Dontrelle Willis takes the mound on a Major League field tonight for the first time in over a year. he gets the start for Detroit against Minnesota at the Metrodome.
His bought with anxiety disorder was well publicized and it has had him in the Minors for the last 13 months as part of the self-described “traveling circus.”.
I never had a situation where a pitcher that I worked with couldn’t throw the ball over the plate. But if you look at baseball history, this problem started back in 1973. Not with Willis of course, but with a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates named Steve Blass. Blass had just won his 100th Major League and helped the Pirates to the 1972 World Series title. But in 1973, he just forgot how to pitch. he couldn’t find the plate for trying. Two years later, his career was over.
Most recently, St. Louis’ Rick Ankiel blossomed onto the scene as a promising young left-handed pitcher when he ran into the same issue. Couldn’t find the plate. In some situations, the backstop was easier to hit than the catcher’s mitt. Luckily, Ankiel had a fallback. He was also an exceptional hitter and outfielder. So after a couple of seasons, Ankiel returned as an outfielder for the Cardinals and is now one of cornerstones for that franchise.
There have been other cases, both in baseball and in other sports, like golf. David Duval looked like he was going to be the challenger to Tiger Woods’ throne several years ago until he “hit the wall”. After some time in Japan, Duval has returned to the PGA Tour. He hasn’t gotten back to the same level on a full-time basis, but just getting back to the States might be two-thirds of the battle.
So fans in Minneapolis should enjoy tonight’s game for what it is… a chance to see their hometown team win, but also a chance for a player to get back that edge… the edge that made him a very good National League pitcher several years ago.