That seems like a long time ago. There aren't too many people left in the organization.
"I was just telling a story about [Carlos] Marmol being my catcher in rookie ball," Willis said of the Cubs' current closer. "I'm so happy for him and how he's progressed and learned how to pitch. I actually got a chance to face him and that wasn't fun at all."
Marmol could always throw. He was converted from catcher to pitcher because he struggled at the plate. Did Marmol remember catching Willis?
"He was crazy," Marmol said of their days together in the Rookie-level Arizona League.
Willis was selected in the eighth round in 2000, but the Cubs dealt him to the Marlins in March 2002 in a six-player deal in which Chicago got Antonio Alfonseca. Willis, now 31, also has played for the Tigers, D-backs and Reds. He last pitched in the big leagues in 2011.
"I'm just taking it one day at a time, and I know that sounds so cliche and a lot of people say that, but I really count my blessings, one day at a time," Willis said. "It's about the opportunity. Whenever you get an opportunity, you have to make the best of it. This team is going to be good. I expect a lot, and I expect a lot out of myself."
He'd go to the Minors if needed.
"I'm not too proud," he said. "I'd go down there and work my butt off."
He'd prefer to start but right now, he'll do whatever the Cubs ask.
"You do everything you can," he said. "It's no different routine as far as starting and relieving. You definitely have to get your arm in shape and probably a little more because you don't know when you're going to get in a game. That, for me, is the one thing I have to adjust to because I'm such a creature of habit. As funky as I am throwing, I actually have stuff that I have a foundation with. Guys are helping me out a lot."