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Price gets warm welcome back to Tropicana

Now with Tigers, left-hander saluted by fans, Rays in first trip back since trade

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Price gets warm welcome back to Tropicana play video for Price gets warm welcome back to Tropicana

ST. PETERSBURG -- David Price walked into Tropicana Field early Tuesday afternoon, turned left and walked through the front door of the home clubhouse. He sat down to play a game of "EA Sports NHL 14" with Rays starter Jake Odorizzi and won, 1-0.

"It was just like old times," Odorizzi said.

Just like old times, except for this: Price walked into the Rays' clubhouse wearing a Tigers hat, and he found a small basketball hoop mounted in his old locker.

Price will start for Detroit on Thursday at Tropicana Field against the only professional organization he had known before being traded on July 31. He said he looks forward to pitching, as he always does, but he's not excited about facing the players he shared a clubhouse with three weeks ago.

"Pitching against friends is always the worst," Price said. "I'm definitely going to have to be a little bit more focused on Thursday."

The Rays honored their former ace with a video presentation and a standing ovation during the second inning of Tuesday's game against the Tigers. The montage ended with a screen that read, "A tip of the cap to David Price," then flashed to Price waving and tipping his Tigers cap in the visitors' dugout.

"I spent a lot of time here. I built a lot of memories, made a lot of long-lasting friendships and stuff like that," Price said. "Without Rays baseball, I'm not myself."

That was evident as Price spoke to the media on Tuesday in the visiting dugout, admitting that he "absolutely" would have liked to stay and even occasionally referring to the Rays as "we." And Price's impact on his former teammates was evident in the way they spoke about him.

"A big part of the Rays becoming the Rays," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "When he gets into the Hall of Fame, hopefully he goes in there as a Ray."

Meanwhile, both sides are moving on after the three-way deal at the non-waiver Trade Deadline that sent Price to Detroit and netted Tampa Bay left-hander Drew Smyly, infielder Nick Franklin and shortstop prospect Willy Adames.

Price said he understood the move from the Rays' perspective, that they have to make difficult decisions in order to acquire young, affordable players and keep their small-market club competitive for the long haul.

And as the interview progressed, Price began talking about the Tigers as "we." He said he's still getting to know all his new teammates, and it's been harder to do so on the fly, without the benefit of an offseason or Spring Training like most players. But he has pitched as advertised so far.

"He's kind of been what we anticipated. He's a horse, pitches deep into games, locates his fastball pretty well on both sides of the plate," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "He's been what we'd hoped for. He certainly has not disappointed."

The most difficult part of the transition, Price said, was spending nearly three weeks away from his French bulldog, Astro.

"I'm thrown into the fire. But it's been fun," Price said. "The guys have welcomed me extremely well."

Just about everybody in baseball has lined up against a former teammate, friend or someone they've followed closely. The Rays have plenty of experience in that department. This season alone, they've gone up against former Rays pitchers Jason Hammel, Edwin Jackson, Matt Garza and, most notably, James Shields.

But Price is different.

"He's just been such a personality," starter Alex Cobb said. "You think Rays, you think David Price."

Price is the franchise's only Cy Young Award winner. He was their teammate three weeks ago, and he's still a friend to many of them. On road trips, Cobb said, they used to drop their bags in their respective rooms and text Price to see whose room they'd be hanging out in that night. He is still beloved by fans.

Price still texts his former rotation-mates on the days they pitch, Cobb said, and they text him when he's scheduled to pitch.

"They're friends first and foremost," Price said. "And I still care about them."

"It's just weird. The normal is not the normal anymore," Cobb added. "It's just something you don't want to get used to, but you do eventually get used to it. He's been awesome since he got traded. ... The friendships will never be lost. It's just a different type of friendship now."

It wasn't all that different on Tuesday, though. When asked about the basketball hoop occupying Price's old locker, Cobb more or less summed up the emotions on both sides of Price's first visit to his former home.

"It was weird when it first happened. Now, it's kind of just the way life is around here," Cobb said. "Nothing's changed because he showed up here in a different uniform."

Just like old times, almost.

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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