ST. PETERSBURG -- David Price is the American League's best pitcher.
Winning the AL Cy Young Award designates him as such.
On Tuesday afternoon at 3:10 ET at Tropicana Field, Price will begin his efforts to put forth a worthy encore to his 2012 season as the Rays' Opening Day starter against the Orioles. While the left-hander enjoys the accolades derived from success, he is clearly not very impressed by his exalted status.
Price almost looked embarrassed when asked if he knew just how good he really was.
"I don't know," Price answered.
However, he did note had some thoughts about how good he could be.
Fact is, even though Price has set a high bar for his performance, his thoughts about how good he can be far exceed that boundary. He is of the rare ilk of competitors who can never be satisfied. Despite putting together what many pitchers would happily consider a career year in 2012, he wants more this season.
"I can definitely pitch better than I did last year, and I know that," Price said. "And I think that [pitching coach Jim] Hickey and Joe [Maddon] know that as well. I can get a lot better. It's improving every day. It's not letting one day go by when I feel like I didn't get my work in. Don't let one day go by where I feel like I could have done more. That's my mindset day in and day out.
"That's what I try to pass along to anyone else who wants to do the same thing because I feel like it is the right way and it's the way you're going to give yourself the best chance to be successful, to be productive. That's the way I go about my business."
Price had a dominating 2012 season, posting a 20-5 mark with a 2.56 ERA in 31 starts. Don't expect anything less from the 27-year-old southpaw this season.
"I know that he's very motivated," Maddon said. "He's a very humble guy. When it comes down to it, he is probably very motivated to do it again."
For all of his success, Price has remained well grounded. Those who have known him a long time might describe him as being anything from a "goofball" to "a 14-year-old in a 27-year-old's body" unless he's on the mound.
"He's been a kid his whole life," right-hander Matt Buschmann said.
Buschmann, making his way through the Rays' farm system, has known Price since both pitched for Vanderbilt University.
"I don't think he's ever going to change," Buschmann said. "Video games and baseball -- that's pretty much all he knows."
Buschman called Price "awesome" for the way he has gracefully handled his success and remained the same guy he's always known.
"Because you see him when he first got to Vanderbilt, and he really hasn't changed a bit," Buschman said. "And knowing his family, that's a testament to them. They kept him right where he was, and it's been great to see him progress the way he has and stay the same guy."
Price actually thought about quitting baseball while pitching for the Commodores. There's no doubt the academics of the school coupled with the demands of playing baseball in the tough Southeastern Conference were factors in the pressures Price felt at that time. His frustrations came to a head after he experienced a tough outing while pitching in a January scrimmage during his freshman year. The day had been cold and damp, and Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin had to stop the inning due to Price's struggles.
Corbin did not see Price after practice because Price had gone home. Later that day, Price's father called Corbin and told him that his son wanted to have a meeting with him the next morning. At that meeting, Price informed Corbin that he was finished.
Corbin took a hard line with Price. Rather than baby him, he told the left-hander he wasn't a quitter, among other things. Something about that meeting sunk in with Price, and he decided to stick it out. Eventually, he found his groove.
"I just started having fun again," Price said. "I realized how much fun I had when I played as a kid. I started treating it like a game again."
And the rest is history.
Clearly, Price has evolved into a unique treasure for the Rays. Star third baseman Evan Longoria noted there's a different vibe any night Price is the starting pitcher.
"He's the leader of our staff," Longoria said. "He's the guy that we look to when we're stuck in a rut, can't get anything going. He's the kind of guy you look to to really go out there and give you a quality start every time he goes out. There is a different level of confidence when he goes out on the mound."
And just like every time an ace like Felix Hernandez or Justin Verlander pitches, the promise of what might happen is always there with Price on the hill.
"He's just really become such a polished pitcher that every time he does go out there, you feel like he could throw a no-hitter," Longoria said. "He has that kind of stuff and he's that electric and that special."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.