MIAMI -- The wide-smiled Dontrelle Willis knelt behind the plate at Marlins Park and caught the first pitch of Saturday's game between the Mets and Marlins from his 8-year-old daughter, Bianca. The two hugged afterward.In Willis' first time back in Miami at Marlins Park, he promised his daughter she could
MIAMI -- The wide-smiled Dontrelle Willis knelt behind the plate at Marlins Park and caught the first pitch of Saturday's game between the Mets and Marlins from his 8-year-old daughter, Bianca. The two hugged afterward.
In Willis' first time back in Miami at Marlins Park, he promised his daughter she could throw out the ceremonial pitch on his bobblehead night, something she's always wanted to do.
"When I told her I had the bobblehead, she was like, 'Daddy, can I throw the first pitch?'" he said. "She was really happy, and so I'm proud to be able to share that moment with her."
Willis made his way around Marlins Park on Saturday. He watched batting practice before the game, where he greeted former teammates such as Lenny Harris and Don Kelly, and took in a game that he said reminded him of the Marlins' 2003 World Series team.
"This was like playoff-type baseball," he said. "I know the second half of 2003 it seemed like every game we played was like, 'Woo!' But we still had 50 more games. That's the type of baseball they have to play right now."
Willis acknowledged that Miami has a chance to make the playoffs for the first time in 14 years since his rookie year in '03. One reason for that is an exciting young ace who draws striking similarities to Willis' days in a Marlins uniform: José Fernández.
"I got a chance to talk to him. He's emotional," Willis said. "It's good to a certain extent. I was blessed to have an infield where there was a lot of generals in that sense. You know, Mike Lowell and Derrek Lee. Guys that were seasoned. They have a younger infield. He's gonna have to look to himself to kind of be that leader and reel himself in."
Willis also wasn't shy in adding that he never had the pure stuff and velocity that Fernandez has.
"Talented," he said of Fernandez. "He's 97-98 [mph]. I mean, his slider was harder than my fastball."
Patrick Pinak is a reporter for MLB.com based in Miami.