It had to be surreal for Dontrelle Willis, walking back into the Fitch Park clubhouse all these years later. The room had been abandoned after a storm cut short the workout on a cold, gray, rainy Wednesday that felt more like Chicago than Arizona. The Cubs had packed their stuff into garbage bags and boxes for the move up the street to HoHoKam Stadium. Willis sat on a stool in front of his corner locker, getting his things in order, pulling apart a pack of blue stirrups. The emptiness there only amplified his voice. He talked loud and fast, laughing at the punch lines to his stories. Listening to the stream of consciousness was like watching the funky left-handed delivery that once made Willis one of the most exciting players in baseball, the National League’s Rookie of the Year in 2003 and a World Series champion with the Marlins. After a stunning rise and a mysterious fall, Willis is back in minor-league camp with the Cubs. The kid out of Encinal High School in Alameda, Calif., an eighth-round pick in the 2000 draft, thought of his wife and three daughters and snapped his fingers. “It’s gone like that,” Willis said. “We laugh about it now, like I’m actually in the same locker room as I was when I was 18, 19 years old. That’s a really cool feeling. Everything comes full circle. “Me being the quote-unquote ‘31-year-old salty veteran’ is kind of cool.” The weight room still looks the same to Willis, and so do the fields, which is exactly why the Cubs will be keeping up with the Joneses in their brand-new facility on the Mesa/Scottsdale border next spring. Who knows whether it was trying to live up to the D-Train hype, or handling the fame and fortune that came with some $40 million in career earnings, according to the salary database at Baseball-Reference.com. Willis hadn’t pitched above Class-A Boise when the Cubs packaged him in a trade for Matt Clement and Antonio Alfonseca in late March 2002. The next year Willis emerged as an All-Star for a Marlins team that would win The Bartman Game and break hearts on the North Side and all across the country.
The Comeback: Dontrelle Willis goes full circle with Cubs
CSN Chicago | Feb 21