Willson Contreras, the Cubs’ Venezuelan catcher, spent a few quiet moments watching the news on the clubhouse TV on Tuesday afternoon before heading to the field in Pittsburgh.
“Pray for Puerto Rico,” he said under his breath as he walked past a few people on his way out.
Contreras has dealt with his own off-the-field hell the last two years, trying to keep loved ones safe amid political upheaval and rioting in Venezuela.
And Contreras isn’t the only player fearing the potential destruction of his homeland.
With roughly 15 percent of major-league players coming from areas in Hurricane Irma’s path, baseball families in clubhouses across the country turned their eyes toward the Atlantic basin, where the storm already had struck Wednesday with a ferocity no one alive had ever witnessed.
“It’s very, very difficult to keep the focus on the game,” White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu, a native of Cuba, said before the game Wednesday against the Indians. “But right now, I’m praying for them and just trying to keep my focus for tonight’s game. . . . In Cuba, you don’t have anything to protect yourself from that kind of disaster and that powerful of a hurricane.”
As of Wednesday, the National Weather Service reported that Irma is a Category 5 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 185 mph. The storm is the strongest hurricane in the Atlantic basin outside of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico in the National Hurricane Center’s records.
To put Irma’s strength in perspective, Puerto Rico hasn’t had a hurricane of this magnitude since Hurricane San Felipe in 1928, which killed 2,748 people in Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico and Florida, according to the NWS.
Cubs catcher Victor Caratini’s entire family lives in Puerto Rico, and he said he tried to get them out of there, but his parents didn’t want to leave his family.
“I can’t control it,’’ Caratini said. ‘‘I stay in touch with my family as best I can and thank God that everybody will be safe in Puerto Rico.’’
Irma’s winds may fluctuate, but the storm likely would remain a Category 4 or 5 hurricane for the next few days as it’s expected to roar past Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, the Turks and Caicos and parts of the Bahamas, according to the NWS.
Damaging winds and flooding, which could lead to mudslides and deadly storm surges, are predicted for those countries in Irma’s path.
Sox manager Rick Renteria said he has offered up support to his players who have family in the storm’s path.
“I’m sure their emotions and their mind and their hearts are with their families,’’ Renteria said. ‘‘They wouldn’t be human if they weren’t feeling those things. We all deal with it in our own way. And if there’s a situation that occurs here, we’ll deal with it if we have to.”
Cubs catcher Rene Rivera’s parents, sister and aunt live 20 minutes inland from Puerto Rico’s coast. Rivera said he’s trying to remain optimistic that their two-story house with strong construction will protect them.
“This is Mother [Nature], so you can worry about stuff, you can feel sorry about your house, you can worry about the family, but there’s nothing you can do,” Rivera said before the Cubs’ game against the Pirates. “You just pray. You just hope that nothing worse happens, and you leave everything in the hands of God. And He knows, and He will do anything to protect the people.”
Contributing: Gordon Wittenmyer
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