Always prepared, Price ready to lead Reds
After over a decade as pitching coach, Cincinnati's new manager embraces transition
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- For the last four years, Bryan Price would drive to the Reds player development complex, change in the coaches locker room and get to work at a desk in a conference room across the hall from the manager's office to perform his functions as the team's pitching coach.
This year, Price's route to get to the complex is the same, but now the manager's office belongs to him. It's where he changes into his baseball uniform. It's where he has his own desk to sit behind, with a magnet board of the Spring Training roster just to his right to peruse daily.
"Coming into the office feels comfortable," said Price, who replaced Dusty Baker in October. "It doesn't feel awkward to be here. I wondered about that when I first signed on for this -- not being in that room next door. I wondered if I'd miss it and if I'd feel awkward in this room by myself. I haven't. It's a progression I wanted to make and I feel comfortable making."
The transition, to this point, has been smooth. There still have been times, however, when the 51-year-old Price has paused to take it all in and allow himself moments of sentimentality.
A Bay Area native that frequented Giants games at Candlestick Park, Price remembered the days of his youth in the 1970s when his father, Pat, would have access to the season tickets at his company -- San Francisco Federal Savings and Loan. Price often let his father know he wanted to see the Big Red Machine play.
"My Dad would go to work and try to grovel to get the tickets for the Reds. You'd go in and battle for tickets to certain games. I always circled the Reds and Dodgers," Price said. "I never sat there thinking, No. 1 about managing and No. 2, I thought maybe someday I'd have an affiliation with the Giants. To be here and be in this environment and managing this particular organization is a constant surreal experience for me at this point in time."
Pat Price died in 2012 and is not able to see his son assume his first managerial job at any level. Before his promotion, Price spent 14 years as a Major League pitching coach and over a decade before that, coaching in the Minor Leagues. He never played in the Majors, but spent six years pitching in the Minors.
Since October, Price has spent the time preparing for the job while hiring a coaching staff with general manager Walt Jocketty. He's also reached out to current and former managers that included Bob Melvin, Kirk Gibson, Joe Maddon, Bud Black, Pete Rose and Hall of Famer Tony La Russa.
"Each one for different reasons," Price said. "Rose, because he managed in Cincinnati. What's it like to be the manager of the Cincinnati Reds? The one thing he really impressed upon me ... how important it is to maintain the relationships that you have. ... [He also talked about] the importance of having players that love to come to the ballpark ... and prepare, talk baseball, to find a way to win that day."
Melvin, currently the manager of the A's, had Price as his pitching coach while he was skipper of the Mariners and D-backs. When Melvin was dismissed by Arizona on May 8, 2009, Price resigned out of loyalty.
"He's a very prepared guy, but it's about not leaving any stone unturned, so it's easy for him to ask me for advice," Melvin said. "But, really, a lot of the advice I give him is, 'Get through Spring Training, and a lot of the unknowns will work themselves out once you get into the season.' He's a very smart guy and will do really well at this job."
Price's excellence at preparation has drawn raves from the pitchers he's worked with the past four seasons.
"He should be great," reliever Jonathan Broxton said. "He was a great pitching coach. Everybody kind of bought into his system. I've seen it work. I've seen what he's done for the pitching staff here. He turned it around. If everybody just buys into his system -- he likes to win. He wants to play hard every day. He likes to joke around, but when it comes time to do stuff the right way, you're going to do it the right way and have fun with it."
Price has also been lauded for the unity he brought to his pitching staffs and an ability to communicate. Pitchers were held accountable for their mistakes and rarely repeated basic mistakes.
"I think he's going to be a great manager for us this year," reliever Sean Marshall said. "He's easy to talk to. He had a good meeting and talked about being prepared, being on time. He's the right guy for the job and personally, I'm excited to have him as our manager."
Price has assumed control over a roster loaded with talent. The Reds won at least 90 games three of the previous four seasons and claimed two NL Central titles, but no playoff series wins. In 2013, the 90-72 club fell well short of expectations and lost the NL Wild Card Game to the Pirates.
There were no major roster upgrades in the offseason. To get Cincinnati to the next step, Price will have to get more out of what he already has. For him, that of course begins with preparation. The new manager is moving to put his own stamp on Spring Training.
"With a player development background, which I have, I've always felt the fundamentals and the repetition -- as tedious as it can be -- is extremely important," Price said. "We'll be repetitive, but hopefully be able to put some spice to it to where it doesn't feel as repetitive as it can over the course of six weeks of Spring Training."
Pitchers Fielding Practice -- known as PFP -- is among the drills often considered the bane of repetitive activity. They are mundane -- coaches hit groundballs to the pitchers or infielders. The pitchers and infielders have to know which base to cover or which base to throw to.
Price wants there to be more to it, and the teaching to not just be on the field.
"Part of what we want to introduce is the theory behind it," Price said. "What we've done in the past with the pitchers is say, 'OK, I'm going to pull a question and have a random pitcher come up and explain the No. 1 bunt play. What are we trying to accomplish on this play? Let's break it down from not just what your responsibilities are, but the keys for your middle infielders.' Create the dialogue."
Price would like to create a setting where the clubhouse can also be a classroom. It would not be with him as a professor giving boring lectures to glass-eyed students.
Instead, it would be an exchange of ideas and thoughts while team building.
"Classroom doesn't mean teacher talking to the students. It means creating an environment where people are comfortable talking about baseball," Price said. "When you come down to it, as many close games as are played by the good teams in the league, as many one and two-run games that are played, quite often it comes down to the execution of a single play as the difference maker.
"We want to be the ones on the right end of making that play."
Former pitching coaches have a mixed track record after being elevated to managers. John Farrell won it all in his first year with the Red Sox last season, but didn't have results previously with the Blue Jays. Tommy Lasorda was a winner of two World Series for the Dodgers. On the other side, Joe Kerrigan couldn't claim a championship with the Red Sox. Ray Miller, who also lacked Major League playing experience like Price, didn't win for either the Twins or Orioles.
Price previously interviewed for managerial jobs, including the Marlins, after the 2012 season.
"He's one of the greatest pitching coaches in the game, and it's sometimes hard to make that jump," Melvin said. "He was actually interviewed for the Mariners' job in Seattle when I interviewed, so it's something he's thought about. He doesn't just watch the pitching end of the game. He's very well-versed and always has been in watching the game in totality. There's no one in the game that's going to be more prepared than him."