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Miami Marlins Welcomes Dontrelle Willis to His 'Second Home'

As the first 8,000 fans to arrive at loanDepot park on Sunday, June 9, were given a Dontrelle Willis bobblehead, Willis also received something special at the ballpark that day. His return to the city and franchise where his career began brought back a rush of emotions and memories.

“Being a Marlin means everything to me,” said Willis. “The city of Miami embraced me. This is my second home.”

A fan favorite throughout his Marlins tenure, which included being named National League Rookie of the Year and winning the World Series in 2003, Willis received a warm welcome back from Sunday’s crowd.

“The excitement and appreciation from the fans mean the world to me,” said Willis, who gladly granted as many autograph and photo requests from fans as he possibly could.

Coinciding with his bobblehead giveaway, Willis was there to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. And despite having far more experience than the average person, he faced a dilemma that almost anyone who has thrown a first pitch can relate to.

Should he throw it from the pitcher’s mound or stand in front of it? Ultimately, Willis decided to stand in front of it, but not for the same reason as most people who take that route.

“I’ve never thrown a pitch [at loanDepot park], so I was kind of nervous to touch the mound,” said Willis. “I didn’t want to mess with the starter’s mound, but I love the stadium and love the vibes.”

Catching his pitch was Marlins pitcher Jesús Luzardo, who watched and rooted for Willis as a kid.

“Growing up down here, I was a big fan of his and got to watch his 2003 season, him win a World Series, and his career start,” said Luzardo.

The two southpaws then sparked a relationship after Willis reached out when Luzardo was a member of the Oakland Athletics.

“He was nice enough to talk to me and give me some advice,” said Luzardo. “Ever since then, we’ve just gone back and forth.”

While they have maintained the friendship through texting, Sunday marked a rare opportunity for them to interact in person.

“It’s a blessing,” said Luzardo. “Not everyone gets a chance to talk to someone they looked up to when they were young, so it’s something I like to take advantage of. I talk to him as much as possible and get his opinion as much as possible.”

The impact Willis was able to have on a young Luzardo and countless Marlins fans is something that he selflessly attributes to those around him.

“For a young whippersnapper from Oakland, California to come here and be so green, a lot of people, from my teammates to so many different people in the organization, they put their arms around me and taught me the ropes,” said Willis. “I’m super proud, and I think they know deep down that they all played a part in my success in Miami.”

While he no longer resides in Miami and is not an official member of the organization, both still and will forever hold a special place in his heart.

By ML Staff. Content/Image courtesy of Miami Marlins/Getty Images


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