07/11/05 7:47 PM EST
Willis just happy to be here
Lefty fine with not getting starting nod for All-Star Game
By Mark Feinsand / MLB.com
This marks Willis' return to the Midsummer Classic after making the 2003 squad, and he is joined by three of his teammates: catcher Paul Lo Duca, outfielder Miguel Cabrera and second baseman Luis Castillo.
Willis has been one of the most dominant starters in the National League this season, going 13-4 with a 2.39 ERA. He was passed over by NL manager Tony La Russa in favor of Cardinals right-hander Chris Carpenter, but Willis said he had no hard feelings.
"I'm in the All-Star Game, man; the Midsummer Classic. That's a beautiful thing," Willis said. "To be able to represent your family, your organization, yourself, your teammates in a big game, that's good to be a part of it."
Willis was one of eight players that appeared at the press conference on Monday to announce the countries that would participate in the World Baseball Classic. Willis confirmed that he would participate in the event -- assuming he was asked to play for Team USA.
Willis was chosen to the 2003 team, becoming the youngest pitcher to make an All-Star team since Doc Gooden in 1985. Willis didn't get to pitch in that game, but it didn't impact his experience in Chicago.
"I was ecstatic just to be there," Willis said. "Everybody wants to play in the All-Star Game, but it doesn't always work out. I'm enjoying myself, taking it in, and if I get to pitch, that would be great."
La Russa said that Willis would indeed pitch, likely somewhere in the middle of the game so the manager can pair him with Lo Duca, his regular catcher.
"He's the guy that got me here," Willis said. "He's knowledgeable about me, but [Mike] Piazza does a great job, too. Whoever is out there, I'll try to be on the same page with him."
"That would be fun. That's why you come here, to play with your teammates, so to catch Dontrelle would be great," Lo Duca said. "Dontrelle has such a love for the game, it's like he's playing in his backyard every day. He's going to get better, which is the scary part."
Willis' season has caught the eye of some of the American League's All-Stars, including starting third baseman Alex Rodriguez and designated hitter David Ortiz.
"I've only seen him on TV, but he looks like he has electric stuff," A-Rod said. "He seems to be having a lot of fun out there when he pitches."
"That's my man," Ortiz said. "I love the D-Train."
Willis was pleased to hear such compliments, but he isn't going to let those words go to his head.
"There are some big names here," Willis said. "I'm 23 years old, and I'm very fortunate to be able to go to my second All-Star Game. To be selected by your peers, that's an awesome feeling."
Lo Duca is making his third consecutive All-Star appearance, his first in a Florida uniform. Lo Duca, who is hitting .286 with two homers and 34 RBIs, made the NL squad in 2003 and '04, representing the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"You always enjoy this. The only difference is that now I know where to go," Lo Duca said. "I tried to take everything in the first time, and it was exhausting. I'm going to lay back a little, play the game and try to enjoy the break."
Cabrera, just 22 years old, is hitting .333 with 17 homers and 62 RBIs, numbers good enough to earn him his second straight All-Star berth.
"He's an unbelievable talent," Lo Duca said. "I've never seen a kid at that young of an age with that much plate discipline. The only thing that could happen to him would be to get in his own way, but it won't. He's destined to be a superstar for a long time."
"It's a lot of fun," Cabrera said of his All-Star experience. "I see a lot of star players here, and to have some of my teammates here with me is great."
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.