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OPEN MIC: Dontrelle Willis

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Up until about a month ago, the Florida ' was being considered a runaway winner for the National League Rookie of the Year Award. But with a strong rookie class in the NL that includes Arizona's , Milwaukee's and the ' and , a string of post-All Star Break shaky outings added some doubt to those lofty plans. No matter. Baseball's freshest, most eccentric new face is still the golden arm that the are counting on to lead them past a packed wild-card race and into the promised land of the playoffs. FOXSports.com caught up with Willis, he of the wildest pitching motion since Vida Blue, to get his thoughts on his rookie season, the ' hunt for October and more: As a rookie, what's it like for you to be right at the head of a club fighting for a postseason berth in September? It's awesome. It's good for us to be in it. Nobody was thinking we were going to be in a pennant race being 10, 12 games back (of the Atlanta ). Now, we're all thinking about going to the playoffs. The main thing is keeping everybody healthy through September. You pitched a great game over the weekend down in Puerto Rico against the , where it was over 150 degrees on the artificial turf. How did you deal with that? I dealt with it, I had to. You just try to stay as cool as you can. The other team has to deal with it too. You've just got to stay in there and try to win the ballgame. The night before, I drank a lot of water. There's only so much you can do to prepare for that. (But) there's only so many games you're going to play where the field temperature is 150 degrees, so you just have to go out there and suck it up. Have you ever been in any kind of situation like that before? I've been in places where it's warm, but never where you're playing on warm turf. But you weren't really thinking about it until (the game) was done. There was a report in one of the newspapers recently that basically said with all of the increased attention and hype you've received, it had tired you out a little bit. Do you feel that way? No, that's baseball, you know what I mean? (I just went through) one of those things where you can throw the ball the way you have been, but things just don't bounce your way. I told the media, regardless of how I do, I'm always going to keep my head up and keep going out there to do the best I can for this ballclub. My last couple of outings I've just been going up there throwing strikes and being aggressive. You know, no one brings up the things off of the field now. Everything's back to normal now. That's the way it is when you're going bad, everyone tries to come up with reasons for it. Sometimes it's just because that's the way baseball is. Do you feel like there was a point where you might have hit a wall during the season? I can't really tell you. This is my first time in this. I'm learning as I go. There's a lot of things you don't have control over in baseball. The only thing you do have control over is going out there and executing your pitch. Someone can hit a line drive at people 30 times, and then you've got yourself a shutout, and everyone's like, "You pitched a great game." You've just got to go out there, and no matter what the score, just try to have fun. There's a lot of hype among the fan base in South Florida ¿ the fans are really getting caught up in you. The have even introduced a new ticket package, the D-Train, with seats to all of your starts. How do you handle that? I don't really think anything of that, that's the front office. That's the reason that they're in the front office; they know how to handle that stuff. Whatever we can do to help fans come out to see us play, I think that's good for South Florida. They deserve it. They're good fans and hopefully they'll come behind us in this last little stretch run, because I think the fans are a key part of it. Can you feel a difference in the excitement level at Pro Player Stadium between now and when you got called up? I feel excited in any stadium. It's like I said before, it's good for baseball with things being so tight in all of the standings. I mean look at the NL Central, that's unimaginable to me what it'd be like to be in that (race). Back then, I just wanted to make the best of this situation, to see where I stacked up. If I didn't do well at the time, I could see where I needed to improve to get back to that situation. It was all a plus for me. I just wanted to get out there and show them I could compete at that level. It's hard to believe, but five months ago, you were pitching in Zebulon, North Carolina. Three years ago, you were in high school. Do you ever just stop for a second and say, 'Whoa, how did I get here?' All the time. It's funny: a couple of people were going to come and visit me in Zebulon, and we had to go ahead and cancel the tickets because I got called up. I think about that now, and I'm like, 'Was that this year?' It's like two different seasons. But it's all a blessing, I can't emphasize that enough, to be in this situation and to do something positive. What's it like in Zebulon? It's nice, it's quiet. It's a different scene than Miami (laughs). But it's all baseball to me. Are you getting around Miami quite a bit — the night life, that kind of thing? No, I'm staying in. That's for the offseason. This is go time now. All I'm thinking about is going out there and getting these tough hitters out. Bryan Hoch is a contributing writer to FOXSports.com. He can be contacted at bryanhoch@yahoo.com.
Tagged: Brewers, Mets, Marlins, Diamondbacks, Scott Podsednik, Jose Reyes, Brandon Webb, Dontrelle Willis

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