Jump to content

D-Train Q&A on SI

Recommended Posts

D-Train of thought

Rookie sensation Willis kicks back by watching himself work

Posted: Monday March 1, 2004 5:44PM; Updated: Monday March 1, 2004 5:46PM



Q & A Dontrelle Willis


Last season, the ever-smiling mug of lefty Dontrelle Willis became the face of the surprising Florida Marlins. His huge grin and high-kick delivery helped label the Marlins as a loose, don't-give-a-damn group of youngsters just out to have fun and kick some butt.


Willis faded a bit as the season went on, giving way in the public consciousness to one of his teammates in the sensational young Marlins rotation, Josh Beckett, the World Series MVP. Still, Willis was good enough to earn the National League Rookie of the Year award, going 14-6 with a 3.30 ERA in 27 starts.


The 6-foot-4, 22-year-old Willis will be an integral part of Florida's rotation this year as the Marlins try to defend their World Series title. He sat down with SI.com's John Donovan at the Marlins spring training site in Jupiter, Fla., for this interview.


SI.com: Football players, as a whole, hate training camp. What do you think of spring training?


DW: I love it. Love it. You get a chance to work on other things. Get yourself back into baseball. I love it because it's more about getting ready for the season as opposed to having to put up the numbers during the season. You can learn a lot more, you can experiment a lot more with other pitches or what have you. You can work on anything in spring. So I love it.


SI.com: Are you experimenting on some things this spring?


DW: Not so much experimenting. Just trying to better myself with the pitches I have.


SI.com: And in spring training, you get a chance to socialize. You're a pretty social guy, aren't you?


DW: I still try to get my work done and let other people get their work done. But, I'm excited. I'm a guy who loves his teammates. Even my minor league teammates, I still go back and talk to them. I'm very team-oriented.


SI.com: OK, let's talk about the offseason. Can you give me a couple of words to describe it?


DW: Fun. Exciting. And very, very busy. On the same token, I had enough time for myself. On the flip side, it was a little tiresome.


SI.com: You must have taken some time for yourself. What did you do for yourself after the season?


DW: Relax. Just relax. That's the one thing I did. Just relax, man. Let everything just settle. I did so much running around. I got a place, a beautiful place that I never thought I'd be able to live in [on Williams Island, Fla., in between Ft. Lauderdale and Miami]. I got a beautiful view. I just sit out there and relax. Just watching TV, just watching tapes, whatever. Watching tapes of me pitching.


SI.com: You relax by watching yourself pitch? That's relaxing?


DW: [Former teammate] Mark Redman, he told me to watch some tapes and see yourself throwing. Get back to basics. That's all I did. Just chilling and just watching the games. Everything happened so fast, it looks different when you watch the tapes. You think 'Man, I look like a good pitcher.' And you see the tapes and it's 'Man, that's right down the middle.' So just watching that.


SI.com: Did you like what you saw on the tapes, for the most part?


DW: Loved it. Loved it. Redman told me to get all the good games. But I got the bad games, too. And I saw. It showed. It didn't lie. When I didn't throw the ball well, I was walking guys and I was up in the zone. And when I did, I was down in the zone and didn't walk anyone. That's why, as a player, you'll never hear about any 'slumping' or anything like that from me. I'm like, 'Dude, I just ain't getting it done.'


SI.com: Are you hard on yourself when you don't pitch well?


DW: Well, it's not something I try to overplay or overanalyze. People ask me, 'What's the reason why you're not doing well?' Well, hey, when you're not doing well, you got two on and you're walking guys and you're giving up the big hits. When you're doing well, you're being aggressive. It's simple. That's why I don't buy that sophomore, junior slump. Rookie. Past seasons. All that stuff. I'm trying to win. If I go in there, every time I start, regardless of if I get the win, if the team wins, I feel good.


SI.com: There was some criticism that you tired in the second half [Willis was 9-1 with a 2.08 ERA before the break; 5-5, 4.60 after]. Did the criticism bug you?


