The baseball field at Timberline High is the house that Larry Price built.
That’s not a reflection of Price’s championship pedigree, which includes 11 state championships and the 10 titles he’s won as the coach of the Boise Gems American Legion club.
Instead, it’s a testament to the work Price put in. As the head coach of Boise High when it played at the former Les Bois Junior High — now the site of Timberline — he seeded the grass, dug trenches for electricity and even built the wooden outfield fence on Easter Sunday in 1994.
But Price will soon say goodbye to the park and the program he built, retiring after this season as the only coach in Timberline history to watch his two sons play baseball in college.
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Next spring, Cody Price will begin his senior season at Missouri Valley College (NAIA). Parker Price, a senior star on this year’s Timberline team, begins his freshman year at Gonzaga. And Larry Price will take his seat in the stands not as a coach, but as a proud father.
“Time is short,” Larry Price, 52, said. “Before you know it, my son will be graduating from Gonzaga. I don’t want to say, ‘Gosh, I wish I would have seen most of his games.’ ”
While Price’s baseball resume doesn’t include any time in the pros, it’s one capable of making anyone jealous.
He started as a sophomore at USC, batting third in front of Mark McGwire — “I was seeing a lot of fastballs, that’s for sure,” he jokes.
A dispute over scholarship money led him to Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, where he was closer to his parents in Coeur d’Alene.
And when a freak injury ended his playing career — he slid head first into second base and the bag popped up, ripping ligaments in his right hand off the bone — he turned his attention to coaching.
He finished his education at Boise State, started as a Boise High assistant in 1988, took over the Boise Gems that summer and never looked back.
“I just fell in love with the impact you could have with young men, and I thought this is something I wanted to pursue,” Price said. “I went all in, and 28 years later with the Gems and 26 years now coaching high school baseball, I feel totally blessed.”
1,541 Number of high school and American Legion baseball games Larry Price has won in his career. He’s lost 573.
His opponents might not feel the same way.
Price’s teams have dominated the state, winning 11 high school championships (six at Timberline, five at Boise). Between high school and Legion, he owns a career record of 1,541-573 — 968 games above .500.
“High school coaching is the purest form of the art because there’s no recruiting involved,” said Eagle coach Frank Wright, a head coach in the Treasure Valley for 28 years. “You have to take what you have and figure out a way to win with it. I’d say that Larry has done that as well as anybody in the state of Idaho ever has.”
He’s also earned the respect of major-league teams as a scout. He spent a week in Tacoma, Wash., scouting Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe, helping convince Boston to send reliever Heathcliff Slocumb to Seattle for the pair of young, unproven players in one of the most lopsided trade deadline deals in baseball history.
Varitek and Lowe later combined to make five All-Star appearances for the Red Sox.
ONE LAST TITLE RUN
Price knows exactly how many regular season games and practices he has left with his Timberline players. And with the number running low, he said he’s bringing even more passion and energy to the field this spring.
“There have been so many emotions going on,” he said. “I’ll be honest, there have been days where I catch myself with a tear in my eye because I’ve come through this gate to this field since 1993 building it. That’s over 23 years on this field. This has been more than half of my life.
“There are so many emotions and a lot of sentimental stuff here. I don’t know how I’m going to do it.”
Pressed for his favorite memories, two come to mind: sending more than 130 players to college programs and winning the 2013 state title with Cody and Parker on the team.
With 11 seniors returning from the 2015 state championship team, Timberline remains the heavy favorite to add one final championship to Price’s total and his scoreboard in right field.
The Wolves (16-1, 10-0 5A SIC) have 10-runned 10 of their opponents, thanks to a lineup averaging 11.1 runs per game. Their only loss came to a Catholic school from the suburbs of Chicago, St. Viator, during a spring break tournament in Arizona.
“I know he wants to have one more state title, and I know that this huge group of seniors wants to have one more state title,” said Parker Price, a shortstop and Idaho’s reigning Gatorade player of the year. “... His legacy, he’s been winning state titles ever since the school opened.
“We want to do one last thing for him.”
BOYS OF SUMMER (FOR NOW)
Larry Price also stepped down as the Gems’ coach to follow his sons as they play in college summer leagues — Parker in Wenatchee, Wash., and Cody in Lodi, Calif. A smile sneaks through as he envisions his summer crisscrossing the West Coast, a mattress packed into the back of his Chevy Avalanche to catch a few winks whenever he can.
Price, who will keep his job as a lifetime sports and weight training teacher at Timberline, is not stepping away from the game entirely. He’ll expand his role as an associate scout for the Atlanta Braves, and he’ll take over as the Idaho director of USA Baseball.
But when he returns to Timberline in the fall with a few thousand extra miles on his Avalanche, he said he’ll have to park on the other side of the school, away from the baseball field that has meant so much to his adult life.
“It’s going to be hard for me to pull in and know that I don’t have to go mow the field, or I got to go water, or I got to go pull weeds,” Price said.
“I’ve found myself this spring just coming to the ballfield, even on Sundays, and just sitting in the dugout and just reminiscing over all the great kids I’ve been fortunate enough to coach, all the great memories and a lot of wins and a lot of success here.”