SAN FRANCISCO – When Cubs catcher Willson Contreras learned Sunday morning he officially was a National League All-Star, he went almost immediately to the batting cage beneath the stands to hug hitting coaches Chili Davis and Andy Haines, and to tell staff assistant Juan Cabrera.
“Then I took like five minutes for myself,” he said.
That’s when the tears began to flow.
“I started crying because of where I come from and the all the things that I’ve been through throughout my minor-league career,” he said. “And now I’m starting the All-Star game. It means a lot to me.”
Contreras, in his second full year as a Cubs starter, was second in the fan voting for more than a month, before passing Giants catcher Buster Posey – a favorite role model of Contreras’ – in the final week for the starting nod.
Contreras found out before Monday’s game that because of a troublesome hip Posey would be held out of next week’s game in Washington. He said with a smile he would ask Posey to make the trip.
“It’s been one of my dreams since I was kid, like playing PlayStation, and watching all those guys playing in the All-Star game,” he said. “Now that I’m here, I’m going to enjoy those three days. I’ll just try to be myself, try to enjoy as much as I can and try to meet the [other All-Stars). Now I’m going to get some time to spend with the stars.”
One byproduct of the selection, along with Posey’s as a backup, is that barely five months after Cardinals’ catcher Yadi Molina took a shot at Contreras on social media for supposedly not showing enough respect for the old guard Molina was left out when the rosters were announced Sunday.
Molina was selected Monday to replace Posey on the active roster.
Either way, wasn’t sure if he would tweak the veteran Molina about it.
“I don’t know. Maybe,” he said, smiling. “I haven’t talked to Yadi in a while. I’m just happy to be named as the All-Star National League catcher for my team. It’s a blessing from God. God knows what I’ve been through with all my family. And I think staying humble means a lot to all my fans. And thanks to all my fans and my family, and my friends for giving me huge support.”
Clearly, the emotion continues to flow for Contreras, whose personal feelings will be worn on his sleeve during the game – literally.
He plans to bring back the Veneuelan replica flag he used to wear as a sleeve under his uniform before he got a letter in May from MLB threatening a fine for uniform violation.
Contreras’ heart breaks for his country, which has sunk into deeper political and economic disarray and despair over the last year or two in particular. After help from Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin’s office to get his parents safely out of Venezuela to the U.S. in October 2016, Contreras has in recent months finally been able to help his brother escape to safety in Peru.
“I’m going to try to wear my Venezuela sleeve during the All-Star game; that way I can represent my country here,” he said. “I’m proud of where I come from and proud to be a Venezuelan.”
Note: Kris Bryant (shoulder) went 2-for-4 with a homer in a minor-league rehab game for Class AA Tennessee on Monday, and he’s scheduled to play one more game there before a decision is made about activating him in time for this weekend’s series in San Diego (where he played college ball).