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin said of Price, might be the first overall pick in the Major League Baseball Draft June 7. "He's very competitive. He wants to win."
David started playing little-league baseball as a 6-year-old. When he got to high school he played baseball, basketball and golf, showing promise in all three sports.
It was baseball, however, in which he made a big name for himself. He left Blackman with a 0.43 ERA and played in the 2004 High School All-America Game in Albuquerque, N.M.
After being courted by several schools he elected to sign with Vanderbilt, but he had the chance to play pro baseball out of high school. After weighing his options, he told major league teams of his intention to attend Vanderbilt.
"I didn't feel like I was ready," said David, who was recently named SEC Pitcher of the Year. "I didn't feel comfortable being on my own yet. I wanted to go to college. My mind-set was that I wasn't mature enough to be on my own."
David made the decision, and Bonnie thought he did the right thing.
"We felt he wasn't ready," Bonnie said. "He did a lot of soul searching. (Playing at Vanderbilt) made him ready. If he chose to go (pro) it would've been his choice, but he would've had to live with that decision."
David's choice, however, didn't prevent him from getting drafted out of his school. The Los Angeles Dodgers selected him in the 19th round with the 568th pick in the 2004 Major League Baseball Draft.
Days at Vanderbilt
After a storied high school career Price headed to Vanderbilt with lots of promise.
"You don't know what they're going to be (out of high school)," Corbin said. "I saw him in high school, and he had a long, great body. He could've played basketball at some colleges."
David, however, knew he had to work. He listened to his coaches and hit the weight room, bulking up from 180 pounds to 225 pounds. Immediately results started to show.
Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball named him to their freshman All-American teams. As a freshman he went 2-4 with an excellent 2.89 ERA in 19 appearances and 10 starts. He struck out 92 batters, and opponents hit only .209 against him.
He went 2-0 with a 1.26 ERA over the summer with the U.S. National Team following his freshman year.
As a sophomore he went 9-5 with a 4.16 ERA, earning third-team All-American honors from the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. He set a school record for strikeouts in the season with 155 — first in the SEC and third in the NCAA — and was second-team All-SEC.
He was one of five finalists for the Golden Spikes Award, which is given to the top college baseball player. He was a semifinalist for the Roger Clemens Award, which is given to the top college baseball pitcher. He was National Pitcher of the Week three times and SEC Pitcher of the Week four times.
In the summer after his sophomore season he went 5-1 with a 0.20 ERA and 61 strikeouts and seven walks in 44 innings for the U.S. National Team that won the gold medal. He was named the top USA prospect.
"You expect to see yourself do well," David said of his play. "You don't want to treat yourself as the second or third best. You want to be the best. You have to work at it."
And work he did.
At Vanderbilt he's changed his arsenal, replacing the curveball with a slider to compliment his fastball, which can reach 95, and a change-up.
"It's harder to hit," David said of dumping his curveball for a slider. "I've gained velocity. I know I'm playing two more innings now."
He's matured as a pitcher during his time at Vanderbilt. In the past he wanted to overpower people. Now he trusts his defense to get outs.
"Last year I tried to strike out people too much," David said. "You have to use your defense."
His teammates have also noticed an improvement in his game.
"He locates his pitches better," said junior Shea Robin, Vanderbilt's starting catcher. "That's made him a lot better. His slider has gotten better. He's got confidence in all of his pitches. He feels comfortable throwing a slider with a 3-1 count and the bases loaded.
"His first year the slider wasn't very good," Robin added. "It slides hard now. It's a tough pitch to hit. It gives the batter one more pitch to think about."
David's immediate future will be full of suspense and excitement. He'll be trying to help Vanderbilt make the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
"You hear people talking about it in the locker room," he said of the draft. "You can't really think about it. You've got to think about (the other players). You can't let anything affect what happens on the field."
No matter what happens Corbin is confident David will succeed.
"If he stays this way and doesn't let money poison him and doesn't get selfish he'll be great," Corbin said. "Due to the way he was raised he's not spoiled. He comes from a great family.
"His maturity and people skills have evolved," Corbin said. "His respect for everyone has been great. He works hard, and he still loves the game."
Just like he did as a 3-year-old hitting a plastic ball over his house.