Contreras plays for #Cubs and country

On Sunday night, Willson Contreras hit a tie-breaking two-run home run in the sixth inning to lift the Cubs to a 5–3 victory over the Cardinals. But the homer meant more than a win to Contreras. He was playing for his country, Venezuela.

Contreras’ parents and his older brother, Willmer, 27, are still there in the country, which is struggling under the current government. Look at Contreras’ arms. He wore sleeves that represented the Venezuelan flag.

“Today I said I was going to play in honor of my country,” Contreras said. “We’ve been having a tough time and I just wanted to do the best for Venezuela. We’re here [in the U.S.], but our minds after the game go back to Venezuela and our families.

“A lot of people are dying because the [Venezuelan] government wants to do whatever it wants,” he said. “We have to be able to grow up in a country where you can think of your future and your son’s future and your kids, and that’s something we don’t have right now [in Venezuela]. That’s it. I was playing for my country today.”

Contreras has been wearing one sleeve with the Venezuelan flag but Sunday was the first time he had them on both arms. And after his homer, he kissed his forearms as a signal to his family and friends still in his native country.

It would be easy for Contreras to ignore what’s going on back home. He’s batting .346 (34-for-107) with 10 homers and 27 RBIs in his last 30 games.

“He’s just playing his butt off literally right now,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Everything he’s doing is pretty darn good. He plays with enthusiasm and you’ve got to feel that in the stands. There are some times he might get over enthusiastic. I prefer toning people down as opposed to trying to pump them up. He’s doing everything — he’s hitting fourth, he’s catching, he’s handling a really good pitching staff, he’s throwing people out and he’s blocking the ball really well and he’s hitting homers. God bless him.”

And he’s playing with a heavy heart.

“I know this week is going to be tough in Venezuela,” Contreras said. “I want to make sure Venezuelans know I’m fighting for them.”

— Carrie Muskat

File photo: Cubs players and coaches show support for Venezuela during Spring Training