The glory days don't usually happen in a rookie season, but for rookie phenom Dontrelle Willis, he was on the top of the world. As a die-hard Marlins fan (yes there are a small bunch of us), people thought I was crazy when I was saying the Marlins were going to win the World Series in 2003, while they were hovering around 10 games under .500.
I didn't really believe it either. That was until this kid was called up from Albuquerque and started rolling. Everyone loved this kid. He smiled, wore his hat crooked, and his trademark knee kick had people talking. He could even hit! He also had the Marlins winning. He won 9 of his first 10 decisions in the majors, and the Marlins were looking up.
I still didn't believe my own words until this rookie found himself in a marquee matchup against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Dontrelle Willis vs. Randy Johnson. The D-Train vs. the Big Unit. Dontrelle dominated, stricking out 8, and only giving up a single run in his 10th win. That was when I started to believe. People were even going to MARLINS GAMES to see him pitch.
This kid had ice water running through his veins. I remember in the Division Series against the Giants, he was brought in from the bullpen to face Barry Bonds (who only hit 45 HR that year). The Marlins were in trouble, but he got him to hit a foul pop to end the inning, and the Marlins would go on to win the game (the rest is history).
The D-Train soon became a staple and regular star for the Marlins. He was even cheated out of a Cy Young Award when he won 22 games in 2005, with horrible run support and a bullpen that turned wins into no decisions on a regular basis.
THEN...he never had a winning season again. Who knows...maybe he was burned out like Dice-K from representing his country in national tournaments adding to his yearly innings pitched. He was sent over to the Tigers with another Marlins savior, Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera has only been moving forward, and the D-Train has come to a full stop.
Now, the train will arrive back in the National League, hopefully for a quick ressurection. He will now be pitching for the team that he beat in 2003, to show everyone he was ready. The Diamondbacks have landed a giant. Hopefully he can regain some form, and not only be a pinch hitter. He was once the face of a troubled franchise, and if he can somehow be close to as good as he was early on for the Marlins...look out!
I hope he can add a Comeback Player of the Year award to his case, which already holds the Rookie of the Year in it. I hope he can win the hearts of the fans in his new home. And if the D-Train ever makes a stop in South Florida, I hope I can be there to see him. I hope the tracks have not already ended.