One of baseball’s best stories from a decade ago perhaps gets one last shot to continue. Lefty pitcher Dontrelle Willis signed a minor league deal with the Chicago Cubs with no invite to Spring Training. Willis briefly retired from the game after a short stay last season with the Baltimore Orioles. If this is indeed the end of the line for the D-Train, it is only appropriate he finishes up with the team that drafted him in 2000.
It is hard to believe it has been almost ten years since Major League Baseball fans enjoyed the unbelievable rise of Dontrelle Willis. He was traded by the Cubs to the Florida Marlins in 2002 and made it to The Show early in the 2003 season at the age of 21. He was named the National League Rookie of the Year notching 14 victories as he helped the Fish win the 2003 World Series. With his unique windup complete with sky-high leg kick and magnetic personality, Willis became one of baseball’s top gate attractions, much like Stephen Strasburg is today. Willis had an outstanding 2005 season leading the NL in victories with 22, complete games with seven and shutouts with five. It was good enough to finish in second place for the Cy Young Award, losing out to Chris Carpenter. It was soon after that season when D-Train”s career quickly tumbled downward.
Willis was part of the blockbuster trade that included Miguel Cabrera going to the Detroit Tigers for six prospects. He spent two and half nightmarish seasons with the Tigers totaling 24 appearances. He made 22 starts compiling a record of 2-8 with a 6.86 ERA. Numerous issues, including control problems, an injured knee and an anxiety disorder contributed to his problems in Detroit. After being released by the Tigers during the middle of the 2010 season, Willis bounced around a number of organizations on both the Major League and Minor League levels. These are the clubs in order of appearance: Arizona Diamondbacks, San Francisco Giants, Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies and finally with the Orioles.
At age 30, Willis now is in the organization of America’s favorite underdog, the Cubs. I would really love it if he can somehow get his career back on track. I will never forget his smile and constant upbeat personality despite growing up in less than ideal circumstances. He is still young and left-handed pitching is always in demand. Plus, he is one heck of a hitter for a pitcher sporting a lifetime .244 batting average with nine home runs in 389 at-bats. If the pitching doesn’t work out, maybe the Cubs can find a place for his bat. I know that Chicago is years away from contention but can you imagine D-Train sticking around long enough that he reaches the World Series with them? That would be a script even Hollywood couldn’t see coming.
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