BY BOB BRAMBLET
To say Willie Eyre is a regular guy is an understatement. The former Major League Baseball reliever is humble, and when recognized, always signs autographs and talks to fans. Originally from Fountain Valley, California, Eyre was 27 years old when he broke into the big leagues on April 6, 2006, with the Minnesota Twins. His major league career has brought him all over the U.S., but he ended up in Southwest Florida. I met Willie while taking some friends kayak fishing and he has been a paddling fan ever since. He retired from the Texas Rangers in 2012. He and I were fishing the Imperial River in Bonita Springs while he granted me this rare interview.
KAYAKFISHMAG.COM: Willie, your Mom named you Willie Mays, presumably after the great baseball player. I am guessing she is a baseball fan.
Willie Eyre: She is, she’s a huge fan. We are from Southern California so we were Dodger blue all the way. Ironically she named me after a Giant! They named me William, and Mays was the only baseball name they could think of at the time. It was fun growing up and explaining that to my friends who were Dodger fans. My oldest brother actually met Willie Mays when he played for the Giants. He told him the story, it was pretty cool.
Speaking of your brothers, you have two brothers who pitch for major league teams as well.
Yes, I have an older brother Scott, and I have a half-brother Robert who pitches for the Giants in the minor league system.
Now, you have played for several teams, even our hometown (spring training) team.
Yeah, I came up with the Twins for about seven years, then I went to Texas for about four years. Then I went to Oakland for two years and Baltimore for a year and a half. I finished up with Texas.
That’s very cool, I think when we met, you were still with the Orioles just before going to the Rangers.
That’s right. I was just headed there.
After all the years you played baseball, who would you say is the most interesting person you have pitched against?
Wow, I guess, well, you sometimes get guys who are really deceiving, the little guys, like Dustin Pedroia. He’s a little guy when you see him, he’s probably not even 5-foot-10, but he gets up there and he’s a force to be reckoned with. So, those kinda guys are really deceiving. You think I can just throw a couple balls right by this guy but he can hit it over the fence any time he wants. Those are the guys who sneak up and get you.
When you traveled a lot and visited different areas, were you able to fish anywhere interesting?
No, I didn’t really get out as much as I would have liked. When we were up in Sacramento we went up to the lake and did a little fishing on our off days. That was kinda cool, we had a pontoon boat and that was fun. Usually you travel somewhere and maybe in April it’s still kinda cold so we never were able to do a lot of fishing on the road. My brother talks a lot about fishing out in the bay when he is in San Francisco, he has a good time out there.
The first time we met, we were fishing in Estero Bay in kayaks and you really liked it. You still like fishing from a kayak.
Yeah, I really need to pick one up.
Well, (laughing) I would suggest a Hobie, but a lot of guys would tell you something else. In fact, we can go right over to Estero River Outfitters after this!
(laughing) Oh, I’m sure!
Haha! Really though, you could fish out of any watercraft you want to, why do you prefer kayak fishing?
I think what I like the most is the solitary feel of it. Just being alone with the water and your thoughts. Like today, you were right there, just 50 yards away, but it felt like I was the only one on the water. I can just sit there and talk to myself … cause I do that! It’s just quiet and peaceful, you can’t get that on a boat. I like quiet and reflection and I get that on a kayak.
That’s very true. What’s the biggest fish you have ever caught, on or off a kayak?
Ahhh, well I have caught some nice snook, upper slot off Sanibel. Probably the fish I am most proud of is a 10-pound bass in Okeechobee. That was a few years back. That was one of those once in a lifetime fish that I was really happy about.
Nice, I am going to take you in the next couple of weeks to a special area in the Glades for peacock bass.
I have been wanting to catch a peacock bass!
That’s coming up soon! So, what are you up to now?
Well, I have been retired since the 2012 season. Last year I coached at Estero High School. I am also working on furthering my education.
I have had three kids graduate from Estero!
Nice! I am working toward a degree in education and right know I am at the Canterbury School in Athletics Administration and as a pitching coach at the school.
Wow, the kids must get pretty excited at having a pro baseball player as a coach.
I think the initial thought is the pro players sometimes get placed on a pedestal, but we tie our shoes the same and put our pants on the same and they find out we are just the same as everyone else.
Wait a minute! (laughing) That’s kind of a let down, I always thought you guys hovered and the pants sort of rose up to you!
Haha! No, most of us are just normal guys. They ask a lot of questions about baseball like, ‘Did you ever pitch to this guy?’ or ‘Did you ever strike this guy out?’ but after a couple of weeks they see I am just another of their coaches.
Was there ever a moment on the mound that made you nervous?
I probably shouldn’t say this, no one wants to admit when they are nervous or in awe, but it was my third outing in the majors and we were playing the Yankees. We were in the Metrodome and the first batter was Gary Sheffield. He hit a line drive for a base hit, and then Alex Rodriquez almost hit a home run! They were on second and third base, and I remember looking over thinking, ‘Wow, that’s Gary Sheffield over there. And Alex Rodriguez on second!‘ I was nervous but ended up getting out of the inning without giving up a run. I was very proud of myself. It was a kind of wakeup call. These guys I used to watch play and now I am pitching to them. It was really cool.
What was your favorite team to pitch for?
Oh man, I loved playing for Texas. The front office there was outstanding. But I also loved pitching for Buck Showalter in Baltimore. You knew where you stood with him at all times. You knew what your role was without him even telling you. I think that year in Baltimore was probably my best year by the numbers than any other year I played in the big leagues. I think it was because you always knew what to expect and when you were playing. If you were up to play certain innings and time was up, you were done and you could unwind a little. There were no secrets.
Hey, that’s the name of my blog! Haha! Did the teams you played for regularly check your pitching speed by radar?
Yes, and they have radar at every stadium as well. My fastest pitch was 97 mph while my average was 92-93 mph.
Wow, you could put a hole through someone at that speed!
Haha! Yeah, it’s all about location though, because 97 mph can go a long way if it’s hit!
That’s right! Last question, what is the most interesting thing about Willie Eyre that everyone should know?
I guess it would be that as loud and outgoing as I am in public and around friends and all, I really prefer to be alone. I am a homebody and I could just sit at home all day and watch TV. It may not seem very interesting to most people, but if you know me, like you do, I am pretty outgoing. I am loud and I talk a lot, really a free spirit. But, I love being alone. My wife can ask if I want to go somewhere and I answer “No, but you can go and take the kids with you! (laughing) and I will sit there and read or hang out by myself.
— Read more of Bob Bramblet’s On the Hook interview series with celebrities who kayak fish, or try it for the first time, catching up with kayak fish broadcast personalities, Glen Pla and Cefus McRae.