MIAMI -- Reds left-handed pitcher Dontrelle Willis returned to South Florida as a visiting player for the time since he pitched for the Marlins from 2003-07. Dozens of reporters and photographers watched him throw a side bullpen session on Tuesday and gathered around him for an informal press conference in the Reds dugout afterward.
"It feels weird coming to the third base side," Willis said. "I was proud to be part of a great organization. They welcomed me back with open arms all the way from the guard gate at security. I have a lot of great memories here."
In a sign of his popularity, the Marlins gave Willis the task of tearing down the No. 15 on the left field wall between the fifth and sixth innings to signify that there are only 14 Marlins games left at Sun Life Stadium. The team is scheduled to open in a new ballpark in 2012.
Willis is still the Marlins' all-time leader in victories (68) and came to town tied for the franchise record in strikeouts with Marlins Tuesday starter Ricky Nolasco. While in Florida, he was the 2003 National League Rookie of the Year and a two-time All-Star before hitting hard times and moving through four organizations. The Reds signed him to a Minor League deal over the winter and promoted him in July.
Because he pitched on Saturday at Pittsburgh, there was no chance that Willis would face his old team. He would have liked the chance.
"Most definitely, but I'd probably be too amped up and they'd probably kick my butt all over the field anyway," Willis said. "So that would [be] an unhappy homecoming."