SARASOTA, Fla. - When I heard that the Orioles signed pitcher Dontrelle Willis to a minor league contract, my first thought was "Florida Marlins."
Actually, my first thought was, "Really?" But then I linked Willis to the Marlins, his first major league team.
I joined the pack of reporters at Willis' locker this morning - and I'm proud to say that I was the first one to notice him, just as I was walking toward an Orioles' public relations official with a request to find Willis and make him available. Once the interview was done, I searched the room for a former Marlin who might have been a teammate.
Hello, Robert Andino.
Andino reached the majors in 2005, two years after Willis. He arrived in Orioles' camp this year well ahead of Willis, who agreed to terms on a minor league contract last night.
"I just found out yesterday from Juan Pierre that he had gotten released from the Phillies, so to see him in this clubhouse today, I was kind of surprised," Andino said. "I haven't been around him since, I want to say '07. He's a great guy in the clubhouse, a good veteran. He knows how to have fun, how to be a leader. Me being a position player and him being a pitcher, he's one of the few that I look up to - just being a leader and being a veteran. I think it's great.
"He always took care of me and showed me the ropes when I was with the Marlins, so I think he's a good vet to have around. He's been around, he's been with different organizations, so he knows the ropes and I think for the young guys we have, he's a good guy to pick his brain and ask questions and see how you go about your business."
Willis is a career .244 hitter in the majors, which is beyond impressive for a pitcher. He was 12-for-31 with three doubles, a triple and a home run for the Reds last season. That's insane.
Andino reminded me that he used to bat ninth for the Marlins when Willis was pitching. That's because Willis batted eighth.
Andino was on deck when Willis hit two home runs against the Mets on Sept. 20, 2006.
He's completely on board with having Willis in the Orioles' organization.