Players come and go at Wrigley Field, and a lucky few get the sendoff they deserve.
Such was the case for Wilson Contreras on Tuesday. Last home game for the Chicago Cubs catcher before the August 2 trade deadline.
While the Cubs haven’t exactly said their most popular player will be traded, everyone in the crowd of 30,978 assumed it would be the end.
Contreras received a standing ovation before batting in his first inning, pausing for a moment to wave with his helmet, then blasting a single into center on the first pitch. He got another standing O before his final at-bat in the seventh, and pumped his fist before striking out to end the inning.
After the Cubs beat the Pirates for the sixth consecutive time, 4-2, Contreras was the last player to leave the field, sharing a bear hug with longtime teammates Kyle Hendricks, Jason Heyward and Ian Happ, while manager David Ross hugged him. Raised up. Earth like a beer keg.
After one last look, and one last salute from Cubs fans, Contreras was gone.
He said the show of love was “awesome” and something he will never forget.
“I feel like if I have to leave this team, I will walk away with my head held high,” he said. “I know I did everything I could to make this team better from day one when I was called up in 2016.”
Not every departing Cubs star gets a chance to say goodbye the way Contreras did on a beautiful afternoon at the corner of Clark and Addison streets.
Sure enough, Ernie Banks received a standing ovation before a crowd of 18,505 at Wrigley before his first at-bat — an infield hit — in what would be his final game on September 26, 1971.
Sammy Sosa walked out with his team at the start of the 2004 final game and was dealt to the Baltimore Orioles during the offseason, never to return to the ballpark he owned. Due to the pandemic, Jon Lester’s final game in a Cubs uniform came in front of an empty stadium during the 2020 postseason. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant were not in the lineup for their final game at Wrigley last July, with Rizzo asking for the day off — a decision he regrets.
But Contreras’ potential exit has been talked about for months, and at this point it would be a complete shock if he were still alive after Aug. 2. In the next week he will definitely “see it.”
“Hopefully,” Contreras said of when to stay. “But at the end of the day, they’re going to take a step, they’re going to do it. I don’t want to think too much about (the possibility of) staying here, because I’m 70/30 right now.
When he talked about his future, someone’s baby started crying in the clubhouse, the mood lightened.
Contreras hasn’t ruled out returning next year if he’s dealt, though that also seems like a long shot. Either way, he handled his lame-duck status well throughout the season, even though the last 24 hours have been a flood of emotions.
“I could tell (Monday) he was engaged in the game,” Ross said before Tuesday’s game. “Certainly he has thoughts in his head. It would be unnatural for him not to. I don’t think any of us really know what’s going to happen, what the future is. … He’s an emotional man. wears on the sleeve.”
Several other Cubs would have played their last game at Wrigley, the day Keegan Thompson threw seven strong innings for the win. Ian Happ is also in great shape, and the veteran outfielder was impressed by the gesture from his left-field bleacher fans, who autographed a ball for him.
“They’re there every day no matter what, no matter the weather, from April until now, and they’re very caring,” Heap said. “It was really meaningful.”
But even Happ knew this day belonged to Contreras, who began his long tenure with the organization in 2009. From homering on the first pitch in 2016 to his frequent clashes with the rival Milwaukee Brewers, Contreras’ Cubs career has been anything but slow. .
Many have forgotten that he received very little playing time in his first month with the Cubs, playing behind Miguel Montero and Ross, Jon Lester’s personal catcher. When Contreras was called up from Triple-A Iowa in June 2016, the thinking was that he would make a brief appearance and return when rosters expanded in September.
“It was the floor,” said then-team president Theo Epstein. “Bring him up as a third catcher, get his feet wet and see how it goes, knowing we could easily send him back. But we were always transparent about leaving the possibility open. He can hit the ground running. And of course he has, which is great.
“But he’s put himself in that position, no pun intended. He’s obviously playing himself into a position to take real responsibility and help the team win. So He has made a place in the team.
Although hyped as the catcher of the future, Contreras still had to wait his turn. Former manager Joe Madden wouldn’t separate Lester and Ross, saying Contreras would have to learn his craft playing part-time.
“He’s young, he’s learning,” Madden said in July. “You keep him fresh mentally and physically, and he’s going to look like that all year. You don’t want to put too much on his plate right now. I’ve been through it before, where the new kid on the block, everybody. Wants a new taste. And if you expose it too often, suddenly the taste can lose some of its edge.
“So just let him play. Let him be Wilson. Let him be 24. He’s going to be here for a lot of years and he’s going to be really good.”
Madden, who was so close with Contreras, the catcher some called “Joe’s son,” helped boost the rookie’s confidence. After Contreras posted a 1.004 OPS in September, it was obvious he was already the best of the three catchers.
Ross’s memories of Contreras’ rookie season were of a kid who “showed the absolute cannon he had, smiling a lot, with really easy fits.” And, of course, the home run on the first pitch he hit against the Pirates.
“He has a knack for the moment,” Ross said. “That’s what he wants.”
Ross retired after the Cubs won the 2016 World Series, Montero was released in the summer of ’17, and Contreras made his first of three All-Star appearances in 2018. While they were always well-liked, it wasn’t until Rizzo. , the deal between Bryant and Javier Báez made Contreras the team’s most popular player.
This is why it is so difficult to understand potential emissions. Contreras loves the Cubs. Kids love it. But in the end it won’t matter.
“I have a lot of things on my mind right now about the fans,” he said Tuesday. “But it’s nothing but love. … The love and support they showed me from day one was priceless. I will always keep them in my heart.”