While the announcement that Price will take the prestigious pole position was hardly a surprise, the 27-year-old southpaw still appeared genuinely excited.
"It means a lot just to be the guy that takes the ball for the organization, first and foremost, it's very special, and being at home," Price said. "I'm throwing the first pitch for our season. That means a lot as well. If you're on the road, the opposing team gets to pitch first. It's special for me to be able to run out onto that field first, lead our team out there being the Rays. It is very special."
Added Maddon: "David thrives on [big] moments, whether it's an Opening Day starter, an All-Star appearance -- all those things. It matters to him. It's part of being great. He's never wanted to be good, this guy. He's wanted to be great."
Price has had the Opening Day nod one other time in his career. That assignment came in 2011, after a 19-6 record with a 2.72 ERA in 2010. Former Rays hurler James Shields claimed the honor last season after a 2011 season that saw him finish third in the Cy Young Award balloting while Price dipped to 12-13 with a 3.49 ERA. Price rebounded strongly in 2012, going 20-5 with a 2.56 ERA.
"[Being the Opening Day starter] is what you want to be," Price said. "I don't only want to be the best on a staff, I want to be the best in baseball. That's what I strive to be, year in and year out."
Price maintained, with tongue in cheek, that the announcement came as a surprise.
"It was good to hear with the way that [Alex] Cobb and [Chris] Archer have been throwing the ball this Spring Training. It was kind of surprising that Joe kind of pulled the trigger so quick," Price said. "Because Cobb has been Cy Young himself."
Price is a jokester and teasing his fellow starters is a constant. When asked if Cobb had let Price know he's been "Cy Young himself" this spring, Price noted that he's been kidding with Cobb "quite a bit."
"I remember last year, in January, he was throwing 95 off the bullpen mound and then he came to Spring Training throwing like 83," Price said. "So Shields told me to tell him to not [let it all out] too early [this spring]. Cobb's been pitching the ball extremely well for us. Hopefully he can keep it going into the regular season."
Speaking of Shields, prior to the right-hander getting traded to the Royals, he and Price maintained an ongoing competition that ranged anywhere from who could jam the most pieces of bubble gum into their mouth to who could pitch the best. So Price was asked if not having Shields around to push him will make it tough for him to stay motivated.
"I've got four other guys to push me, Matt Moore, [Jeremy Hellickson], Cobb, [Jeff Niemann]," Price said. "I've still got other guys to push me. This is going to be something we have, a tradition here with the Rays, and hopefully it sticks for a long time."
Maddon isn't worried about Price not having Shields around to motivate him, either.
"Pretty strong self-motivator," Maddon said. "I think he's a very good self-evaluator -- highly accountable. … He'll compete within himself, but he'll get the other guys to compete with him, in a good way."
Many have called Price the most competitive person they have met. Maddon understands Price's nature and isn't concerned about him resting on his laurels. But he allowed that Price still wants guidance.
"The guy still wants to be coached and managed," Maddon said. "And he's good about it. He's real good about it. Just because a guy becomes really good, you don't walk away from the coaching and teaching and talking prior to him becoming this Cy Young Award winner, or MVP, or Rookie of the Year, or whatever. David's really good about accepting all of that. And I think that's a strong [quality] of his."