It's not every season that the Long Island Ducks can send out a pitcher with a World Series ring, an NL Rookie of the Year award and two MLB All-Star appearances, but the addition of Dontrelle Willis for the 2013 campaign has allowed them that unique luxury.
Willis provides experience and leadership to the Ducks' pitching staff. The former Marlins lefthander, who pitched 32/3 scoreless innings to help stifle the Yankees in the 2003 World Series, also has made an impact at the plate. He started as the designated hitter for manager Kevin Baez on May 11 against Somerset and went 1-for-2 with three RBIs. We asked him about that, his time in the major leagues and his first month as a Long Island Duck.
Had you ever been a designated hitter before? What was your reaction when you saw the lineup card that day?
"Well, playing in the National League, you hit as a pitcher, and I've batted seventh in a major-league game before, so I was OK with it. I'll do anything to help the team. I'm not a guy who's going to be hitting every day in the game or anything like that, but I'll do anything to go out there and be competitive."
You have nine career home runs in MLB, went 3-for-3 with a triple in the 2003 MLB playoffs with the Marlins and hit .387 in 31 at-bats with the Reds in 2011. Ever consider pulling a Rick Ankiel and trying to become a position player?
"No. no, no. No thanks . . . I never considered it. Hitting is a lot harder than what people think it is. I don't think I can do it like that."
How close are you to feeling at the top of your game and what's it been like playing for the Ducks?
"I feel good. I like how I'm progressing and getting my pitch count up and my strength up. I'm having a good time working with the pitching coaches . . . Right now there are good guys, good coaching staff, guys are working hard. It's a real fun-loving group and it's been good so far."
I'm just looking to get work in a competitive baseball league and that's it. I would hope everybody playing wants to get back to the major leagues, but it's not really my thought process. I'm just playing to get myself ready. I'm not even up to 100 pitches yet so there are things you have to do to build up to that."
Who is the toughest out you've ever faced?
"There are a lot of guys that are tough in the major leagues . . . but it's weird, I've faced all the great hitters, but probably David Eckstein, guys like that. There are a lot of different hitters for different reasons. Of course you have guys like Miguel Cabrera and Barry Bonds, but then there's guys like David Eckstein."