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02/07/2007 1:11 PM ET
Josh Willingham: At home with fish
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Josh Willingham made a big splash with the Marlins in 2006, making a name as a true slugger. (AP)
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Considering my studies in college focused on marine biology, it's probably appropriate that I play for the Marlins.

I was two-thirds of the way through my degree at North Alabama when I left, and I have just a couple of semesters to finish. I was interested in marine biology since fishing was always a hobby for me. The ocean just fascinates me. There are so many kinds of life down there and studying it just fascinated me.

I'm from Alabama and have always been an outdoors kind of guy. Fishing is my passion. I've never been a big hunter, but I love to go fishing. Growing up, math and science were my strong points in school. They were also my favorites. I don't know why, but they were.

Baseball was a big reason I chose to go to North Alabama. I got an athletic scholarship, and they also have a good academic program. The academic piece obviously played into my decision quite a bit, but the baseball program and the athletic scholarship were the primary reasons I went there.

I chose biology as my major as a freshman. Balancing the baseball and the biology was difficult. It's hard enough doing both, let along being in an intense science program. When I got into the upper-level courses, I couldn't take 15 or 18 hours. I had to take about 12 hours so that I could spend enough time on some of the more difficult courses.

At the same time the courses became more difficult, I was experiencing some success on the baseball field and getting some attention for my play. But it had always been instilled in me that grades came before sports, so I always made it a point to make good grades first.

In the end though, I had to take time out for my baseball career. The window of opportunity is short, so I had to take my chance when the opportunity presented itself.

Josh Willingham enjoyed a breakout season in 2006, hitting 26 home runs and driving in 74 runs over 142 games. His 26 homers tied All-Star teammate Miguel Cabrera for the team lead, and he did that in 74 fewer at-bats. One of his highlights came on Aug. 1 when he hit a two-run, pinch-hit, walk-off home run off Mets closer Billy Wagner.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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