Willson Contreras spent his entire MLB career in the Cubs system until he hit free agency and signed a five-year, $87.5 million deal with the rival Cardinals last offseason. The runup to the trade deadline as he was rumored to be moved was emotional last season. The offseason was a bittersweet denouement of the inevitable. It was always going to be dramatic even before Willson lost his catching duties, for now, on the eve of coming back to the Friendly Confines for the first time. There was a lot of speculation about how he’d handle the situation.
He handled it the way he’s handled everything in his playing career — going 2-for-4 with a double, two RBI, a run scored and a moment to remind Cubs fans that he thrives on controversy and your boos just make him stronger [VIDEO].
But honestly, while there were some loud boo birds in the stands, from where I sat in the left field grandstand there were (at least initially) more cheers for a fan favorite returning home. The Cubs played a fitting tribute video highlighting Willson’s 14 years with the Chicago Cubs organization and there were Contreras jerseys everywhere in the stands:
Welcome back, Willy! pic.twitter.com/OflCMVE8Ws— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) May 8, 2023
As the game went on and Willson continued to torment his old team (he was literally involved in every run the Cardinals scored) I couldn’t help but smile a bit. After all, it seemed all too predictable that the former Cubs backstop would insert himself easily into the Cubs vs. Cardinals rivalry lore as easily on the St. Louis side as he did on the North Side of Chicago for years. He’s always played with a bit of an edge and responded to challenges by showing everyone exactly how talented of a hitter he is, so when he blasted this double 108 miles per hour over the head of Cody Bellinger it really just seemed like a predictable turn of affairs [VIDEO].
I tend to believe that stats like “clutch” are noise, but I also believe in Willson Contreras’ ability to lean into his new role of villain on the North Side of Chicago as much as I believe in anything. Does anyone really believe the man standing on second asking for louder boos is getting weaker from any of this? There is no where to really bet on such things, but it seems all but inevitable that Contreras will join the upper echelons of Cub killers and we are all just going to have to watch it happen.
That said, it wasn’t all theatre and in the early moments of the game he reminded all of us that the Cubs lost more than a potent bat when he signed with St. Louis. As long as moments like this Christopher Morel and Contreras reunion exist, I’ll be cheering for Willson’s success and if that success means the Cardinals win a few more games against the Cubs than they otherwise would, well, that’s on Jed Hoyer [VIDEO].