Willson Contreras’ second chance at a final goodbye originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
How many ways can a guy say goodbye?
Willson Contreras is about to find out.
The Cubs’ World Series-winning, All-Star catcher returned to the Cubs’ lineup from an ankle injury Tuesday for the start of the final homestand of the year — what’s expected to be his final homestand as a Cub.
For the second time in two months.
“It was really important for me to come back and play these last series at home,” said Contreras, who spent the last three weeks on the injured list after trying to play through an injury suffered Aug. 11 in the Field of Dreams game.
“We all know I’ve been here for 14 years, and we don’t know if it is really goodbye or just for a moment or a few months,” added the pending free agent, who signed with the Cubs at 17 as an amateur free agent out of Puerto Cabello, Venezuela in 2009.
“I’m just looking forward to going out there and having fun with my teammates. That’s what I can do at this point — just have fun, do the best I can and let things happen.”
Contreras, who spoke publicly Tuesday for the first time in weeks, is expected to decline a qualifying offer from the Cubs and become a free agent after the best season of a career that has included three selections as an All-Star starter.
The few fans on hand for the coldest Wrigley Field game in months (54 degrees) gave Contreras a warm welcome back when he batted in the first inning, before grounding the first pitch sharply to second. He drove a hit off the right field wall in his next at-bat.
“I don’t know if he could have done much more,” manager David Ross said of a career season offensively that also has included an especially strong clubhouse presence. “I feel he came into spring training on a mission and didn’t let the outside things bother him too much.
“He went through a little bit of a [scuffling] spell right before the trade deadline that I’m sure affected him pretty greatly,” Ross added, “and none of that transpired. And he’s done nothing but play hard every time he’s in there.”
The emotional and passionate Contreras seemed to well up at times on the subject of yet another farewell tour Tuesday — though he’s been down this road before.
After three offseasons of rumors that led him to believe at various times that he might be traded, Contreras was as certain as everyone else in baseball that he would be gone at the trade deadline — with the Cubs shopping him aggressively for weeks leading up to an Aug. 2 deadline in which they instead chose to keep him because, they said, offers did not “exceed” his value.
Or at least the projected value of the extra draft pick they’ll get next year, assuming he declines the qualifying offer.
One thing’s for sure: Contreras is a lot more prepared for his second chance at a final goodbye to the only big-league home he’s ever known.
And this: “I’m not going to say the deadline didn’t teach me. But I’m not going to make any assumptions. I’m just going to go out there and have fun and see what’s going to happen the next few months.”
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