Central pitcher's confidence can bother foes, inspire teammates
When Michael Price strikes out a batter, you might see him give an animated fist pump. Depending on the opponent, he might turn and say something to the opposing dugout.
The senior pitcher and first baseman for Central High School is fiery, passionate and has a competitiveness that rubs some people the wrong way. But, with typical Michael Price confidence, he doesn’t care what his critics have to say.
“A lot of people don’t like me,” Price said. “But in reality, I don’t like to lose, and I make that clear every time I step on the mound. I take it personally when someone says something chippy in the dugout. I know they’re probably just trying to get pumped up, but I don’t like to hear it, and I like to let them know that I’m not going to let that kind of stuff go.”
The confidence that can rattle his opponent also inspires his teammates.
Central coach Chuck Yost said one word sums up the 6-foot-1, 205-pound right-hander.
“He’s pretty much fearless out there,” Yost said. “You want him out there competing, and I think that’s what he does when he steps on the mound. As a pitcher you can’t be afraid of hitters, and when he goes out there I think he’s trying to prove that he’s better than the guy he’s facing. That’s what you want as a coach. You can’t have a pitcher who is afraid of hitters, and he is definitely not afraid.
“Some people might see what he does as being a jerk, or some people might see it as being cocky, but I think it’s just his competitive nature coming out, and I love to see that on the mound.”
On April 22, Price had a few choice words for the Fruita Monument dugout. A new rivalry has bloomed in recent years, and the two squads don’t like one another. But Price said he’s careful never to lose his composure, and he is only interested in sticking up for his teammates.
It’s the type of situation Price thrives in.
The game against the Wildcats was a must-win for Central, and the bad blood and high pressure fueled a then-season-high 12 strikeouts. The Warriors won 5-2, and Price went the distance despite battling a groin injury.
One week later, Price struck out 15 batters over 8 2/3 innings, both season-highs in the Southwestern League, during a 7-3 extra-inning loss to Grand Junction.
During those two starts, Price threw more than 250 pitches.
But Price is an absolute tank.
He’s gone at least seven innings in five of his seven starts this season. All but one of those starts have been wins, and he’s given up two earned runs or fewer in every complete-game start.
This season, Price finished in the top two of the SWL for wins (5), ERA (1.24) and strikeouts (73).
At the plate, Price hit .373, fourth best for Central, and he leads the Warriors with four triples, despite speed that ranges from surprisingly quick to downright average.
Although Price isn’t a burner, he can hit the ball a long way, with Yost calling Price “one of the best pole-to-pole hitters we have.”
Yost said Price’s big senior year is the result of three years of development, and more importantly, three years of growing up.
“I mean, he was a lot quieter when he was a freshman,” Yost said with a laugh. “But I think since he’s come into this program, he’s learned how to pitch. When he was a young guy, like a lot of young guys who have always been big for their age, he came in thinking he could just overpower guys. That will always come back to bite you. But since then he’s really developed some off-speed stuff and developed a lot of control. He’s pitching, rather than going out there and throwing. He’s grown mentally.”
With that maturity has come leadership skills. Part of it is necessity — Price is the only Central senior with significant playing time — but it’s also something that intrinsically comes to Price. Yost said it might not be visible from the outside, but Price is the leader of the pitching staff.
“I think he’s always been a leader because of his size and the kind of kid that he is,” Yost said. “But he’s really grown up. He has a great work ethic and I think he’s really grown in that respect. He’s really worked with these younger guys, mentoring these younger kids.”
In particular, Price guided freshman pitcher Hunter Kelchner.
Yost said on road trips, he assigned Kelchner and Price to the same room, seeing similarities between Price and the 6-foot-4, 215-pound right-hander.
For Kelchner, Price gave him confidence. It was confidence Price didn’t always have as a freshman.
“He just likes to tell me to push through all the adversity, do what you do,” Kelchner said. “He’s a really competitive guy, and I think everyone probably knows at this point. He helps with my change-up, too. He has a good one and taught me how to throw it.”
Central has come within one game of making the postseason twice during Price’s career.
“There’s definitely frustration there,” he said, “and it’s something I keep telling the younger guys: You have to work to get there, and it sucks missing out.”
Now, Price will lead the Warriors through an interesting regional bracket. Central, seeded 17th, faces No. 16 Pine Creek on Saturday. The winner most likely will face top-seeded Chatfield, whose position in the wild-card rankings raised eyebrows around the state. The Chargers are considered by some to be outside the top five teams in the state.
Regardless of how Central plays, one thing is for sure with the big, sometimes mean Price. He’ll be himself.
“These guys probably don’t know I’m singing their walk-up songs before they get in the box,” Price said. “Man, with Owen (Taylor) and Tristan (Lafferty)‘s walk-up song, it’s weird, but I’m into it.
“I’m just trying to be relaxed and ready. Going to go out and compete.”