David Price and Sonny Gray Building a Bromance That Transcends the Game

Scott MillerNational MLB ColumnistJuly 20, 2016

CINCINNATI, OH - JULY 14:  American League All-Stars David Price #14 of the Detroit Tigers and Sonny Gray #54 of the Oakland Athletics hold up the Vanderbilt University 'VU' hand sign prior to the 86th MLB All-Star Game at Great American Ball Park on July 14, 2015 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The American League defeated the National League 6-3. Both players are former members of the Vanderbilt Baseball program.  (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

Theirs is a friendship based on curveballs, Commodores and chip shots.

Maybe one day, these two Vanderbilt University alums and Tennessee neighbors will be teammates, too.

For now, David Price is the $217 million anchor in a sketchy Boston rotation as the Red Sox take aim at another World Series run.

And Sonny Gray? Scouts are bird-dogging the down-on-his-luck erstwhile ace of the Oakland Athletics as the August 1 non-waivers trade deadline approaches, though his 4-8 record and 5.12 ERA over 17 starts don't exactly make him the sexiest midseason trade target.

Acquiring Drew Pomeranz from San Diego last week likely precludes Boston from adding another starting pitcher this month. But maybe it doesn't. However it plays out, one thing is clear: Somewhere, sometime, these two great friends would love to be teammates.

"Absolutely. It's something we've talked about before," Price told B/R during a conversation before Boston acquired Pomeranz. "Before I signed with the Red Sox.

Adam Hunger/Associated Press

"I knew how they operate in Oakland…[And with] our minor league system, how many prospects we had, and how young our team still is with the core group of guys we have and to be kind of logjammed at some of those positions, [I knew] that something like [a trade for Gray] could happen…

"We can do anything. We have the money to do whatever we want. We have the prospects to make whatever trades we want. There's not a guy in baseball that we could not trade for: [Bryce] Harper, [Mike] Trout, it doesn't matter who it is. We have the prospects, we have the money and we have Dave Dombrowski [Boston's president of baseball operations], who is not afraid to go out there and make a big splash."

Nobody is more aggressive at the trading table than Dombrowski. Price knows this firsthand. The former Tigers president and general manager brought Price to Detroit from Tampa Bay at the 2014 trade deadline, then shipped Price to Toronto at last summer's trade deadline.

In the last couple of weeks alone, Dombrowski has acquired infielder Aaron Hill (from Milwaukee), closer Brad Ziegler (from Arizona) and Pomeranz (from San Diego).

Over the past several seasons in Detroit, aside from Price, Dombrowski landed right-hander Doug Fister (from Seattle), Miguel Cabrera and Anibal Sanchez (from Miami), Prince Fielder (free agent) and more.

"Those were all the factors that went into my decision to be here," Price says when asked about the possibility of one day teaming with his buddy Gray, and knowing Dombrowski's aggressive nature. "I know we'd all welcome him as our teammate, for sure. He's just a good dude. He's an energy-giver. He works his tail off. He's a guy you want to be around every day."

In the winter, Price has that chance.

They often work out together at Vanderbilt.

"He's great," Gray says. "He's super fun to be around. He has great personality on- and off-field…He's a fun-loving, genuine guy."

They talk, they laugh, they golf, they tweet.

"I think it's a middle-Tennessee bond, to be honest with you," says Tim Corbin, Vanderbilt's head baseball coach since 2003. "They come from a very similar area. Murfreesboro [where Price grew up] and Smyrna [Gray's home], really, are side by side."

Vanderbilt head baseball coach Tim Corbin, who remains close to David Price and Sonny Gray.
Vanderbilt head baseball coach Tim Corbin, who remains close to David Price and Sonny Gray.Mark Zaleski/Associated Press/Associated Press

Price came through Vanderbilt first, pitching for the Commodores from 2005-07, when Tampa Bay picked him first overall in the draft that June.

Gray followed, pitching for the Commodores from '08-11. Oakland picked him 18th overall in the June 2011 draft.

Each entered Vanderbilt as a local star, each pitched right away as a freshman and each exited as a highly celebrated first-round pick.

But it isn't simply geography and common alumni status that cause the two to text each other incessantly and frequently share their affinity for each other via social media.

Dave Martin/Associated Press

"Their personalities are similar," Corbin says. "They're fun. You see them smile a lot. They have an innocence about them that has never been tainted by getting to the big leagues very fast. They keep the game for what it is. They've never taken the game and made it more serious than what it is.

"They're very good competitors, but they also enjoy what they're doing and who they're doing it with. They're both very inclusive. They celebrate teammates."

From the exterior, it would seem to be an odd pairing.

Gray is 5'10", right-handed and white.

