Not so long ago, the family of a minor-league baseball player would have to wait for The Sporting News to arrive in the mail or get filled in on an expensive, weekly long-distance phone call to track their son’s performance in far-away towns.
Kansas University baseball coach Ritch Price and wife, Cindy, flip on their computers, log onto MiLB.TV, connect it to their television and watch their son Robby play in live games for the Triple-A Durham Bulls.
The third of the baseball Price sons is watched in a very modern way, but it’s his old-school qualities as a ballplayer that keep him moving steadily up the Tampa Bay Rays farm system.
He doesn’t walk around in a sleeveless T-shirt, oil up modern muscles and swing for the fences. He makes all the plays in the field, works deep counts, draws walks and tries to hit them where they ain’t.
His .398 on-base percentage leads the Bulls, and he has more walks (13) than strikeouts (10).
The term “discipline” forever is used for hitters who put together those sort of numbers, but I’ve never considered that fair to the guys who swing at bad pitches. They swing at them because their eyes don’t recognize them as balls. In some cases, because they’re insecure about their ability to hit fastballs, they don’t give their eyes long enough to determine whether the pitch is a ball or a strike. It’s not that they want to swing at pitches out of the strike zone.
The pitching gets better at every level, and Robby Price stays the same as a hitter. Three reasons for that: 1. He always has been an exceptional fastball hitter; 2. He can recognize a ball from a strike, in part because he has taken so much batting practice from the time he could lift a bat that his eyes are well trained, in part because he is gifted with a naturally strong visual system; 3. He stays calm when things are going great at the plate and has confidence that he will adjust to the improved pitching because he always has.
Keeping up with two talented older brothers couldn’t have been easy, but he always figured out a way to do it, which has to arm him with the confidence to do the same in professional baseball.
“I’m not trying to do too much, and I never have my whole career,” Robby Price said by phone. “I’ve never been a power guy (he has two home runs in 78 at-bats). I’ve been the exact same hitter at every level. Ever since I’ve been playing, I’ve just been trying to get on base any way I can. I’ve been pretty fortunate I’ve been able to recognize pitches and stay in that zone better than some at times.”
The youngest Price, an infielder with a magic glove, not only has a good eye for distinguishing balls from strikes, he also can spot winners when he sees them.
Most of us were more surprised this year’s KU baseball team finished third in the Big 12 and made the NCAA Tournament than we were about the Jayhawks being picked last by league coaches in the preseason poll.
“Getting picked for last was more surprising. They finished really well last year and had a lot of those guys back,” said Price, 26. “A lot of those guys got better. Tucker Tharp had an unbelievable year, probably won nine or 10 games with the bat late in games. Sometimes, the first few years you take things for granted, then you come down to the last year and realize that the name on the front is pretty important and you want it even a little more.”
Robby Price, chosen by the Rays in the 13th round of the 2010 June draft, doesn’t take his career for granted.
“Durham Bulls is a name everyone familiar with baseball knows,” he said. “I’m just grateful to wear that jersey and play in front of a big crowd every night. Great atmosphere, one of the best in the minor leagues, great facility. Overall, just a great place to be.”