At its best, baseball is a game that can cultivate a lot of joy. Being one of the oldest professional sports in the United States, the game has become generational. Parents have passed love for baseball on to their children, who have passed it on to the next generation, and those have passed it on again.
Baseball has a rich history of brothers reaching the majors, including the DiMaggios, the Alomars, the Ripkens, and many others. And somewhat fittingly, a day before Father’s Day, brothers Willson and William Contreras had the hard-earned opportunity to share the field for the first time in their careers.
Both in the lineup at catcher at Wrigley Field Saturday, the brothers Contreras were the first sibling backstop duo to start a game together since Yadier and Jose Molina did it on June 10, 2014.
Batting second in the Cubs order, Willson went to the plate in the bottom of the first inning, and he was greeted with a hug by his younger brother.
“The best moment of our life including my family, mom and dad. Everything that we went through to get here, now we get to enjoy together,” Willson said.
Their parents and a few other family members were in attendance at Wrigley, and they were able to enjoy a meal together after Friday’s game.
During that first at-bat, the magnitude and significance of the moment was enough that Willson said he fell behind in the count in part because of the emotions he was having, thinking about what it meant for the two of them to be there together.
“I was just soaking in the experience, I almost got in tears in my first at-bat,” Willson said. “As the older brother, seeing your younger brother playing against you, it means a lot, especially knowing the work he has put in, and I’m really proud of that.”
The emotions were strong on both sides.
“Incredible,” William told reporters, through interpreter Franco García. “It’s one of those things that we’ve both dreamed about since we were young kids and just to experience that, it’s inexplicable. Very excited and happy. Dream come true. Kind of like a ‘We’ve made it’ moment.”
Willson ended up hitting a single in that first at-bat, on his way to a 3-for-5 day that included a double, a stolen base, and a run scored. William went 2-for-4 with a double of his own.
Cubs starter Justin Steele said that during his pregame meeting with his catcher, Willson told him he wouldn’t be calling pitches against his brother. “I’m not calling the pitches, you throw what you want to throw against him,” Steele said Willson told him. Willson joked that that way if his brother reached base, it wouldn’t be on a pitch he had called.
Braves manager Brian Snitker has some experience with competing against a family member, having coached against his son, Troy, during the 2021 World Series against the Astros.
“That’s a very special thing,” Snitker said. “I know just from my experience getting to compete or play against my son in the World Series is something you cherish and remember the rest of your life. It’s going to be a really cool afternoon for those guys.”
Snitker joked before the game that it would probably have been fruitless to offer William advice on going against family.
“He’s going to be so jacked up and on fire, I’m sure it would go in one ear and out the other,” Snitker said. “Hopefully he keeps the game slow and enjoys it.”
The Contreras brothers grew up watching Venezuelan winter ball and could only see MLB games on TV once or twice a month, but they both took to the sport at an early age. Willson started playing baseball when he was three years old. “Same with my brother,” Willson said.
But Willson has not had much opportunity to see his brother play in person – not since Little League days, he said – because he signed with the Cubs when he was 17, in 2009, and William has been in the Braves system since 2015, when he was 17. Willson said he does not check his brother’s box scores every day, but they call and text regularly to talk baseball and life.
They’re both doing well in 2022. Willson has a career-high .934 OPS, and his younger brother has a 1.026 OPS in the 29 games he has played this season.
“I always think about my childhood experience and everything that we lived in Venezuela and how the world has changed, our life has changed, but it’s something that we worked for it,” Willson said.
“Even before the game, I was trying to keep myself together. I love my family. My family means everything to me.”
Getting to share the field together is a major milestone in the Contreras family, and one that is years in the making. Going forward, they might get to share other moments like this one, maybe as eventual All-Star teammates, but whatever does happen, Saturday was a memory neither sibling will ever forget.
“To be able to compete in the big leagues at the highest level. To have those moments on the field between family, that’s freaking cool,” manager David Ross said.
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