August 19, 2022

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One evening through the 2020 season, Chicago Cubs veteran outfielder Jason Heyward took catcher Willson Contreras out to dinner.

Teammates having dinner collectively isn’t atypical, however on this event it served a selected function. Heyward is aware of higher than most the highs and lows inside a season and profession. Heyward’s recommendation centered on the large image: Talk while you would possibly need assistance. If one thing isn’t going your approach, take your time. Observe and study.

“His job has a whole lot of expectations, so I needed to acknowledge that I perceive it’s not simple as a catcher coming in on the time he got here into this group and let him know I used to be there,” Heyward instructed the Tribune. “I perceive what he’s making an attempt to do is difficult and what he desires to perform, letting him know that, over time, most certainly there’s going to be coaches that come and go, that’s simply part of the sport — totally different programs, totally different mindsets — however that he’s going to be right here rather a lot longer than lots of people.”

When Contreras arrived at big-league camp in March, a whole lot of questions centered on his impending free-agent standing. Six minutes into his first media availability, the subject of management got here up. Contreras, one of many extra veteran Cubs gamers, cited the significance of understanding when to talk up and be vocal.

He has turn into a frontrunner on the new-look Cubs.

“The best time is that this 12 months as a result of we now have actually good younger gamers that may need assistance, would possibly want recommendation, would possibly want a hug, no matter,” Contreras instructed the Tribune. “I need to be accessible for them and be one of the best I could be on the market.”

Contreras’ path to turning into a extra noticeable chief is a product of a deliberate funding by the 29-year-old catcher over the previous few years. The work he has put into that space has not gone unnoticed by Heyward and Kyle Hendricks, the one two teammates remaining from Contreras’ 2016 rookie season.

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“It’s his time,” Heyward stated. “That is the best way the sport goes. At a sure age and sure time, issues are a technique with teammates, teaching employees, no matter. And now a whole lot of these guys are gone for us. Now Willson has a possibility to see extra issues coming. … Much more guys are going off of you, and I feel he understands that and appreciates it. He doesn’t take that flippantly.”

Earlier than the Cubs dismantled the roster eventually 12 months’s commerce deadline, Contreras felt his place was to close up and hear. He admitted it took some time to just accept all of the trades, believing they have been a playoff workforce all the best way as much as the deadline. The adjustments finally created a possibility for Contreras to turn into a extra vocal presence.

Now, Contreras possesses a coveted perspective, and as a catcher it could possibly carry further weight due to how he’s concerned in all components of the sport.

“If you wish to be a frontrunner, it’s a must to respect everybody, each teammate,” Contreras stated. “If you wish to be a frontrunner, it’s a must to get to the ballpark on time. You must present them the way you go about what you are promoting and never present up an hour or two earlier than the sport. I feel that’s the way you achieve respect from teammates and respect for the job.

“Holding all people accountable after they do one thing fallacious, doing it the precise approach. Don’t present up somebody in entrance of all people.”

After Contreras earned his big-league name up on June 17, 2016, he was a continuing supply of vitality. His vibe was a welcome addition to the eventual World Collection champs.

However over the course of these remaining 4 months of the season, Hendricks noticed Contreras come to know that sustaining his degree of vitality for a full 162-game slate at a demanding place could be difficult.

Now in his seventh big-league season, Contreras’ data of his physique and the right way to handle the lengthy 12 months additionally performs a job within the evolution of his management.

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“He’s realized the place to choose his spots,” Hendricks instructed the Tribune. “Willson has grown into himself in the best way that he’s simply assured and comfy in who he’s, as a participant and an individual. He’s settled into himself.

“He is aware of when is the precise time to say one thing and when is not only based mostly on expertise.”

Hendricks thought Contreras did an awesome job final season dealing with the Cubs’ much less skilled pitchers, particularly with the right way to assist them in numerous sport conditions. He recalled watching Contreras come into the dugout after innings understanding when was the precise time to strategy and go over one thing versus letting a youthful pitcher work by means of a studying expertise on their very own.

“He actually was capable of establish these conditions with the younger guys and actually feed into that and make them really feel comfy or pump them up, no matter they wanted in that second,” Hendricks stated.

Contreras appreciates how Hendricks and Heyward acknowledge his efforts to be a greater chief and participant.

“The best way you put together reveals everybody you care,” Contreras stated. “If I used to be the kind of man that simply reveals up late and simply will get prepared for a sport, no one will respect me. Or if I don’t play the sport the precise approach or don’t hustle.”

The departures of Anthony Rizzo, who spent a decade in a Cubs uniform, Kris Bryant and Javier Báez appeared to deal a blow to the clubhouse past their on-field capabilities.

Requested if he agreed with the notion the Cubs misplaced management after final 12 months’s trades, Heyward stated his reply won’t be well-liked.

From his perspective, these views are from followers and media who don’t have perception of what’s taking place within the clubhouse. Heyward acknowledged gamers don’t possess management over every part due to the enterprise aspect to the sport, particularly when coping with contract uncertainty.

“Anytime you may have a pure built-in distraction, it does make issues just a little bit more durable and does take the main target off of simply going out and enjoying the sport,” Heyward stated. “I noticed that with our group final 12 months. And that’s not a knock or excuse, that was our actuality final 12 months. So far as what didn’t come again by means of the door this 12 months, it was simply time for change. That’s what took place.”

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Heyward appreciates the Cubs’ offseason acquisitions featured a whole lot of gamers who’ve a special perspective of successful on the major-league degree. Amongst them: infielder Jonathan Villar, catcher Yan Gomes and pitchers Marcus Stroman, David Robertson, Drew Smyly and Chris Martin have mixed to be a part of 49 postseason sequence, six World Collection and 4 titles.

The roster overhaul doesn’t diminish the Cubs’ particular six-year span previous the trades. Heyward anticipates followers being stunned by the Cubs this season, even when their fashion of play seems totally different than the previous few years. He views the adjustments nearly as good organizationally and for what comes subsequent.

“I do love the truth that we don’t have to point out up daily and chase outcomes,” Heyward stated. “I feel that’s a entice. The issues we strive to concentrate to element on, issues we need to give attention to which can be essential within the sport, I feel we’re going to see a whole lot of success and have a whole lot of enjoyable enjoying.

“Everybody’s centered within the second, nobody’s actually , ‘Oh, what a couple of contract? The place am I going to be?’ All these issues are very powerful and part of the sport,” Heyward stated. “However now Willson could be right here, and guys will recognize rather a lot about him being in that area.”

Contreras is perhaps the subsequent star to depart the Cubs, whether or not that call is made by him or the franchise. During the last seven weeks, the unclear future hasn’t affected Contreras’ obligations or his funding as a frontrunner.

“This vitality is there,” Contreras stated. “Gamers are prepared to hear, they’re prepared to make sacrifices to win video games. We’re sticking collectively.”