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Willis' riveting success story


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Willis' riveting success story reads like an instant classic


Six weeks ago, he would have walked through this parking lot unnoticed. Friday, a man in a Hummer stopped him and asked if he'd sign 100 baseballs in exchange for $1,000.


''It's happened in a hurry,'' Dontrelle Willis said. ``That's OK, though. I'm trying to keep a level head. That's all I can do. I'll be all right.''


Is this possible? Did that just happen? Did all of this just happen?


The guy leaning in close to Willis, saying, ''You're gonna start in the All-Star Game, just watch,'' while holding Willis' forearm for emphasis?


The woman waiting in line for Willis' signature on a Kane County (Ill.) Cougars picture, the photo resting uneasy in hands literally trembling?


The manager of this Hooters sneaking Willis through the kitchen then out a side door to avoid more autograph pleas?


No way this is possible. On the first day of summer, this much into the season, we can't be talking about the Marlins without making a joke. We can't be talking about the new arrival instead of the next departure. More than anything, we can't be talking about a Marlin having to deal with too much attention.


For a player whose franchise rarely fills one-third of its ballpark, Willis had them stacked up outside the door Friday afternoon in Pembroke Pines. The sight was strange, the feeling even stranger. Foreign is a better word, because these were the Marlins and that feeling was -- yeah, that was it, all right -- excitement.


''Never expected anything like this,'' Willis said after an hour-plus of signing. ``This surprised me very much. It's good exposure for the ballclub. Maybe we can get more people out to the games.''


The Marlins indeed are teetering a hiccup from last place. The right phone call remains the only thing needed to dispatch Mike Lowell. They still play in a stadium as comfortable for baseball as a snowmobile suit.


Yet, because of a pitcher no one knew eight starts and six victories ago, a 21-year-old with a grown-up arm, the Marlins are experiencing the type of buzz baseball provides better than all the other sports. The flurry of a phenom.


''I think of this as a blessing to be in this situation,'' said Willis, who one-hit the Mets on Monday and faces the Devil Rays tonight. ``This is a great opportunity for me. I'm just trying to do what's right.''


So the Marlins suddenly are a feel-good story, the sort of thing that comes along for them about as often as a Luis Castillo 35-game hitting streak. For the first time in too long, they are about something other than elbow surgery and dumped salary.


Certainly finances were involved Friday, the greasy money of memorabilia parasites who cash in on someone else's popularity and the ambitious admiration of fans. That guy in the Hummer already had Willis' signature on a half dozen baseballs and several glossy photos.


But there also was a woman who had pasted a newspaper clipping of Willis' first major-league victory and the boxscore on construction paper. There was a man who brought two ticket stubs from the game in which Willis homered and told the pitcher to keep one of them. And there was the father who asked Willis to sign a picture of his son's Little League team, a team that had won its championship.


''Dontrelle Willis,'' the left-hander wrote. ``Good job!''


''You can't always tell who's genuine and who's trying to make money,'' Willis said. ``But that stuff doesn't bother me. Everybody's got to do what they got to do. I sign for everyone to make it easier.''


He corrected people who called him ''Mr. Willis.'' He apologized for not being able to personalize each item. He used words like ''sir'' and ''ma'am.'' Willis posed for every photo, even lifting a young fan onto his lap like Santa Claus for one shot.


It seemed almost too good because it was almost too good, particularly for a franchise generally dismissed as too bad. The Marlins and Tampa Bay play here this weekend, and not enough people will care. That's strange given the cozy scene that bubbled just a few miles from home plate Friday.


Is this possible? The Marlins? Feel-good? Too good? Near the end of his appearance, Willis' cell phone rang. He picked it up, looked at the number on the ID and answered.


''Mom?'' he said. ``I'll call you right back. I love you, too.''

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Hell ya very good article... DW on a losing team??????


plz i dunno bout most you guy but i have WILD CARD hopes this year!!! and next year with the Pitching Rotation im thinking of how can u say losing????


1.AJ Burentt

2.Josh Beckett

3.Brad Penny

4.Mark Redman

5.Dontrelle Wills......


this rotation has WS caliber pitching all 5 guys when healthy and on could be all stars.....


what is all this negtive crap you come up with Trade and release.....


HELLO!!!!!!! da man is Mr.Man of SOuth florida.. SOuth florida hasnt had a Buzz like this in a long time..... i dont remmeber it ever being like this..... the man is just getting so much natatiol attention.....


during todays FOX game NYY and NYM were in a rain delay and i woke up turned it on FOX and the Phillie vs SOX game was on and all of a sudden with Pedro pitching these guys are talking bout DONTRELLE.....


than the Muts game came on and Joe Buck and Tim began talking about Dontrelle...


my Espn Fantasy Baseball game friends know who the hell he is... all i do is brag about him and our team.....



LISTEN im only 18, but people are telling me this guy reminds them of some guy named FREDRICH 4 the tigers who played 2 years and was crazy but a great pitcher he had arm probs and neva played again he was playin in Mid 70's...


25 years later this guy is his reincarnataion

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