Don't look back, baseball legend Satchel Paige once warned, because somebody may be gaining on you.
Nevertheless, Ritchie Price IS looking over his shoulder, just not when he's on a ball diamond.
Price, a Kansas University fixture at shortstop for the last four seasons, will make his professional baseball debut tonight when the Brooklyn Cyclones entertain the Staten Island Yankees at KeySpan Park near Coney Island.
"I told someone the other day," Price said, "the only time I feel comfortable is on the baseball field. That leaves 20 hours when I don't feel comfortable."
Price has been living in Brooklyn, one of New York City's five teeming boroughs, about a week. Cyclones' players are billeted in dorms at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute in a set-up Price compares to KU's Jayhawker Towers.
But that's where the similarity ends.
"It's in kind of a rough neighborhood," Price said, "and I'm scared to go out when it's dark. I've lived in college towns all my life, and this is definitely different."
Earlier this month, Price was selected by the New York Mets in the 18th round of baseball's free-agent draft. After agreeing to contract terms, Price was sent to the Mets' spring training facility at Port St. Lucie, Fla., where he had to fine-tune fundamentals.
"You have to do it the way the Mets want you to do it," he said. "For instance, they changed my footwork a little bit when I throw to first base, and they changed my swing a little bit to free up my hands."
Although coming off his best fielding season as a collegian - Price made only nine errors - he will have to develop more power and consistency at the plate in order to prolong his pro career.
Price owns six KU career records - games played (255), at-bats (1,022), runs (204), hits (312), sacrifices (35) and hit by pitches (53) - but the 6-foot-2, 180-pounder averaged only about 13 extra-base hits per season and stroked just five career home runs.
His career batting average was .311, but Price hit just .281 as a junior and .286 as a senior. And that was with aluminum bats. He'll be using wood bats as a pro.
Price, who will turn 22 next month, realizes his chances of becoming a major-league player are slim.
"In my situation, it's more of a fun deal," he said. "I'm not a high draft choice or a big-money (bonus) guy. I'm just going to enjoy it and play the game the way I've always played it."
Price's dad, KU coach Ritch Price, and mom Cindy will be in Brooklyn for tonight's opener. Younger brothers Ryne and Robby won't, however.
Ryne Price, who formed the Jayhawks' keystone combination with Ritchie during the last two seasons, is playing summer ball in Anchorage, Alaska. Robby, who played shortstop for Free State High's Class 6A state championship team and is Ritchie's heir apparent at KU, is with a team in Duluth, Minn.
Still, Ritchie Price will be seeing a few more familiar faces while playing for the Cyclones in the New York-Penn League.
KU relief ace Don Czyz, who went in the seventh round to the Florida Marlins, has been assigned to Jamestown, N.Y., and outfielder Gus Milner, selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 14th round, will play in Batavia, N.Y.
Meanwhile, pitcher Sean Land, tapped in the ninth round by the Minnesota Twins, will toil in the Appalachian League. The 6-5 left-handed hurler signed after his junior year at KU and is with the Twins' farm team at Elizabethton, N.C.