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Dontrelle Willis returns to South Florida

UPDATE: 12:05 A.M.

Dontrelle Willis, arguably the most popular player in Marlins franchise history, returned to South Florida for the first time since being traded to Detroit in 2007. Willis spoke with reporters in the visiting dugout for about 25 minutes before Tuesday's game. Here's a quick video clip of the interview:

 

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And here's the almost-complete transcript from Willis' meeting with the media earlier this afternoon...

(How does it feel to be back?)

It feels good. I’m enjoying the humidity, kind of familiar with that. Definitely feels good. Definitely feels good and proud to be a part of a great organization. They welcomed me back with open arms, all the way from the gate guards to security, so it feels good.

(What memories come flooding back to you?)

Well, obviously, winning the title here. Just the great teammates, the organization, everything in South Florida. Just having fun, and the fans embracing us, from the little parks in the minor leagues all the way up to the majors, so I have a lot of great memories. It’s still a little weird, to be honest with you, to be on the evil side of the diamond. But I definitely have a lot of great memories here.

(What’s been working well for you this year to get back here?)

I’m throwing the ball pretty well, just got to get a couple W’s. I like the way I’m throwing. I like the I’m working with the coaching staff. Great organization, Dusty Baker, from top to bottom they’re all good guys. We’re having fun, we just have to win some ball games to get back in this race.

(Did you want to pitch in this series?)

Most definitely. Most definitely. But I’d probably be too amped up and they’d probably kick my butt all over the field anyway, so it would be an unhappy homecoming.

(Does it surprise you to look across to the other dugout and see Jack sitting there?)

No, not at all. Not at all, because I know Jack. I know Jack. He’s a timeless piece. He’s like a fine wine, keeps getting better by age. But I’m happy for him. I still keep close tabs on the team, still follow those guys, and they definitely have some young talent coming up and they’ll turn it around. I’m still close to Ricky [Nolasco] and Anibal [Sanchez]. I’m still rooting for those guys.

(Ricky Nolasco could pass your franchise record for strikeouts tonight…)

I’m happy for him. Records are made to be broken. I never thought I’d have a record to be broken. I’m definitely happy for him. Just not tonight. I hope we get my man tonight. It’s a sign of longevity, thank God that he was healthy most of the time. He’s definitely a talented guy. But all those guys over there — Josh Johnson, Anibal, all those guys that were over there with me, they’re definitely talented guys and good for baseball.

(How would you describe what you’ve been through since you left here?)

Long. Long but fun. I just played like do-do. I had fun. In everybody’s careers they go through ups and downs, and now I find myself in Cincinnati. I never thought I would find myself here, but I played well down in the minor leagues and got the chance, and earned my right to come up. So far I’ve been doing pretty good, but I could do a lot better. But I’m having fun, having fun with the organization, great organization.

(Do you feel like things are going in the right direction for you?)

No, I’m just working off community service hours. Yeah, of course, of course. I’m having fun, I like this style of baseball, and they’re all great guys, like I said earlier. They’re all great guys, and they all work hard, you see the guys out early. They like to have fun. That’s right up my alley.

(Why do you think you never got back to 2005 form?)

Well, No. 1, I would love to win 22 games every year. No. 2, just trying too hard. Just trying to hard. Trying to play other people’s style of baseball instead of my own and not really enjoying it. Not to say that I didn’t have fun, but when you press, it’s kind of like when you’re shooting jumpers and you miss the first three, and now you’re shooting all over the place. But you have to take the good with the bad. I wouldn’t change a thing, because it made me appreciate things a little more and really enjoy things a little more. It’s just one of the things where I was pressing and couldn’t get out of the hole.

(Did the big contract put pressure on you?)

No, I love making a lot of money. I don’t think there’s anybody that doesn’t. I was just going into a new place. It’s almost feeling like transferring to a new high school senior year, something that like. You know what I mean? You want to do everything in one year and was it tough. But I have a great deal of respect for those guys in Detroit, they’re doing great. Jim Leyland and those guys are stand-up guys, but I still keep in touch with those guys up there, so it’s no love lost up there.

(Still a Heat fan?)

Oh man, it was a great season. I think ya’ll put too much pressure on them, ya’ll gave them the title. It was a great season. I think it was definitely good for basketball. I’m still a Heat fan, still a Dolphins fan, keep up with those guys. But it’s tough. They won once and now they have to win every year because of you guys. It’s your fault. But they had a great year, it was fun to watch, and I hope they bring all those guys back and give it another run.

(What about the Dolphins?)

