Juan Pierre is godfather to both of Dontrelle Willis' daughters, little Adrianna Rose (3) and Bianca (1), giving the White Sox outfielder and the Detroit pitcher one more common bond in a couple of careers that have followed strangely (and intriguingly) similar arcs.
Best buddies from their early days in the Florida organization, both Pierre and Willis emerged as key figures in the Marlins' 2003 World Series championship run, had varying degrees of success afterward ... and then each man, for different reasons, hit the skids over the past two seasons before getting a renewed chance this year.
Like many of us at various times in our careers, their jobs turned sour and their strength of character was severely tested.
Except, well ... with Willis now in the final season of a three-year, $29 million deal and Pierre in the fourth season of a five-year, $44 million contract, maybe their challenges are a little different than those of most working stiffs.
"Come on, is it really that tough?" Willis asks of the challenges he and his buddy have faced over the past couple of years. "Really, in the grand scheme of things?"
Unlike a lot of guys, the affable Willis gets an 'A' for his perspective.
Yet, even that doesn't fully take away the sting when a guy can't -- or isn't -- performing.
Willis, who had been traded to Detroit, suddenly couldn't throw strikes for the Tigers in 2008.
Pierre could have sulked and demanded a trade when Manny took his playing time. And while he did have his moments of moodiness as a fourth outfielder in '08, he came to camp in '09 determined to make the best of the situation -- and this positive attitude aided in making Pierre hugely instrumental in sparking the Dodgers to first place in the NL West when Ramirez was suspended for 50 games for a dirty performance-enhancing drug test.
Willis was so bad for Detroit over the past couple of seasons that he landed on the disabled list twice in 2009 -- for something called "anxiety disorder."
Yet each man persevered and is hoping in 2010 to come out the other side. Willis opened the season in the Tigers' rotation. Pierre is in the White Sox outfield after Dodgers' general manager Ned Colletti, in a class move, kept his promise to try and find a spot for Pierre where his playing time would increase.
"We hit it off because we have the same personality," Willis says. "We get to the field early, we work, we expect a lot of ourselves.
"Sometimes things are a blessing in disguise. We handled [the tough times over the past two years] with class. And now there is a situation for both of us where we're both turning it around.
"I don't think Juan would be in that situation if he didn't stay focused. It's made me proud. It's a testament to what kind of man he is and what kind of teammate he was."
Pierre, playing left field, is off to a slow start in Chicago, hitting .222 with a .282 on-base percentage. He does have nine steals in 18 games.
Willis, 0-1 with a 5.00 ERA in four appearances (three starts), like Pierre, impressed teammates last year with his upbeat attitude despite tough personal times.
"We're not here to rock the boat," Willis says of he and his buddy Pierre. "We want to get along. Our work ethic speaks for itself. To give your best effort, that's all you can ask for whether you're a player, a writer, whatever."
Both within and outside of their own clubhouses, it's not difficult to find people rooting for both Willis and Pierre, so much so that yes, Willis says, he often feels the love.
"I appreciate it," Willis says. "I wasn't down when I was struggling. Everything was fine at home. Just because I was struggling doesn't mean everything was going bad. My family is good.
"It's one of those things where when you struggle, people think everything is wrong in your life. And it's not. I told Skip [manager Jim Leyland], 'Thanks for the opportunity.'
"I really like my teammates, this coaching staff, and the city of Detroit. I'm from Oakland, and Detroit is similar. I do feel a lot of people pulling for me, and I really appreciate it. And I think Juan is the same.
"We're really thankful."
Likes: Sure is going to be entertaining watching the near-future gyrations of the agents for Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Adrian Gonzalez after Ryan Howard signed his five-year, $125 million extension. ... This hilarious item in The Onion the other day: True Yankees, Regular Yankees to Now Wear Different Uniforms. Among the beauties in the story: "To have Javier Vazquez don the same pinstripes as Mariano Rivera or Jorge Posada is…well, it's unthinkable," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said as Curtis Granderson modeled the sterile, black-and-white uniform with a large, boxy, non-interlocking "NY" stitched across the front of the chest. ... Really enjoyed Adventureland, a film about a high school graduate having to forego dreams of a European trip before starting at an Ivy League school when his parents have a financial setback, leaving him to a summer job at a Pittsburgh-area amusement park in 1987. Lots of funny (and painful) stuff. James Brennan and Kristen Stewart are terrific. It's out on DVD now and definitely worth catching.
Dislikes: The one television show my wife loves that will drive me out of the room every time: Glee.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"Me and some guys from school
"Had a band and we tried real hard
"Jimmy quit and Jody got married
"I shoulda known we'd never get far
"Oh when I look back now
"That summer seemed to last forever
"And if I had the choice
"Yeah, I'd always wanna be there
"Those were the best days of my life"
-- Bryan Adams, Summer of '69