By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (CBS) — There’s a moment for every major league debut, that tale to be told years and years removed from the game of baseball. Willson Contreras will never forget his moment.READ MORE: Mother Has Questions After Police Shoot, Kill Man They Say Was Wielding Knife In Englewood
On Friday night, Cubs manager Joe Maddon called out to Contreras with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning and a runner on first. Contreras stood in the on-deck circle, ready for his chance. Then, Miguel Montero lined into a double play.
Instantly, Contreras was thrown into the fire, as Maddon informed the Cubs’ top prospect he would catch the ninth inning. Contreras scrambled to get his gear on, then emerged from the dugout to a special scene. Wrigley Field stood to salute its newest Cub, giving him a standing ovation that left him nearly speechless.
“Oh my gosh, it was an amazing feeling,” Contreras said following the Cubs’ seamless 6-0 win over the Pirates. “That was the best feeling that I’ve ever felt. I can’t describe it, I can’t explain it. I have no words to say.”
Contreras was greeted at home plate with handshakes from home plate umpire Gary Cederstrom and the Pirates’ former MVP, Andrew McCutchen. He pulled down his mask and got into the catcher crouch.
Welcome to the big leagues, kid.
By now, Cubs call-ups have become old hat. Last season saw the beginning of Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber in Cubs uniforms, and 2014 brought forth Javier Baez and Jorge Soler. Finally, those Theo Epstein fantasy lineups have come to fruition, with Contreras and Albert Almora Jr. the latest to enter the fold this season.
What all of these Cubs newcomers have in common is preparation. The organization readies its prospects for every facet of the game — take for example Almora taking second base by catching the Pirates napping on an RBI knock.
For all the talent of these young Cubs, they’re also fully prepared by the organization, which properly instructs its own how to play baseball the right way.
“What made the big jump for me was the mental part of the game,” Almora said. “I just go out there with the confidence that I have now and go out and play.”
Almora made his major league debut last week in Philadelphia. On Friday, he finally got a taste of playing at Wrigley Field, putting together a three-hit afternoon. The first draft pick of the Epstein era in Chicago was just 18 when he was selected in the first round of the 2012 draft. He’s just 22 years of age now and playing excellent baseball.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Rain Coming As Work Week Begins
The 24-year-old Contreras had a different upbringing in the Cubs organization. He was signed out of Venezuela in 2009 by Epstein’s predecessor, Jim Hendry. Contreras played every position in the infield before moving to catcher.
Epstein believed that Contreras would be put in a positive position learning at the big league level alongside David Ross and Montero, plus getting instrumental advice from pitching coach Chris Bosio and assistant coach Mike Borzello. Now, it’s Contreras’ chance.
“This kid has really earned it,” Epstein said. “The first time I saw him was 2012 — extremely raw. He’s worked his tail off to get here. He deserves it.”
Friday brought the Cubs’ 45th victory of the young season, the most of any team in baseball. Jake Arrieta pitched six shutout innings and the Cubs led 2-0 just two pitches into the game, courtesy of a Matt Szczur home run. Almora made his impact, too, playing another good game that included those three hits and two runs batted in.
Contreras pumped his fist as the final strike of the game came to his glove from Justin Grimm. He rushed to the mound with the feeling of joy before Cederstrom even called strike three.
Wrigley Field burst into its customary rendition of “Go, Cubs, Go” to celebrate yet another win for this exciting young team. The rookies took notice of the scene, savoring their first games on Chicago’s north side.
“It’s just an unbelievable experience,” Almora said. “I’m so blessed to be a part of this team, this contending team, right now. We’re having a lot of fun winning.”
Added Contreras: “I feel like I’ve been here forever.”
Wins have been frequent in Wrigleyville, and this Cubs team cherishes each one. This team is built to be great for a long time, with Contreras and Almora serving as just two more players the Cubs hope become mainstays during their success.
Every career starts somewhere, with those unforgettable moments in each debut.
Contreras is just starting his special major league story. He’ll always remember how the beginning left him nearly speechless.MORE NEWS: Farmers Market Vendors Pleased As Open Boulevards Program Kicks Off In Logan Square