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Dontrelle Willis interview on IGN Sports


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September 23, 2003 - He is only 21 years old, but Dontrelle Willis has the composure of a 10-year seasoned veteran starter. If you've asked Willis five months ago when he was pitching in Double-A Carolina if he thought he would be pitching in the big leagues in September, the answer would have been a resounding no. However, after being called in May of 2003, the young Florida Marlins pitcher went 9-1, with a 2.08 era going into the All-Star break and has become a fan favorite around many visiting cities in the National League. Fans even hang out in the lobby waiting to catch a glance at the young All-Star as Willis now concentrates his efforts on trying to lead his team into post-season play.


IGN Sports caught up with the fresh catch off the Florida coast as he breaks down his early success while being thrown back into the water.


IGN Sports: Your Major League Baseball career got off to a hot start, were you surprised by the success?


Dontrelle Willis: To have success early was good considering the situation where I was coming from Double-A and being young. I wanted to just go out and do something positive to help the team because at the time we were not playing as well as we could. I think it was a good lift.


IGN Sports: Did the jump from Double-A to the big show catch you off-guard?


Dontrelle Willis: Yes, very much so, because of my age, being 21 years old, I did not have much experience in the minor leagues. Unfortunately, some things had to happen for me to be called up. You never want to see anybody hurt but it happened. I said if I am going to be here for two weeks, then I need to make the best of the situation.


IGN Sports: What has impressed you the most about being in the majors?


Dontrelle Willis: The level of talent is just so phenomenal. Everyone is so good at this level. You could be playing the Detroit Tigers or the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, it does not matter because everyone is so professional and they could beat you if you are not on your game. One night the Yankees could win and the next two nights the Devil Rays could win. I think what separates the great teams from the other teams, comes down to just doing the little things on a consistent basis each ball game. Another thing that has impressed me is how everyone has a way of getting the job done. Especially a guy like Greg Maddox, who does things textbook compared to me. I have an unorthodox style of pitching with my leg kick. So watching that is phenomenal.


IGN Sports: How did you get introduced to the game growing up in Oakland?


Dontrelle Willis: I played little league baseball growing up. I would go to the Oakland A's games when they would give out the bats. I would swing it around a couple of times playing whiffle-ball and just hit it. So I was always around baseball even though nobody in my family played. My mother played softball but that's not the same.


IGN: Did you play stickball growing up?


Dontrelle Willis: We always had tennis balls around when I was growing up because my aunt was a big tennis fan and played tennis, so we always used those to play with. I'm not to familiar with stickball, but we always seemed to have a wooden bat. Those wooden bats were very heavy to use. You could not use the plastic whiffle-ball bat because they would break, so you had to come with some wood or some metal.


IGN: Your pitching mechanics seem to be a conversation piece every time you take the mound, have your delivery been this way all your life?


Dontrelle Willis: Yes, I have always tried to find things that make myself as comfortable as I can be on the mound. I think pitching is a lot like rhythm and timing. For me, that is my rhythm. It takes a lot to throw a ball on a consistent basis in a zone that small. People think it is easy but it is tough man. So you have to do things that make yourself comfortable and that is my comfort zone.


IGN Sports: Did you have a favorite baseball player growing up?


Dontrelle Willis: I was a big Bay Area fan. I am still a Bay Area guy. I am from the East Bay. I was a big Dave Stewart fan and Ricky Henderson supporter. Those guys are from Oakland and lived in Oakland. Just seeing those guys coming from the same neighborhood where you grow up was very inspirational. I remember when Kevin Mitchell was a San Francisco Giant along with Will Clark and Matt Williams, those guys were a lot of fun to watch. The 1989 Bay Area World Series was one that nobody could forget because of the earthquake, but Oakland swept the Giants 4-0. So the East Bay won that series. It was fun being surrounded by that, because it made you want to play baseball.


IGN Sports: Have you had a chance to talk with Dave Stewart?


Dontrelle Willis: I have not met him yet but we have played phone tag. He is a very busy man and I do not want to blow up his voice messages. I just left him a message thanking him for the support. I did not know he knew who I was at the time. He called me and told me how proud he was of me and to keep my head up when things don't go well. That was really fulfilling to me.


IGN Sports: You were named California High School Player of the year in 2000. What was your high school competition like growing up?


