Tears began to fill Willson Contreras’ bloodshot eyes.
For months, the Chicago Cubs All-Star catcher had kept thoughts of his future at bay. Free agency, the trade deadline, all the uncertainties after 13 years with the only major league organization he’s ever known, those were things to worry about later.
He got kept from spring training that he was focused on the present and taking things day by day, refusing to let his contract situation affect his performance or become a locker room distraction. Nothing seemed to faze Contreras until Monday night.
Loud cheers and a chant of “Willson!” Along the left field line he greeted Contreras as he entered the batter’s box for his final at-bat in the eighth inning of the Cubs’ 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. His night ended with securing the strikeout for reliever Scott Effross’s first save. For a moment, as Contreras congratulated Effross near the mound and they walked through the post-victory handshake line, it felt like a typical victory. “Go Cubs Go” blared to 37,342 fans celebrating the Cubs’ season-high fifth straight win.
But with a day game Tuesday before the team embarks on a seven-game road trip that takes them through the Aug. 2 trade deadline, Monday night likely represented Contreras’ last start behind the plate. at Wrigley Field as a Cub.
“It’s been a tough couple of days for me,” Contreras said afterward. “I’m trying to appreciate everything that is Wrigley Field, thinking about all the memories I have here since 2016… This is probably my last home stay with the fans this year. It’s difficult to me.
“I knew it would affect me at some point. I wish this day never came. But it is a business. I know that. I respect that.”
Contreras paused as he began to choke.
“And I love my team,” he continued. “I love my teammates more and I don’t want to get too attached because you never know what’s going to happen next week or even this week in San Francisco. It’s been a very, very tough couple of days for me.”
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Hours earlier, outfielder Ian Happ addressed his own unknowns and his future with the organizationperhaps it will soon join the notable departures from the list in the last three years.
“It’s crazy to think that you could wake up one day and not be here,” Happ said. “It’s part of the game. It’s part of what we signed up to do.”
The way Contreras lets his emotions show through his game is part of what makes him great. Manager David Ross has witnessed Contreras evolve from his debut in 2016 to the bigger role he took on this year.
“He is a special player. He is a special man and he has done special things here,” Ross said. “And seeing him continue to improve, not only as a player but also as a teammate and as a leader, those qualities have come to light.”
Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo memorably did not play in the Cubs’ last home game before the trade deadline last year. Rizzo was traded when the team left for the airport that day. Bryant had his helmet on and was preparing to pinch hit when he finished the game, a final loss at Wrigley.
Ross on Monday was amused by the idea of a conspiracy to keep the duo out of the lineup a day before the deadline, instead noting that it was “super organic” because one asked for the day off while the other had a day off. free.
Contreras’ long-awaited final chapter at Wrigley with the Cubs should land him in the lineup Tuesday as designated hitter. Expect another emotional day for one of the franchise’s most decorated wide receivers.