Friday, December 21, 2007

Why I Already Like Dontrelle Willis

There's a lot to like about the newest member of the Detroit Tigers starting rotation Dontrelle Willis. He's young, energetic, personable, and he has s strong arm (and not a bad bat either, so watch out during interleague play). Yesterday the Tigers announced that have signed Willis to a three-year contract extension, keeping the young lefty in the Tigers organization through at least the 2010 season. Now all that Tigers President and General Manager Dave Dombrowski needs to do is lockup Willis' Marlins teammate Miguel Cabrera to a long-term deal and the Tigers will be set for well into the next decade. While some may scoff at giving $29 million to a pitcher who had an ERA over 5.00 in the National League in 2007, Willis is a much better pitcher than his numbers indicated, and without the pressure of being the steward on a sinking ship and with a solid offense and defense behind him, Willis should return to form. Will he have a sub-three ERA and win over 20 games as he did in 2003? Probably not, but for the deal to be a win for the Tigers he doesn't have to. Carlos Silva $12 million a year deal and Willis, at least to me, has a lot more upside than Silva.

But there's another reason why I like the deal, and it has nothing to do with on-the-field performance. As my colleague Danny Knobler wrote about yesterday, Willis was already in Detroit yesterday when the deal was agreed to. Why was the Florida-resident trudging around snowbound Detroit in the middle of December? To give Christmas presents to children in need.

Willis was going to be in Detroit today, anyway, because he had arranged to give out 450 Christmas gifts to children in need at the Methodist Children's Home Society. The Children's Home has always been a favorite charity for Willis, because when he was growing up in Oakland, he had a homeless friend who got help there. So as soon as Willis became a Tiger, he told his agent he wanted to help the Children's Home in Detroit.

Here's a guy who has been a member of the Detroit Tigers organization for all of thirty seconds and he's already becoming a community leader and already is giving back. We always hear the negative stories about athletes. Arrests. Drug use, both on and off the field. Holdouts. Sometimes we forget that there are a lot of athletes, like Willis, who give back to the community too. And Willis has not lived a perfect life (he was arrested for DUI in 2006), but it says a lot when somebody jumps with both feet into the local community. Something tells me Willis is going to become a huge fan favorite in Detroit, and we'll look back on this contract signing as the first step in what will be a long and prosperous relationship between Willis and not just the Tigers, but the city of Detroit and the greater metro-Detroit community.

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