If Tom “Iceman” Kazansky played for the Cubs, I don’t imagine he’d like Willson Contreras’s maverick nature all that much. In fact, he’d probably confront the young catcher about his exuberant celebrations and inability to take it easy on routine throws to first base to end games.
“I don’t like you because you’re dangerous,” he might even say.
To that, I’d imagine WillCo’s response being…
Listen, this kid isn’t going to be happy unless he’s throwing Mach 2 with his hair on fire, which means fans and Val Kilmers alike are just going to have to deal with some of the headaches that come along with that. After all, no one was complaining when he switched to missiles and fired a strike — from his knees, mind you — for a back-pick of Dexter Fowler, who had walked to give the Cardinals two on with two outs in the 7th inning.
And that’s why you’ve got to be okay with him refusing to take anything off the throw to Anthony Rizzo on the dropped third strike to Kolten Wong that should’ve (note, not should of) ended the game. Okay, fine, you don’t have to be okay with it, but you’ve got to learn to live with it in light of everything else he brings to the table.
Contreras is like Spinal Tap’s amps in that he’s going to turn it up to 11 every time out there. If you want to ask him to play at eight or nine, you might as well request that he cut off a finger or two. Which, wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen a Cubs catcher who did that in the past? Anyway, this isn’t about esoteric Koyie Hill references, it’s about Contreras and how he approaches the game. And if you’re clutching your pearls a little close because you’re worried he might try to snatch them, sorry boutcha.
The thing about holding too tightly to our baseball paradigms is that it doesn’t just keep us in the past. It also prevents us from reaching out and getting a handle on anything abstract or new. Which is to say that just because Contreras gets a little squirrely now and again doesn’t mean he can’t learn. Give me a guy who’s a little overzealous and needs to learn to rein it in and another who’s afraid to unleash the beast and I’m going with the first every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
You can channel aggressiveness, bend it to your liking. And when that hair-on-fire playing style is capable of doing things like hitting three homers in his first 12 Busch Stadium at-bats, you’ll live with the occasional errant flame. Oh yeah, I haven’t even mentioned the homers yet, the two hardest-hit of Contreras’s career.
I’m not telling you not to shake your head in dismay when Contreras does something inexplicable or makes an ill-advised snap throw that goes wide of third and allows the winning run to score. Nor am I telling you not to be pissed when he gets super fidgety and sets up five feet wide of the plate with his left leg splayed out so as to make it nigh impossible to make a play should the pitch not come right to him.
Rather, I’m saying the good will far outweigh the bad with this kid. And the more experience he gains, the greater that disparity will become. He’s a big part of what makes this Cubs team fun and he almost single-handedly carried them to a much-needed win Friday night in St. Louis. In that, he was like a torch guiding the way through what has been a dark period (relatively speaking, of course) for the World Series champs.
And if he can swipe that flame across the latent pile of gasoline-soaked tinder that is the Cubs offense, well, I think we’d all be happy to see that catch fire.