Good defense, good defense, good defense. I hope the quarterback situation works out, because I think Chad Henne is pretty good -- Don’t kill me. But I think they’re going to be good. I think the new coach has made great strides. Like I said, they’re gong to be tough this year. We’ll see with my Raiders too.

(Not many people have warm feelings about this stadium…)

I love it. I love it. It’s The House That Conine Built, I like to say. The House That Conine Built. I just put down some fixtures for him. But I love this stadium, every year they change the name. Joe Robbie, Sun Life. It’s the culture. You gotta love it, you gotta embrace it. I love playing down here, like I said, no matter if there was 1,000 or 40,000 [fans]. Hearing the ‘Let’s go Mets’ and then the ‘Let’s go Marlins’ chants mixed in, I loved it. I definitely enjoyed all of it, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

(Next year the new stadium opens…)

Yeah, that’s big. We’ve gotta fill the seats though, that’s your job. You gotta get everybody to come out. But they’re definitely going to have some talent to go out there and make you guys proud.

(What was it like when this stadium was full of people?)

Oh, man. Besides my kids' births, one of the most exciting things in my life was to see 74,000 cheering and rooting me on. But even our 10,000 faithful. They make it loud, and it seems like it full. I loved every moment of it, I really did. From the dog days -- the hot, humid dog days -- and now they’ve got the DJ, I loved all of that. I’ve always loved being apart of the Marlins family and the culture, down to [Jeffrey] Loria, they’re all stand-up guys. To see the talent they fulfill every year, it’s fun to be a part of, fun to be part of that frat. I never got to go to college, so I feel like the Marlins are kind of like my frat. I definitely have a lot of love and respect for these guys, and it feels good to be back.

(Get back to South Florida much?)

Yeah, all the time. I come back all the time. My wife’s family is still down here, so we come back every once in a while.

(McKeon said he wishes his players would bring an energy level…)

They do, they do. They just have to learn it. I was blessed -- I tell everybody. This is no B.S., I was blessed to play with well-rounded guys, guys that are cornerstones like Derek Lee, Mark Redmond, Jeff Conine, Pudge Rodriguez. These are guys that left the Marlins and went to be cornerstones of organizations and stuff like that. And the work ethic that Juan Pierre instills, to this day, I still can’t keep up with him. To see those guys, and those guys kicked me and Miguel in the butt regardless of what type of game we had or what type of month we had, and to still put their arm around us as well, that’s something that’s almost like having a good parent around. I think veteran guys are key, and the game I think is going away from that, to have veteran guys that have been through the struggles, quote unquote. There’s a lot more young guys that are thrusted into positions to lead, and it’s tough. It’s very tough. My hats off to the young guys too, to learn kind of on the ropes. I was blessed to have guys that taught me whether or not to have my cell phone on, what to dress, what to do. So it’s tough for those young guys. I pray for them to make the right decisions. And the athleticism is there. You don’t have to worry about that. They can definitely play the game with the best of them. Just learning and learning how to fail, that’s all they need to work on.

(What do you think of Mike Stanton?)

Oh, he’s a beast. I’ve got to meet him in the tunnel. He’s a beast. He’s a beast. Like I said, just for him being so young and so talented, the sky is the limit. I’m hearing that he’s got more power than my boy Miguel [Cabrera], so I’ve got to see it in person. I’m mad it’s raining right now, because I wanted to see his BP. He’s a talented guy. They say he’s a great guy, a stand-up kid. It’s amazing with these kids coming up, 12 years old and 200 pounds. He’s 21 and he’s 240 pounds. But I said, ‘Good luck.’ And he gave me a hug and said, ‘Nice to see you back up,’ and he said, ‘We’re big fans.’ And that meant a lot to me, because I’m not that old.

(Stanton hit a ball on the concourse in right-center at Coors Field…)

Wow. Wow. I don’t even think I’ve walked up there. That’s some power. And if I give them up, I give them up big. We’ll see each other on the battlefield one day.

(Any change we’ll see you pinch-hit this series?)

Dusty is old school, I don’t think so. Dusty is old school. I don’t think so. But I’ve been running into some balls lately.

(What’s your average?)

I don’t look at that. I just hit the ball hard. Whether I hit the ball hard or not, that’s my tally. That’s my two categories, hit the ball hard or not. But I’m having fun getting back into it.

(You hit a home run recently…)

Did I?

(You can strike out a guy to end the game or you can hit a walk-off homer. Which would you prefer?)

