Cubs’ Contreras: a ‘fighter,’ a ‘winner’ and — sniff — a crier

ST. LOUIS — Willson Contreras needs to take it down a notch.

That’s fellow Cubs catcher Miguel Montero’s take, anyway. The 24-year-old rookie is all pumped up, all the time. He’s about as good at conserving energy as most of us would be at playing catcher in the big leagues.

Contreras’ emotions have some real giddyup, too.

“That can help him,” Montero said, “but it can actually be a problem, too, because as a catcher you’ve got to control your emotions. Even if you don’t get a hit, you’ve got to get back out there and catch.

Willson Contreras: "Some people tell me I have to calm down, but if I calm down, I'm not going to be the same guy."

Willson Contreras: "Some people tell me I have to calm down, but if I calm down, I'm not going to be the same guy."

“And even though he has a lot of energy at his age, he’s going to learn about that, too. He’s going to learn that a catcher has to save energy. I’m not saying you don’t play hard, but you’ve got to play smart.”

Contreras has had a mentor in the 33-year-old Montero, a fellow Venezuelan, since being promoted to the big leagues in mid-June. Soon-to-be-retired David Ross, 39, is happy to help, too, doubling the been-there, done-that brainpower at Contreras’ disposal.

A lot of good stuff is bring poured into the Cubs’ catcher of the future, who should continue to play a significant starting role come playoff time.

“One of the things I’m hearing a lot from pitchers is how much they not only like throwing to him, but they have faith in what he’s calling,” manager Joe Maddon said. “And you know why? He has been a great student. Miggy and David can help him with a lot of things, but it’s like being in a classroom — either you’re a willing student or you’re not, and he is.”

Well, most of the time.

When it comes to the foundational stuff that makes him who he is, Contreras doesn’t have much interest in changing.

“Some people tell me I have to calm down,” he said, “but if I calm down, I’m not going to be the same guy. I’m going to play with high energy and with my emotions. I think my emotions make me better. I’m like a fighter, you know?”

A fighter who, on more than one occasion since joining the Cubs, has put his head on his pillow at night and felt his emotions cascade out of him in the form of tears.

Contreras dearly misses dad William and mom Olga, with whom he FaceTimes at least once every day. The live in the house Contreras bought for them, but they’re unable to leave Venezuela to see him because of how difficult it is to obtain a travel visa during such volatile times in the country. Contreras left home at 17 to join the Cubs organization.

“Sometimes after I call my mom and dad,” he said, “I start thinking about when I was with my family and where I am now. I feel so lucky. I am so happy to be here, but I miss them every day.”

Contreras calls his nearly three months with the Cubs “the best time of my life.” He understands what a luxury it’ll be for Maddon at playoff time to have so much experience at the catcher position. Yet Contreras is holding out hope that his role will grow in October.

“That’s one thing that I want,” he said. “I never expect to be No. 1 because David Ross and Miguel Montero have way more experience than I have, but I’ve been showing myself in the games and [the Cubs] know I can play every single day and every single game in the playoffs. I’ll be ready for any role and any situation.”

By the sounds of it, with extra giddyup.

“I’ve been in playoffs in the minor leagues,” he said. “I’m way different when I get to those games. I’m a winner, you know? I do my best every single game and every single inning of those games. Do or die — that’s it.”

Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.


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