CHICAGO – It wasn’t the anniversary of his major league debut, but it was for his first major league moment.
That was June 19, 2016, when on a Sunday night, Willson Contreras came into the Cubs’ game against the Pirates as a pinch hitter in the sixth inning.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) June 20, 2019
On the first pitch he saw, the rookie smacked a two-run homer to center field, sending the Sunday night crowd into a frenzy, and starting off the career of a potential Cubs’ star in style.
Three years later on Wednesday night, that moment remains close to Contreras’ heart and mind, even when reminded of a more recent memory by reporters. His grand slam against the White Sox on Wednesday night was his first since hitting one against the same team at Wrigley Field on May 11, 2018.
That year-and-eight day anniversary was great, but the one three years ago was much better.
“It’s crazy. It came to my mind, that was last year, against them. But today I think it’s more special I’ve been with this team for three years now since I got called up,” said Contreras.
It certainly represents a change in the life of the 27-year old, who was 24 on that night against Pittsburgh back in 2016. Since then he’s won a World Series, started an All-Star Game, and aided in three-straight postseason appearances for the franchise.
“It makes me proud to look back and see how far that I’ve come and how good this team is to me,” said Contreras, and he was good to them against the White Sox again.
He hit a pair of homers on the night and drove in 5 RBI, with the biggest highlight coming on that first inning grand slam, when he got a little anniversary luck. Late in the count, he hit a bouncer down the first base line that was just barely foul, getting another chance against Giolito.
Contereras capitalized by hitting a line drive through the wind and rain for a grand slam.
“With two strikes, you’ve got to battle, especially against a guy like Giolito, who has great arm speed, he’s hard to time with guys on bases. I was just happy to be able to foul it off to the side,” said Contreras of the at-bat. “Finally I was able looking fastball and he hung a change-up, which I was able to put the barrel on and hit it out.”
That added another memorable moment for the catcher against the White Sox, hitting .370 with six homers and 19 RBI in 11 games. Yet in tribute to his career on the anniversary, Contreras made an important defensive play in the fifth when he threw out Tim Anderson trying to steal third.
All of these elements have contributed to a strong fourth season for Contreras after a forgettable end to the 2018 season in which he batted .213 in August and .159 in September. This year he’s leading the All-Star voting as he’s hitting .293 with 15 homers and 42 RBI, and Jon Lester’s noticed the improvement this season.
“You could tell last year he was going through some learning of how to catch every day and be at the big league level and perform and put up what we all know Willy can do,” said Lester, who was caught by Contreras Wednesday night. “This year he’s doing it again and I think he’s learned how to manage his body and manage his time behind the plate, and we’re seeing that on the offensive side, which is awesome for us.”
On his Cubs’ anniversary night, he was flattered to hear that.
“It’s really nice to hear those from them, you know, because I’m here to help them to have a good performance out there. Block some balls, throw somebody out,” said Contreras..” We’re a team. Makes me proud to be part of this team. and I’m just going to keep going out there to do my best for everyone.”
Over the last three years, he has.