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February 2, 2014
Price (almost) wasn't right
You might think Matt Price pitched his way into Gamecock baseball history.
Would you believe before he could do that, he had to talk his way onto a bus he wasn't supposed to ride first?
At the pro player sendoff luncheon Friday, coach Chad Holbrook said Matt Price's journey to the closer's role as a Gamecock was a lot more precarious than fans might realize.
"I remember I was driving into work after we lost after we lost two out of three to East Carolina (in 2010) and I was listening to sports talk radio and a fan called in and said 'I think you could put Mariano Rivera in a Gamecock uniform and he'd find a way to blow the game,' because we'd had some trouble with the bullpen the last three or four years," Holbrook said. "Matt Price developed into a closer (from there), but many of the media guys don't know how that took place."
Holbrook said nothing was given to Price, not even a spot on the travel roster.
"Coach (Ray) Tanner was ruthless to Matt Price; 'You're never going to pitch here,'" Holbrook said in his best gravelly-voiced Tanner impression. "He told Roth that, too. He said 'You're never going to pitch here. It's not going to happen. In fact, you're not going to make the travel roster.'
"And lo and behold, we're getting ready to go play Furman and play at Fluor Field and Matt's not even on the travel roster. He talked his way on the bus, that day before BP, he'd experimented with a slider grip, and the rest is history.
"Not many people know that. He didn't have a really good slider until that trip that he wasn't even supposed to be on. If he doesn't play catch at Furman, who knows if we have two national championship banners or not."
Since winning those two national championships and coming agonizingly close to a third and becoming, inarguably, the most successful closer in school history, Matt Price was drafted in seventh round of the 2012 draft by the Baltimore Orioles and spent the 2013 season learning what life is like bouncing around from one small town to another in the minor leagues.
Price played with the Delmarva Shorebirds of the South Atlantic League in Class-A (the same league the former Capital City Bombers competed in) and the Frederick (MD) Keys of high Class-A, compiling a 3-3 record with a 4.24 ERA and 10 saves. He allowed 53 hits in 46 innings pitched, striking out 45 and walking 21. Speaking to Gamecock Central at Friday's luncheon, Price said his first season had its share of lessons.
"I think (my season) went alright," Price said. "I had my ups and downs, but I feel like I finished the season real strong. The last month and in September I only gave up one run in 12 appearances, so I did well. I'm just looking to build off that.
"You see some familiar faces from college ball, but also people you don't know, so you're trying to read them during games. When I was in the bullpen, I'd try to watch guys during the game to see which pitches they didn't like and where they didn't like them. So those hitters, they're a lot different but a pitcher always has the advantage because the hitter never knows what's coming. You have to take that advantage."
One of the benefits of his career at USC was its detailed scouting reports, ones Price learned to read and rely on.
"I think I got better with (scouting reports) as I got older because we knew who we were going to face for three days," Price said. "It's different in pro ball where you're facing different teams every other day (in the minors). You get certain scouting reports on their best hitters and learn how to pitch to them or not pitch to them, how to pitch around them, how to get them out."
That wasn't always the case for the Sumter native who still calls the town home.
"I think when I first got here I was just a thrower," Price said. "Then, moving on through the years I learned how to pitch, how to setup hitters, things like that, and that helped me when I got to pro ball, trying to read hitters, learn their tendencies and stuff like that. This program really helped me out."
Even reaching for his dreams as a professional, Price said this past year he did miss, at times, the fun of his successful career in Columbia, particularly when the Gamecocks were one game from Omaha last year.
"I was actually in Myrtle Beach watching them play North Carolina during the Super Regional, and sure, you wish you were there competing," Price said. "But they did well last year. I'm actually proud of coach Holbrook and all the coaches and what they accomplished last year and all the guys stepping up.
"Jordan Montgomery threw, what, a complete game shutout against those guys? Watching those guys you miss it, but at the same time it's a moving-on process, though you don't forget where you came from."
Up next for Price is spring training and, if things go well, a spot on a Double-A roster.
"I'll head to spring training February 28, but I'll probably leave a couple of weeks earlier to get down there and work out and throw and stuff and get some time in with the organization," Price said. "I'm hoping during spring training I do well and end up in Double-A. From Double-A it's only a knock on the door. You get a phone call, you can be in the bigs the next day. My goal is to get ready for spring training and do well."
Until then - and forever - Price always will have the memories of an unprecedented career at USC, including back-to-back national championships. Is there one, Price favors over the other?
"Gosh, they're both great," Price said. "But I'd have to say Rosenblatt. Last one at the 'Blatt, our first one, that was amazing. I'll never forget that."
Nor will Gamecock fans likely ever forget Price.
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