Oh, man. I’m going to keep it [politically correct] and say strike out a guy, but you know where my heart lies. Like I said, man, I love it here. Great organization. They definitely gave me a calling shot what they wanted me to do, what they wanted me to accomplish. Dusty, you know, and the talent they have over here, it reminds me a lot of the Marlins. I fit right into the system. They just want me to go out and be me, play hard, and sometimes I play a little too hard for them, as far as sliding and stuff like that. I need to work on that. But it’s a great organization.

(Jack McKeon story from your rookie year?)

Oh, man. Trader Jack? Oh, man. I don’t know if I want to do this to Jack. I got to say hi to him first to see what’s going on.

(How about when he came out in San Diego and didn’t take the ball from you to get those outs when you got your first win?)

That’s pretty PC of you, to say it like that. That’s pretty PC. Like I said, I loved every minute of it. I definitely got a tongue-lashing from him more than once, but I was able to decipher the message. I knew that he cared about me. I was like the bad little brother in that locker room. I was always in trouble for something down there. Don’t let him try to spill the beans on me. He definitely kept me at arm’s length.

(Could you have won the World Series in 2003 if McKeon hadn’t taken over that club?)

I doubt it. I doubt it. Just because of the personality. I’m a firm believer that personality starts from the top to the bottom. Him not caring about anything kind of helped us not care about anything but going out there and playing baseball, and sometimes that’s important. He’s kind of the Phil Jackson of managing, just sit back and let those guys play, and if you teach them the right way, they’ll do the right job. And if not, you tip your hat and try to get them tomorrow. But he loved guys that worked hard, and we worked hard. He loved being honest, and we loved receiving it.

(He gave you tough love?)

Oh yeah, real tough love. Real, real tough love for me, but he was good. I was able to decipher the message and we all understood, and I enjoyed it.

(Part of the Giants last year, what was your status?)

Right after September, I was home. I knew [Brian] Sabean, he looked at me when I got drafted, so it was kind of like a father-son thing. He asked if I wanted to come, I was like, ‘No, I want to see my family and stuff like that.’ I didn’t help them. I didn’t think [at any point I was close to being back.] I said, ‘Good luck, you’ve got enough. You don’t need me messing it up.’ That’s one thing about me. I’m honest about my play. I’m honest about everything. ‘Good luck, I’ll see you in high-def.’ I’m from there. I was happy for them that they won. I popped a Bud Light, I think, and wished them good luck. ‘I’ll see you next year.’ There wasn’t no hard feelings. And he was happy for me, he sent me a text. It was mutual respect. I knew Sabean when I was in high school and stuff like that, so he gave me an opportunity, but by that time they all had their fleet ready to go out there and do battle. So it was all good.

(How often do you think about the 2003 season?)

Every time I walk around my kitchen, around my dining room. I have a trophy and a ring, and it’s a special feeling to be apart of a special group and a group that basically was [written] off when I got called up. To be apart of one of the greatest stories, let alone baseball stories, but sports stories of all time. And I’m not just saying it because I was on the team. But I remember in ’97 when the Marlins won, none of us in Oakland knew where the Marlins played. We didn’t know if it was Orlando or anything like that. To be able to be a part of that and be able to win, and then to see kids in Oakland wearing Marlins hats and people on the street wearing Marlins stuff, that’s a pretty cool frat or organization to be a part of. They say it’s a small market, but now they’re wearing Marlins hats wherever, and that’s a tough color to match — black and teal. To see them think it’s cool, for whatever reason, with the Mike Stantons and Josh Johnsons, that’s a cool frat to be a part of.

(Ever see a Willis Marlins shirt?)

All the time. Most definitely. All the time. I actually saw one yesterday. It looked a little faded. But I was fired up. Most definitely. I’m always proud. Even when I struggle, I’m always happy for the opportunity and stuff like that. Even when I came up, you know me. To be here, it all came full circle.

(You always said ‘it always could end tomorrow,’ but it hasn’t for you…)

Yeah, well the sun shines on everybody. With all due respect, you’ve got to keep believing. You’ve got to keep having fun. I’ll take myself home the second I stop having fun, believe me, with this humidity. I’ve got climate control, I’ll go home. But I enjoy playing, I enjoy being around the game. I enjoy the camaraderie. I enjoy the talent that I’m going up against.

(How much are you proving to yourself right now?)

Ya’ll just wrote me off. I didn’t write myself off. I’ve never felt like that. When I signed with the Reds, I was barbecuing with my kids, to be honest with you. It wasn’t like I was -- Let’s get this straight: Being a bad baseball player is different than being overseas fighting a war. It wasn’t that bad to be struggling making money. Let’s put this all in perspective here. Giving up a three-run home run sucks, but you live to fight another day. I’ve got friends over there, navy kids and stuff like that I grew up with, and that helped me put things in perspective. And I think that’s what motivated me during the game. You do the best you can and prepare yourself the best way you can and leave it on the field.

