Cubs fans wave goodbye to Wilson Contreras at Wrigley Field. Will it ever make sense?

Almost free, Willie.

Stop wondering if the kids love him or not. Free to move on with his baseball life. Free to win again.

And what could it be?

“I’m very happy to help another team get to the World Series,” Willson Contreras said after Tuesday’s 4-2 win over the Pirates in what he had every reason to assume would be the Cubs. was their last home game.

happy Sure, even if the thought of making a trade before baseball’s Aug. 2 deadline makes him deeply depressed — which it certainly does — and even if it’s hard to say goodbye to Wrigley Field, In which he spent the entire amount. – Making a short two-game homestand.

There is life after Wrigley, as one player after another from the 2016 World Series team has experienced, and it can be pretty good. For the 30-year-old Contreras, easily one of the top hitters on the trade market, a talented and respected backstop, is in his prime and has a chance to command a nine-figure deal soon. Become a free agent, it can be awesome.

Rebuilding kids don’t want it? Only in a fantasy world where up is down, good is bad and rich is poor, does this even begin to make sense.

“I’m leaving with my head held high, because I did everything I could to make this team better,” he said.

It goes back to his impossibly high arrival on the scene in 2016 and even earlier. Contreras was 17 — a boy — when the Cubs signed him in 2009. As of 2015, he was their Minor League Player of the Year, batting .333 with an on-base percentage of .413. And though he was an afterthought in 2015, when Kris Bryant won Rookie of the Year, Babe Ruth showed off the form of Kyle Schwarber and other young Cubs were hitting it, Contreras was already on his way to becoming a star in his own right. was

Anyone who didn’t already know it certainly felt it on June 19, 2016, when Contreras pinch-hit for Kyle Hendricks and — on the first pitch of his first major league at-bat — crushed a changeup from the Pirates’ AJ Schugel. 415 feet to center field. The Wrigley crowd, which was on its feet and cheering the Venezuelan newcomer before he stepped into the box, went completely bonkers as the ball soared over Ivy. Javy Baez, waiting for Contreras at home, jumped up and down excitedly. Joe Madden, standing on the top step of the dugout, beamed. And then – does it get better? – A curtain call from the crowd. What a moment. What a way to make a first impression.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Contreras said then. “I don’t have words to describe how happy I am to be here.”

Six years later, his love for the Cubs, and for Wrigley, and his passion for the game has never been in doubt. And neither did the fans, who gave him a standing ovation before his first at-bat on Tuesday. Contreras stepped back from the box and doffed his helmet before blasting Bryce Wilson’s first-pitch single up the middle. He later scored on a double by Ian Happ, another Cub that could be out any day now.

“It was amazing,” he said. “I tried to enjoy it as much as possible.”

It started here against the Pirates for Contreras and ended here against the Pirates, maybe not as poetic as a home run in his last Wrigley at-bat in blue pinstripes, but, hey, rare. There is only one thing that is perfect. After the final out, teammates walked Contreras to the end of the handshake line and gave him extra room for an extra-long hug. Jason Heyward made it worth a thousand words. David Ross picked him up off the ground as if to say, “You think you’re a better catcher than me? You’re right, my friend.” Back in the dugout, Contreras hugged Happ once and for all before dissolving into tears and walking down the clubhouse steps.

“They showed me how much they loved me,” he said.

There was a lot to love, including a pinch-hit single in the ninth inning to score Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist and tie the Giants in Game 4 of the 2016 NLDS. Contreras pumped his chest and yelled, “Let’s go!” in the visitors’ dugout in hysterics, and grew so high that first-base coach Brandon Hyde had to rub his shoulder so he could breathe.

Contreras caught the biggest pitch at Wrigley in generations, since Aroldis Chapman hit the pennant against the Dodgers that October. And he started behind the plate — as Hendricks’ wingman — in two of the biggest Cub games in modern history, Game 6 against the Dodgers and Game 7 of the World Series in Cleveland. All he’s done since that magical postseason is become a better player across the board.

Contreras didn’t strap on catcher’s gear for his final home game at Wrigley. Instead, he was designated a hitter, better reserved for all contenders in contention.

He is almost free.

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