With parents in the stadium, Contreras stars in walkoff

August 30th, 2023

ST. LOUIS -- was a part of the Cubs' historic World Series-winning team in 2016 and he’s been a three-time starter in the MLB All-Star Game. But even those enormous accomplishments pale in comparison to the emotions and deep sense of pride he felt on Tuesday night at Busch Stadium.

For the first time since he became a Cardinal last December, Contreras had his parents, William and Olga Contreras, in the crowd to watch him play when St. Louis defeated the Padres 6-5 in 10 innings.

Watching how they worked when he was a child growing up in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela -- his father serving as a driver for his uncle’s company and his mother working as a school janitor -- taught the 31-year-old catcher a thing or two about perseverance. That’s a trait that has come in handy in a first season in St. Louis that has gone anything but how Contreras expected when he hoped to be another piece in the Cardinals' long history of success.

Their inspiration certainly played a role in Contreras hitting two home runs, including a two-run, game-tying shot in the eighth inning that traveled 427 feet and halfway up the grassy berm in center field. After the first homer, Contreras looked to the heavens and was thankful for being released from the grips of a 0-for-15 skid. On the second homer, he let out a primal scream as he rounded the bases and fireworks erupted overhead. After touching home following both homers, he scanned the crowd of 36,851 and pointed to parents he said he owed everything to.

“I came from nothing and making it all the way here, that is what has kept me thankful to be playing baseball,” said Contreras, following the 14th multi-home run game of his career and his third this season. “If you go out and walk the streets [in Venezuela], there are a lot of people in need and I’m able to wake up every morning and have a ceiling [overhead], I have my family with me and have food on the table. That’s how I keep my spirits up.

“Tonight was so special for me having my family in the stands. I’m here because of them, I owe them a lot and I don’t think there’s anything I can ever do that’s enough for them. Having a night like I had tonight, it’s something I’ll never forget.”

Contreras was able to fully savor the night when Tommy Edman delivered a pinch-hit knock deep to left on the first pitch that he saw from Padres All-Star closer Josh Hader, plating Masyn Winn. For the Cardinals, the victory snapped a four-game losing streak. For the Padres, it extended their extra-innings misery to an almost unthinkable 0-11 on the season.

“To hear the crowd to get into it, to give them a reason to get into it, to walk somebody off and to come back from behind -- all of it feels good,” Cards manager Oliver Marmol admitted. “I wish we would have done more of this, but we’ve got a month left and we’ve got to continue to fight the way we’re fighting.”

Contreras has been fighting to keep his head above water all throughout his first season in St. Louis. Tasked with trying to replace nine-time Gold Glove catcher and franchise icon Yadier Molina, he started almost as slowly as a Cardinals franchise that limped to a 10-24 opening to the season. Then, he briefly had his catching duties stripped from him when he faced challenges trying to adapt to “The Cardinal Way” of pregame preparation.

Said Contreras: “I’d say it’s been a crazy season. … It’s been a season of adjustments.”

Contreras set the stage for his homer heroics early in the night when he hit a 113.9-mph laser that knocked Padres third baseman Matthew Batten backward. Then, following a 107.9 mph grounder that shortstop Xander Bogaerts booted, he crushed homers that left the bat at a scorching 107.4 mph and 110 mph, per Statcast.

With each smash, Contreras said he instantly thought about the sacrifices his parents made years ago so that he and his brother, Brewers catcher William, could chase their baseball dreams. Afterward, he made sure to point out that the two homers were for the two people who have meant the most in his life.

“I know they did whatever it took for them to put food on the table for us,” said Contreras, who noted that one of the happiest days of his life came when he told his parents that they could quit their jobs. “Now that I’m here and my brother is here in the big leagues too, it’s just a blessing for our family.”