Blue Jays fans in Montreal embrace David Price after unforgettable ride


David Price. (Nathan Denette/CP)

MONTREAL — When Boston Red Sox starter David Price woke up Friday morning in his Montreal hotel room he pulled on some sweats and a ball cap and decided to go for a little stroll.

Exploring a new city is one of his favourite time killers on the road, and that’s exactly what he did for about an hour, wandering Montreal’s busy city streets ahead of his team’s date with the Toronto Blue Jays at Olympic Stadium that night. But it wasn’t a lonely walk. On every block he turned down he was making new friends.

“I had people rolling down their car windows and yelling at me; people stopping me on the street. It was cool—I definitely appreciate it,” Price says. “A lot of the fans appreciate what I was able to do last year with the Blue Jays. The ones that are angry or upset with me, I get it as well. That’s okay.”

Why any Blue Jays fan would be upset with David Price is more than a little baffling. He pitched brilliantly for the team down the stretch in 2015, including four high-pressure starts against the New York Yankees that were critical to Toronto reaching the post-season for the first time in 22 years; he selflessly pitched out of the bullpen in the playoffs when his team faced three consecutive win-or-go-home games against Texas; he was beloved in the Blue Jays clubhouse.

And, according to Price, the Blue Jays never engaged with his agent about a contract at any point this offseason. There was never so much as a call.

“It just didn’t happen—and that’s okay,” Price says. “It’s a business. And they have to do what they feel is best for their organization. I saw that in my time in Tampa. That really opened my eyes to how different things are handled at this level. When I was young, I thought it was just going to be: you get to the big leagues, you do well, they’re going to keep you as long as you can. And that’s not always the case. I just wasn’t in the Blue Jays plans to move forward. And that’s okay.

“Especially with a new GM, it would’ve been a very bold move to make. And I get that,” Price continued. “They have other guys that have been the heart and soul of that team for a very long time that they also have to think about. Especially with Eddy [Encarnacion] and Bautista—and Donaldson, as well. I know that they’re going to try and do something with those guys. And if I had been a Blue Jay that would have definitely hindered that process a little bit. So I completely get it.”

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Price says that when the Blue Jays front office underwent an overhaul this winter, with team president Paul Beeston being replaced by Mark Shapiro and general manager Alex Anthopoulos leaving the organization, he figured his days as a Blue Jay were over. That’s why he wasn’t surprised that the Blue Jays never reached out to him this winter.

“I think if Alex wouldn’t have left, and it would’ve happened the same way, I might’ve been a little surprised,” Price says. “I think [the Blue Jays front office] kind of went into a little bit of the weirdness. Same thing in Detroit. Everybody was asking me if I was going to re-sign there and then Dave [Dombrowski] was gone a couple weeks after I was traded.

“That was kind of the way it went with both of the GMs I dealt with last year. They were in their own free agent years as well, and whenever it’s like that you kind of wonder what type of moves they’re going to make, and if they make those moves are they going to be back? Stuff like that. I felt like last year a lot of things were up in the air and nobody really knew which way those cards were going to fall. And I’m okay with the way they fell.”

They fell in Boston, of course, where Price signed the largest contract ever given to a pitcher at seven years and $217-million. The 30-year-old says it took him a while to wrap his head around the fact he’ll be pulling on a Red Sox uniform this year, after spending almost his entire career in the AL East pitching against them.

But staying in the division was also something that was important to him. It means he gets to remain close to some of his best friends in the game, many of whom play for the Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays. He also gets to keep a close eye on some of the young players he’s mentored during his time with those teams, like Chris Archer and Marcus Stroman, who will take Price’s spot at the front of the Blue Jays rotation this season.

“Stro’s worked extremely hard to be where he’s at right now and he wants it—and that’s what you’ve got to have,” Price says. “That’s something he always talked about last year. I remember he was like ‘even if you sign back with the Blue Jays next year, I’m going to lead this staff. I want to throw that ball on opening day.’ And that’s good to hear, he wants to not only be the guy on the Blue Jays, he wants to be the guy in the American League—or in all of baseball. That’s a good quality to have.”

Of course, part of the staying-in-the-AL-East equation is the fact Price now has to pitch against the Blue Jays, who have one of the best offences in baseball. Reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson has already been teasing Price about how good the Blue Jays hit against left-handed pitchers, and even Stroman has encouraged fans to boo Price when he inevitably takes the mound at Rogers Centre—not out of malice or resentment, but because he’s pitching for the opposition.

“It’s a very high-powered offence, but they’re fun to pitch against,” Price says. “Your mind can never be at ease whenever you’re pitching against a team like that, and I think that’s good. It helps keep you locked in, because if you’re not, you might not make it out of that inning.”

Price doesn’t know if he’ll be cheered or booed when he makes his first start at Rogers Centre in a Red Sox uniform; he tries not to pay attention to it. Like any returning player, it will probably be a mixture of both.

But Price’s return will no doubt be a charged, emotional moment. His arrival late last July coincided with the best 12 weeks of baseball the Blue Jays fan base has experienced in more than two decades. The business of the entire city revolved around first pitch; no one who bought a David Price Blue Jays jersey has lived to regret it.

And that’s not lost on Price. He only had to take a few steps from his hotel in Montreal Friday morning before random passersby were reminding him of it.

“They definitely have passionate fans out here, that’s for sure,” Price says. “Being there those two months last year and seeing how they gravitated towards the Jays, that was definitely very special. I definitely know how special my time in Toronto was. It was a great two months of baseball, both on the field and off.”

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