Price is 6'5", left-handed and African-American.

Yet they fit together like texting and teenagers.

CINCINNATI, OH - JULY 14:  American League All-Star David Price #14 of the Detroit Tigers, American League All-Star Sonny Gray #54 of the Oakland Athletics, and American League All-Star Stephen Vogt #21 of the Oakland Athletics celebrate after defeating t
Elsa/Getty Images

Take the time Gray had a starring role in his high school's production of High School Musical. Corbin, his wife, Maggie, and their daughters, Molly (now 31) and Hannah (28), trekked to Smyrna High School to see his recruit's acting chops.

"He was the lead singer; he can't sing; he's terrible," Corbin says, chuckling. "Like everything Sonny does, he thought he was really good. And he is really good at most things. Just not singing.

"So he's on stage, there are something like 300 people in the auditorium at the play. My phone buzzes, and he must have seen I was on the phone. He texts me during the play, sends me a text that says 'Pay attention!'

"I showed that to my wife, and she couldn't believe he was singing and acting and could still text.

"At that point, I knew we had a confident player."

Then there's Price, a frequent winter visitor to Corbin's office. One problem: Corbin is a neat freak who likes things organized and clean. And Astro, Price's beloved French bulldog, usually rides shotgun with his master.

"David will bring Astro into my office and let him run around on my couch, and he laughs because I'm so meticulous with my things," Corbin says. 

"He'll have Astro up on my couch, and when I'm not in, he'll have Astro sleeping on my pillow.

"It pisses me off, and he loves it."

What Gray, Price and the other Commodores do is essentially serve as the sons Tim and Maggie never had. And if you think that's an exaggeration, you should have been watching the MLB Network television broadcast of last year's AL Cy Young Award announcement. Because they were both finalists and live within 25 minutes of each other, Gray and Price gathered, along with an MLB Network production crew, in Price's basement.

As they were setting up, Price told the technicians, "OK, I want Corbs and Maggie to be right behind us" in the live shot.

"Why?" a technician asked.

"Because we've got to get some recruiting advantage out of this," Price reasoned.

"So we're sitting behind them," Corbin recalls, "and I'm holding Sonny's baby, Gunnar (one-and-a-half years old), and I had Gunnar drooling all over me in the shoot, and my wife's holding Astro, and Astro is lapping her leg.

"The kids were getting interviewed, and we're like grandparents holding the kids in the back seat of the Ford station wagon.

"Those two are pretty funny. They're comedians. They provide lot of comic entertainment for us, for sure."

Neither won that night, as Houston's Dallas Keuchel ended up taking home the AL Cy Young Award. Price, the 2012 winner, finished second, while Gray was third.

Another unique shared memory in two lives filled with plenty of shared experiences.

Gray, 26, first became aware of Price, 30, when the latter was starring on the Blackman High School baseball and basketball teams in Murfreesboro. When Gray was in high school, he watched Price pitch at Vanderbilt.

Price recalls that during his junior year at Vanderbilt, after having heard so much about Gray's local exploits quarterbacking the Smyrna High team to Tennessee 5A state titles in '06 and '07, he finally went to watch him play baseball that spring.

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 25:  Oakland Athletics' first round draft pick Sonny Gray stands with Vanderbilt alum David Price #14 of the Tampa Bay Rays prior to the game at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on July 25, 2011 in Oakland, California. The Athletics
Michael Zagaris/Getty Images

"He played quarterback, and he's not the biggest in stature and that was in 5A, the biggest class at the time in Tennessee," Price says, still wowed. "I remember my junior year we didn't have practice [one day], so I went back home and he was pitching, so I went to go see what all the hype was about. Sonny Gray. I was blown away.

"It was hands down the best high school arm I'd ever seen. He was 94-96 mph, 97, hitting spots, throwing a curveball, slider, changeup. He had a four-pitch mix at 18 years old. It was by far the best high school arm I'd ever seen."

Gray was aware of the big guy's scouting mission.

"We all knew his name, obviously, with him being so close to where I was from," Gray says. "Anytime he came around, you obviously knew he was there because it was a big deal to everyone. It's not like he can show up somewhere and hide."

Price says he didn't help recruit Gray to Vanderbilt, deferring all credit for that to Corbin. Neither recalls the first time they met. Rather, the relationship simply evolved. Corbin told Price that Gray reminded him of Price—his work ethic, how much he cared, how special he was both as a baseball player and as a person. He told Price that Gray's total focus was the team, same as Price's always was.

From there, they gravitated toward each other.

Now, it isn't so much gravity as a magnetic force.

"At times it's like [he's a] big brother, and at times it's like a good friend," Gray says. "It's definitely a relationship that's grown over the last three or four years."

