ST. LOUIS – For die-hard fans of the club, it was a sight they never thought they would see with a catcher who helped them to a World Series championship in 2016 and was a mainstay behind the plate.
But Willson Contreras could envision a day in which he would put on a Cardinals’ jersey, just as he did on Friday at Busch Stadium.
During his introductory news conference in St. Louis after signing a five-year, $87.5 million deal with the NL Central division rival, the three-time All-Star was asked about when he first envisioned himself wearing a Cardinals jersey.
Contreras had a specific moment in mind, and it was when he was still with the Cubs, on a day in which they lost to St. Louis.
“I think I was on IL. That was the day that Albert Pujols hit 695 career homer,” said Contreras.
On September 4th at Busch Stadium, the pinch hitter and future Baseball Hall of Famer hit an eventual game-winning homer in the eighth inning to help the Cardinals beat the Cubs 2-0. It was at that moment that he could see himself playing in St. Louis once his time in Chicago came to an end.
“I was just looking around, looking around the ballpark, looking around the fanbase and the team, how the guys were playing against us, and I said to myself ‘I want to be a part of something like that, the team that is always looking forward to win,'” said Conteras of that day. “I was a guy that while I was sitting on the bench, I was looking across to see how they were, like how together and how unique the team was.
“That really impacted me because it was not just against us, it was against everybody, and I did put myself behind the plate with the St. Louis Cardinals for the first time that day and I really enjoyed the feeling.”
Enough that it carried over through the end of his tenure with the Cubs and why he was focused on the Cardinals to start free agency. Now he’ll be the replacement for St. Louis legend Yadier Molina, who retired after 19 MLB seasons.
While his mind is focused on the next five years with his new team, Contreras didn’t forget about the Cubs during his news conference, expressing what they still mean to him.
“I really appreciate the opportunity they gave me because that was the first team that gave me the opportunity to become a pro baseball player,” said Contreras, who was signed by the team as an international free agent in 2009. “Obviously I had six good years with them. We won the World Series, and I love them.
“But now I can say that I did everything for them and I’m able to turn the page and I’m excited for what this next chapter means to me and my family.”