Cubs’ Willson Contreras emotional contemplating possible last homestand at Wrigley

Contreras said the past couple days have been “tough,” as the trade deadline nears.

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Cubs catcher Willson Contreras waves to the Wrigley Field crowd after receiving a standing ovation while batting during the seventh inning of a baseball game Tuesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Cubs catcher Willson Contreras waves to the Wrigley Field crowd after receiving a standing ovation while batting during the seventh inning of a baseball game Tuesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

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The words caught in Willson Contreras’ throat, and he swallowed hard.

“It’s tough,” he said.

His voice cracked as he sorted through the emotions of the Cubs’ last home series before the Aug. 2 trade deadline, which likely were his last two games at Wrigley Field as a Cub. Asked Tuesday if he’d at least like an extension offer to mull over before potentially being traded, he said, “That’s not up to me.”

Of course, nothing is set in stone until trade paperwork goes through or the deadline passes. But Contreras watched three teammates go through something similar this time last year.

Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez and Kris Bryant all were in their final year of club control — as Contreras is this year — when the Cubs dealt them at the deadline in 2021. Contreras knows what could be ahead. But that doesn’t make it easy.

“I wish this day never came,” he said Monday night. “But it’s about business. I under-stand that, I respect that. And I love my team. I love my teammates most, and I don’t want to get too attached with them because you never know what’s going to happen next week — or this week, even, in San Francisco. It’s been a tough couple of days for me.”

He was still fighting back tears.

On Tuesday, the Wrigley faithful greeted him with a standing ovation in his first at-bat. He stepped away from the batter’s box and tipped his helmet to the crowd.

Then, on the first pitch he saw, Contreras lined into shallow center field to start a three-run rally that propelled the Cubs to a 4-2 win against the Pirates. After crossing the plate, he was met in the dugout with high-fives and a few extra embraces from coaches and teammates.

“He’s a special player. He’s a special man,” said manager David Ross, who also played with Contreras during his 2016 rookie season with the Cubs. “And he’s done special things here. And to watch him continue to get better, not just as a player but also as a teammate as a leader . . . those qualities have come out.”

Contreras has indeed become attached, not just to the city where he has spent his entire major-league career, or to the teammates with whom he has grown up in the organization, but also to rookies such as infielder Christopher Morel and outfielder Nelson Velazquez. When they debuted this season, the Cubs assigned them lockers near Contreras’ in the clubhouse.

“To me, he means a lot for the Cubs,” Velazquez told the Sun-Times. “If I had the chance, I would love having him next to me for the rest of my career — because he’s a good teammate [and] he’s a great guy that brings a lot of energy to the clubhouse.”

Velazquez probably won’t get that chance.Throughout the series against the Pirates, poster-board signs expressing appreciation for Contreras dotted the stands. Fans periodically shouted, “We love you, Willson!” Fans again rose to their feet in the seventh for Contreras’ final at-bat of the series. Most remained standing until he disappeared into the dugout.

They, too, have grown attached — to a player who signed with the Cubs out of Venezuela in 2009, debuted just in time to help them end their 108-year World Series title drought and was at the heart of many high points in the years since.

“That makes me feel good,” Contreras said. “That makes me feel that if I have to walk away from this team, I’m going to have to walk away with my head up high because I know that I did everything I could to make this team better from Day 1 when I got called up in 2016.”

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