CHICAGO — He was in a different dugout and different gear than he’s used to when making his way to the Friendly Confines on Monday.
But this is a new era for Willson Contreras – one where he’s coming out of the locker room on the right field side of Wrigley Field and wearing the gear of the NL Central-rival Cardinals.
“It’s completely different,” said the catcher and designated hitter on Monday ahead of his first game at Wrigley Field since signing with St. Louis in the offseason. “Going back to my first home, the city that gave me an opportunity to become a major league ballplayer.”
Contreras now gets to have what a few members of the 2016 Cubs have gotten since the team’s core has been broken up over the last year-and-a-have: A welcome back from the Wrigley Field fans.
Signing with a rival, especially the Cardinals, can make it a little unusual, and some fans haven’t been too happy with some of Contreras’ comments since joining the St. Louis organization.
But the catcher went out of his way to express how much Cubs’ fans mean to him – and even went out of his way to say that nothing he’s said was in any way a slight to them or his former team.
“Even though I’m wearing a different uniform, that doesn’t mean that I don’t love them, because they know I love them,” said Contreras when asked what he thinks the fan reaction will be on Monday night. “They know I’m really thankful for the fanbase and all the support that I got the last six years and still having support from them. It means a lot to me.
“I will say that if I did something in the past that got in some people’s feelings, I really apologize, but I would never say anything against the Chicago Cubs or anything against the fanbase. I’m a humble guy, I’m really thankful, and the memories that I create here and I have here are not going to go away like that.”
Contreras played seven seasons with the Cubs, helping them to that 2016 World Series championship and four playoff appearances. He was a three-time All-Star catcher while wearing the uniform of what is now his NL Central rival, but he’s not really viewing it that way.
“I think this place is always going to have a special place in my heart. I’ll put it that way,” said Contreras. “I know I have a really good relationship with my ex-teammates over there. I met with one of them last night, he’s my brother, (Adbert) Alzolay. We had a good chat.”
Will the response from the fans be as good?
“The welcome back is going to be 50-50. Fifty percent is going to be happy, 50 percent is going to boo me,” said Contreras when asked about being on the other side of the rivalry. “Which is acceptable.”