(Are you going to stay in the game when your career is over?)

I think I’m too nutty for everybody. I think I’m too nutty for a fungo [bat], because then I get to say what I want. But I hope so. I hope I stay in the game. I hope people think I have enough knowledge to be able to stay in the game. And I think I do. To be able to be on both sides of the fence and teach people the successes and failures of the game, who better than me? And I can do it with a smile. A smile like this?

(You can teach them how not to repeat their delivery…)

I can clean it up. I can tell them how not to do it.

(How similar is your delivery now to ’03?)

Everyone says I don’t get my leg up, but I think I get my leg up as high. I think my direction is pretty good. I have no torso, so I can get my leg up pretty high. Pretty similar Everything is just timing. Hitting, pitching, everything is timing and the consistency with the timing and stuff like that. Just simplifying it and believing in your stuff. And having the confidence to do it, that’s about it.

(Classic moment in ’03 when you all came to the top of the dugout and gave Rodger Clemens a standing ovation…)

He came back! I was a little salty -- no, it was a classic time, a classic moment. He was one of the greats in the game. I’ve been blessed to play with and against some of the best in the history and the game. So to be apart of that, there was no better feeling than to see Rodger Clemens, at that time, do the Brett Farve and give him a standing O. It was classic. I think it was soothing. And I think both teams handled it well.

(Still have a place here?)

No, I live in Scottsdale.

(What was the hardest ball you hit here?)
Off my leg. Off my leg, very often. That’s why I wear a shin guard now. Off the old leg.

(When’s the last time you were here?)

I can’t remember. You guys huddle up together and figure it out. Probably ’07, my last start.

(Did you see any of the Heat games here or in Phoenix?)

No, I didn’t get to see any Heat games. I have a cool man cave back in the house in Arizona, so I’m a homebody now. That’s where I catch up with the game, keep up with the Marlins and stuff like that. I’ve got a man cave, and I enjoy it. 

(What did you think of LeBron in the finals?)

You guys are going to get me beat up. I thought he played hard. This is your guys’ fault. When you have three studs on the team? I don’t know. I’m not Stephen A. Smith. Don’t quote me on it, I’m not a basketball insider, I’ve got enough problems trying to do this. With three guys like that, it’s hard. I thought they did a great job. I thought everyone did a great job. I thought the coach did a great job for the scrutiny under all the time. I thought they did a great job, and I think they’re going to go back next year as well. They’ll be alright.

(Any chance you'll pitch an inning tomorrow)

It's not part of my job title, sir. I have bosses just like you.

(Think of the tickets they would sell...)

Not many.

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A few quick notes:

- McKeon said Hanley Ramirez was scheduled to take live batting practice in Jupiter on Tuesday. McKeon said that if Ramirez can take a few days of pain-free BP, the manager would not need his star shortstop to play rehab games before returning. Ramirez is eligible to come off the 15-day DL whenever he is ready.

- The Marlins announced Thursday’s game has been canceled and rescheduled for Wednesday, when the Marlins and Reds will play a doubleheader, because of the impending inclement weather from Hurricane Irene. Game one is scheduled for 4:10 p.m., while the second game will start roughly 30 minutes after the first one ends. The Marlins will leave South Florida for Philadelphia late Wednesday to travel difficulties later in the week.

A Florida representative said tickets for Wednesday will be single-admission only; fans with tickets to Wednesday’s game will be able to watch both games, while those with Thursday tickets can exchange them for tickets to Wednesday’s doubleheader or any other remaining home game.

McKeon said Thursday’s schedule change won’t affect Florida until Monday, when the team has to play a doubleheader against New York, a makeup from August 3’s rainout.

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TONIGHT'S LINEUPS:

Marlins: 1. Emilio Bonifacio, ss; 2. Bryan Petersen, lf; 3. Mike Stanton, rf; 4. Greg Dobbs, 3b; 5. Omar Infane, 2b; 6. Gaby Sanchez, 1b; 7. Mike Cameron, cf; 8. John Buck, c; 9. Ricky Nolasco, p

Reds: 1. Brandon Phillips, 2b; 2. Dave Sappelt, cf; 3. Jay Bruce, rf; 4. Miguel Cairo, 3b; 5. Yonder Alonso, 1b; 6. Drew Stubbs, cf; 7. Ramon Hernandez, c; 8. Paul Janish, ss; 9. Johnny Cueto, p

-- Matt Forman

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