Unless you’ve been chilling under a rock for the last month and change, you’ve no doubt noticed the tear Willson Contreras has been on. Our Brendan Miller noted recently how the Venezuelan native’s offensive production really took off after he added a toe-tap reminiscent of his countryman, Miguel Cabrera.
In 119 plate appearances since making the change in mid-June, WillCo has hit 10 home runs while striking out at only an 18.2 percent clip. His OPS in that stretch is 1.054 and he’s got a 167 wRC+ with a .432 wOBA. Even if you don’t completely understand what those things mean, just know that they’re awesome.
And speaking of things people don’t completely understand, there was a little confusion as to the exuberant catcher’s celebration after crossing the plate with what ended up being the game-winning home run Sunday night.
Here’s a better clip that actually shows said celebration, which some took to be Contreras kissing his biceps (it was his forearms, but who needs details)
So here’s the deal: this wasn’t an act of showing anyone up or pimping the dinger, it was an act of showing support for his home and the family and friends being impacted by all the political unrest there. Contreras has been wearing a compression sleeve fashioned to look like the Venezuelan flag on his left arm for a while now, but had sleeves on both arms Sunday night. When he crossed the plate, he kissed both flags.
Carrie Muskat had more on the catcher’s motivation:
Contreras’ parents and his older brother, Willmer, 27, are still there in the country, which is struggling under the current government. Look at Contreras’ arms. He wore sleeves that represented the Venezuelan flag.
“Today I said I was going to play in honor of my country,” Contreras said. “We’ve been having a tough time and I just wanted to do the best for Venezuela. We’re here [in the U.S.], but our minds after the game go back to Venezuela and our families.
“A lot of people are dying because the [Venezuelan] government wants to do whatever it wants,” he said. “We have to be able to grow up in a country where you can think of your future and your son’s future and your kids, and that’s something we don’t have right now [in Venezuela]. That’s it. I was playing for my country today.”
I can’t even imagine what Contreras and other Venezuelan players are going through right now, but it’s awesome to see them expressing themselves in both word and deed. The boisterous catcher did both last night, and there’s no doubt he’ll continue to do so moving forward. It’s exactly that passion, whether for the game or his country, that has him assuming more of a leadership role on the North Side.
While leap-frogging Anthony Rizzo in the clubhouse or Kris Bryant on the billboards is impossible, this is quickly becoming Contreras’s team in another sense. He’s an emotional leader, but he’s also growing as a catcher and is commanding the respect of his veteran staff. As he continues to develop behind the plate, Contreras has the potential to vault himself into the upper echelon of the best two-way catchers in the game.