Dontrelle Willis: High School baseball for me at the time was awesome. I graduated in 2000, but we played schools from the Easy Bay to the valley. We played those schools all the way down to San Jose where they have Bellarmine Preparatory School. That is the school Pat Burrell of the Philadelphia Phillies attended. Baseball was good day in and day out facing guys that you would play club ball against after the season. It was great competition to elevate your game and to play harder. I gave some beatings and took some beatings as well and that's where you learn to lose with class. Being from the Bay Area you have to have that certain style. We talk a little trash but after the game they know its all love and we have fun with it.


IGN Sports: Is there a little rivalry brewing between you and Burrell?


Dontrelle Willis: I had a chance to meet him recently and we had a good conversation. We were talking about where we are from and how happy we are for each other. He has the potential to be a marquis player. I told him to always keep his head up even when you get in a little slump. He is the type of player that is a threat every time he comes to the plate. He is that dangerous of a player. I like that about him as a player but you have to keep your distance because he is my rival.


IGN Sports: How excited were you to be named to the National League All-Star team?


Dontrelle Willis: It is one of things where you want to be on it because you never know if you will ever have another chance, a season, a month or a first half like this ever again. It was thrilling to know that people were out there pulling for me to be on the team. That last week before the game people were out stirring it up about how I was not on the team. That right there made me feel like I was on the team. It was funny how those guys were talking to me like I had been in five All-Star games. I was excited meeting a lot of the guys. For three days you are on that plateau that many can say they have been on when you look at how so many players have had great careers but have never been on the All-Star team. Just to see my name on the roster representing not only the Florida Marlins but also the National League All-Star team alone was great. To see Gary Sheffield and Rafael Furcal and Albert Puljos standing across from me was great. Those guys are marquis players. I am a big fan of Mark Prior because he is so knowledgeable of the game but he is a young guy as well.


IGN Sports: Did you get a chance to talk with Kerry Woods the other had throwing young pitcher with the Chicago Cubs.


Dontrelle Willis: I met Kerry when I was on the bottom of the totem pole and he was just as nice. I brought it to his attention and he remembered it. That goes a long way because they are so busy meeting tons of people. Kerry said it was so funny watching me throw back then because I throw the same way know, that he is so happy for me and he is happy that I am doing well.


IGN Sports: How does feel being the main attraction in south Florida?


Dontrelle Willis: I don't understand how it is like that. I guest I am from the inside looking out. I am just one that goes out there and just plays. I give it my all regardless if I am winning or losing. If I don't get it done, that just life.


IGN Sports: What do you like to do in your down time?


Dontrelle Willis: I just relax because I spend the majority of my time at the park. I spend about 10 hours at the park. If you think about it, I get to the park around 2:30 p.m. and the game is over around 10:00 or 10:30 p.m. that is a full day of work for most people. I just sit back and watch a little television. If I want to be lazy, it is okay because my days are long and that's cool with me.


IGN Sports: How good are you at video games?


Dontrelle Willis: I have not played the baseball video game. First of all, I am not any good, and when I do play I would get beat. My friends play it all the time. Sad to say it, but I am not any good at baseball on video games. My friends don't understand how I can play so well in real life and be so bad in playing the video game. I told them easy, I am out there working, that is why I am not that good.


IGN Sports: Are there any other games that you play?


Dontrelle Willis: EA Sports' NCAA Football. I am awesome at that. I am in my 12th or 15th season. It is such a great game that I am going to buy the 2004 at the end of the season when I get back home. I am winning championships with San Jose State. The recruiting and stuff is just fun. I also like playing NBA Street. That is a lot of fun.


IGN Sports: Who is your favorite player in NBA Street?


Dontrelle Willis: I like Vince. Vince Carter can shoot and dunk on anybody. Michael Jordan's good too! I like that Dr. J dude too but you have to play a lot to get that guy, you have to win a lot and I am not winning that much to get him. I am not winning much, I just play Street because it is so much fun. Besides, all my memory is on the college football.


IGN Sports: Do you have a special formula for your success in the football game?


Dontrelle Willis: I throw all day. I go with five wide receivers every play. My friends get made because they know I am throwing every play picking up 20 something yards a play. That is pretty much all I do with my down time, play games.

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