DW: No. It was funny. I got to pitch in the postseason in relief in the World Series in Game 1, and I was able to throw well in that game [2 1/3 innings, two hits, no runs and two strikeouts], and everyone was excited and happy and everyone asked me what I did different. I had nothing to say, because I felt like I didn't do anything different. I threw strikes. That was it. I just threw strikes.


SI.com: Overall, outside of wins and losses, how do you think you handled your rookie year? Everything came at you really quickly.


DW: Oh yeah. There was a lot of growing up for me. Actually, my family was very proud of how I was handling all that stuff. But I didn't see what they were seeing, from the outside. I was just like, 'Dude, I'm having fun. I'm playing in a major-league uniform.' Even when I was struggling, I was like, 'Hey, I'm the worst major-league baseball player.' OK? And when I was doing well, it was like, 'Hey, I'm pretty good.'


SI.com: Tell me something that struck you, as a rookie, that you maybe didn't realize, or realize fully.


DW: I tell everybody how talented the players are up here, every day. You don't understand how good -- mentally as well as physically -- guys are up here. That's the enjoyment of me being able to compete, every day. Whatever my role is. Being able to play with the best players in the world.


SI.com: You know, your manager, Jack McKeon, pointed to you and your performance last season as one of the things that turned the season around for the Marlins. What did you think of that?


DW: I appreciate that. But ... whatever. I'm not trying to overplay the humble thing, but I told all my teammates ... I pitch every fifth day. There's four other games being played. Even that streak I was on [8-0, 1.05 ERA in 10 starts], we were winning some other games. It wasn't like we were going 0-4 and all the sudden we won a game. I think what he means by that is just the enthusiasm, just the way I went about my work. I think it's somewhat contagious. I've always been a guy that's out there laughing and having fun.


SI.com: But when you're sliding, is it hard to keep the grin going?


DW: No. That's me. Sometimes I get pissed off -- oh, excuse me, I'm sorry -- I'll get upset. But that's human nature. There's always people in here to pick me up. But I love the game of baseball, and I try to do the best I can going out there. I try to keep the off-the-field stuff off the field. Because you can get clouded.


SI.com: Let me switch gears on you for some quick ones: Who has the funkiest delivery in the majors?


DW: That's a hard one. I couldn't tell you. I can't come up with guys like that. I mean, in here, all these guys are so fundamentally sound.


SI.com: What about on other teams? You know, guys like Byung-Hyun Kim in Boston.


DW: Oh, he's dirty. I like him. I like Pedro Martinez, the way he swings his whole body around.


SI.com: You ever get a chance to see films of somebody like Fernando Valenzuela or Luis Tiant?


DW: No. But I've heard [their deliveries] compared a lot to mine.


SI.com: How much does your high leg kick help you with hitters?


DW: Well, they can hit. Regardless. Whatever you want to do, they can hit.


SI.com: Speaking of which ... you hit nearly .250 last year. You can hit some, too, it seems.


DW: A little bit. I try to do everything I can. I take it seriously. I love hitting. I've always been a kid who tried to do both. I didn't think I was gonna be able to hit in the big leagues, but ... I've tried. When a pitcher gets on, it takes a lot out of the opposing pitcher. You try to get them to work. That's all I'm trying to do, is make 'em work.


SI.com: All right, last one. You had such a fantastic rookie season. Do you look ahead, Dontrelle, to your second season?


DW: Not so much. Like, today. I got through today. I'm happy. Not to say that I'm not conscious of what's down the line and what's in store, but if you don't feel good about today, then tomorrow it's not gonna be ... there's no reason for you even to think about it. I try to just do well day by day. If I do that, then it'll add up at the end of the season. That's why, when I do struggle, I think 'I still have some more starts left to battle, to show people that I can play.' And I think, through that, that's why I wouldn't change a thing about last season. I saw both sides. I threw terrible and I had some winning times. And I loved it. I loved it, man. If I don't throw another pitch in my life, I'll tell you what, dude, that's not too bad of a season.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Restore formatting

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...