Dontrelle Willis broke onto the baseball scene with the Florida Marlins during the championship season of 2003. Before being traded to the Detroit Tigers after the 2007 season, he captured the hearts of both young and old baseball enthusiasts in south Florida. With his signature high leg-kick and fun-loving demeanor, D-Train was a joy to watch for Marlins supporters and he quickly became a fan-favorite on and off of the field.
Willis owns 6 franchise records for the Marlins, including most wins in a season when he went 22-10 with a 2.63 ERA in 2005. The 2003 NL Rookie of the Year finished second in the NL Cy Young voting that year, narrowly losing out to Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter. Unfortunately, Dontrelle Willis never managed to produce such numbers after the trade. After battling numerous injuries over the past few years that have hampered his playing ability, he has called time on his career at just 33 years of age.
Team president David Samson has given little away about the 2015 Opening Day festivities at Marlins Park, as Joe Frisaro of mlb.com reports:
"There will be a very, very original first pitch -- probably the most original first pitch I've ever seen,"
What Samson said could mean absolutely anything, but what if it means that Dontrelle Willis is throwing the first pitch? Everything would come around full-circle, like a great novel. The Fish gave Willis the opportunity to pitch in 2003, and they should give him the opportunity again in 2015. It should be made official as a one-day contract so that he throws his last professional pitch as a Marlin, and retires as a Marlin too. It is the least that the franchise could do after the performances he delivered to the people of south Florida.
Witnessing the great Muhammad Ali throw the ceremonial first pitch at the inaugural game at Marlins Park in 2012 was a mix of emotions. This is not the type of person needed in 2015. Dontrelle Willis would be a much more valued and appropriate person to have the honors of starting the 2015 season. He would receive the standing ovation he deserves from the crowd, which is how he should leave the game of baseball. I still wear a D-Train Marlins t-shirt (albeit to bed as it is a little on the small side) and I feel privileged to have seen him pitch for the Fish as a kid. This move by the franchise would mean a lot to the Marlins' fan base.
2015 should be a season of great positives for the Miami Marlins. The team is relevant again and should be a serious contender for a postseason spot. Why not start off the season with a positive story: the return of a Marlins legend? A returning member of the Marlins' last championship will remind the city of what the team has achieved in the past, and what it aims to achieve in the very near future. Not a single person in the 37,000-strong crowd wouldn't want to see that leg-kick one more time. It would just feel right to see the D-Train on the hill in Marlins Park (in classic Marlins pinstripes with the socks rolled up, of course). It would be the perfect ending to his career.