By Connor Buestad
As Yogi Berra once said, “Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical.” He couldn’t have said it any better.
It is no secret within the baseball community that confidence and piece of mind are two essentials when it comes to achieving consistent success on the playing field. “Head Cases” as they call them, are frowned upon, and it is not uncommon to see established Major League players swallowed up by the everyday pressures of the game of baseball. We all remember the mystery of Yankee second basemen Chuck Knoblauch’s sudden inability to throw the ball to first base, as do we recall the recent downfall of then pitcher Rick Ankiel of the St. Louis Cardinals.
However, in the case of Alameda native Dontrelle Willis, it seemed as though the mental side of the game would never come close to getting in the way of such a positive, fun loving kid. Sure, Willis’ unorthodox windup and aggressive style of play put him at risk to injury, but one thing Dontrelle had was confidence.
He burst onto to the scene in 2003. He made his MLB debut, won the rookie of the year, and won the World Series all during his first season as a pro. Pitching as a rookie in the Bronx under the bright lights of national television would make most mortals crumble under the pressure, but not Dontrelle.
Instead, he rose to every occasion and succeeded, with a smile on his face no less. Nothing seemed to faze him. In 2005, Willis’ eclipsed the Holy Grail for big league pitchers, 20 victories in a season. He did it with such ease, such unabashed joy.
Having earned a lucrative free agent contract, Willis’ had virtually no choice but to follow the money and move his talents to Motown. Unfortunately, his stunning resume of success did not follow him, for whatever the reason may be. Possibly, it could have been a lingering knee problem, or perhaps an overbearing drive to live up to his hefty new contract. Whatever the case may be, the D-Train has struggled mightily since his departure from Florida.
The worst news came just before the start of this 2009 season, when it was announced Willis would begin the year on the disabled list with an anxiety disorder. In interviews, the joyful lefty has downplayed the issue, but you can’t help but feel for the guy.
Tuesday night versus the AL West leading Texas Rangers, Dontrelle looked much like his old self. He threw into the seventh inning, giving up just one hit, in route to a 4-0 win. I couldn’t reach him for comment following the game, but you can see the relief in the box score nonetheless. Here’s to a continued recovery for Alameda’s smiling sun.