Says Price: "I don't look at it as big brother-little bother. He's just a really good friend. He's a really good dude. I don't know anybody that has anything negative to say about Sonny Gray. He's a really good human."

In the winter, they're among a group of 30 or so who work out at Vanderbilt. The gathering includes ex-Commodores and random major leaguers drawn to the school's facilities by Price, Gray or both. Last winter's group included Baltimore's Brad Brach and Pedro Alvarez, Tampa Bay's J.P. Arencibia and Curt Casali, Pittsburgh's Adam Frazier, the Cubs' Ben Zobrist and more.

Quite a statement, too, given that Arencibia is welcome even though he played at rival Tennessee. But that's how difficult it is not to smile along with Gray and Price, and their crowd.

"Good kids attract good kids," Corbin says. "It's a nice element we have."

Mike Strasinger/Associated Press

Price and Gray, of course, are regular throwing partners during these winter workouts, which led Price to quiz his younger colleague about the grip on his lethal curveball. Despite the fact that Gray is right-handed and Price is a lefty, the curve Price started throwing last year came from Gray.

"I worked on it every day with him [that winter]," Price says.

Conversely, when Gray pitched against Boston in Fenway Park earlier this season during a stretch in which he was struggling badly, it was Price who dispensed wisdom afterward. They talked for 15 or 20 minutes on Gray's bullpen day, two days after the Sox blistered him for seven runs in 3.2 innings.

Trust your stuff, Price told him. Things are going to get better. Everything is falling in for a hit right now, and that will change.

"You can't change what you're doing just because you're not getting the results you expect to get," Price says.

The seeds of the trust factor between them spring not just from their elite talent, but from time spent together away from the field, too.

In the winter, Price estimates they golf together five times a week.

"Absolutely," Price says. "He's the first guy I'm going to text and say, 'Do you want to play golf?' We play a lot together, his stepdad and myself, his Uncle Rick and our friends from high school."

Says Gray: "We already have a trip planned this offseason. We joined a place back home, joined the same place and we got to play quite a bit.

"It's really fun when you beat him, too."

Scoreboard? Price says they probably each win about 50 percent of the time…then, grinning, he backs off just a bit.

"I'd say he probably wins a little bit more, for sure," Price says. "But it's always fun."

If this winter's trip is anything like Price's golf tournament last winter, more laughs—if not birdies—are in store.

"They have log cabins they built a couple years ago," Price says. "So we all stayed out at the log cabins. They left the lights up at night; they had little garage doors you could hit out of onto the driving range. The driving range lights up, and they have these huge putting greens, and two greens in the back you can hit chips.

"Sonny, myself and some more of our buddies stayed out there for a couple of nights, had that whole experience. We played night golf, because they gave us these really souped-up golf carts with lights on them, and we had a blast. We're going to do it again this year."

Often in Nashville in the offseason, they're together attending the NHL's Predators games. Or they're going out to eat, or just hanging out. And though they live about 25 minutes apart now, that distance is about to shrink: Gray is building a house closer to Nashville.

If it sounds like one big, happy family, well…

Gray will be married this offseason and is already father to Gunnar, which continues to amuse Price.

"He's a good kid, cute and well-behaved," Price says. "I don't have any kids, so I don't know what all that entails. But I know that a lot of people who know Sonny Gray, if you told them he has a one-and-a-half-year-old, they'd be like, 'Oh boy.' Because Sonny's a little kid himself, and to look at him being a dad, it's kind of crazy."

Eventually, it may happen to Priceand perhaps sooner rather than later: He's recently engaged now, too.

So Corbin figures he'll have Gray's wedding to attend this offseason and Price's maybe a year from then.

"I thought [Price] was marrying Astro when he told me he was getting married," Corbin quips.

Seriously, Corbin says, "They're talented human beings. They're five-star people, they really are…They're as loyal as the day is long. It's great. You don't really think about their relationship because it is very simple and it's real. It's not manufactured."

So far, they've been teammates for only one game: the 2015 All-Star Game in Cincinnati.

That could change, of course, in this or a near-future trading season. That conversation Price had with Gray last winter? Hey, man, this could work out if Oakland trades you…why not dream big?

"He just smiled that big ol' smile he has," Price says. "He probably rubbed his fingers through his thinning hair.

"He just wants to win. That's what it's about and that's what he's done. When the time comes, if that were to happen, I can't speak for him but I know that I would be happy. That would be very cool."

Says Gray: "We always talk about hopefully one day down the road, or whatever happens, it would be nice. We've never actually played on the same team. It would be cool. But who knows? Who knows how this game ever turns out?

"He's a good guy to be around, for sure."

     

Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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