To say Willson Contreras is a passionate ballplayer is like saying the Grand Canyon is a small river valley or The ‘Burbs is just another decent Tom Hanks movie. The Cubs’ fiery 24-year-old backstop is basically a human particle accelerator, which might explain his penchant for light-speed throws to first.
It might also explain why Contreras reacted like a gamma-irradiated scientist while standing at third base following a stand-up triple against Brewers reliever Adrian Houser. This was more than just a dude being amped up about a big hit; WillCo was pissed. But toward whom was his ire directed?
WillCo not pleased about being held at 3B pic.twitter.com/zzbPiKW6FK
— Evan Altman (@DEvanAltman) April 8, 2018
It almost appeared at first as though Contreras was upset with third base coach Brian Butterfield for holding him up rather than letting him chug for an inside-the-park job. But that wouldn’t merit a carpet-bombing of eff-words.
The most plausible early explanation was that Contreras was tearing into Houser, who was quick-pitching the throughout the at-bat. Contreras tossed his bat emphatically after what he thought was Ball 4, only to have it called Strike 2, which surely irked him. Then he tried to call time out while Houser was in his motion, but had to swing when time wasn’t granted.
“[Houser] was throwing fastballs at 96, 97 and I was calling time out and [home plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth] didn’t give me a time out, so I was able to put a barrel on it,” Contreras said after the game.
So this could have been a way for the Cubs catcher to proclaim himself victor of the you-know-what-swinging contest. He seemed to be facing “lower” than where Houser would be standing, though, which probably eliminates the pitcher as the intended target.
“Not with him. I have nothing against the pitcher,” Contreras confirmed to the media. “He’s doing his job. He can do whatever he wants. But there was one person from them that I don’t like and that was something that came out.
“We had an incident back in Venezuela back in 2014 and he knows who he is.”
Hmm, intriguing. Perhaps Contreras was yelling at his counterpart, Manny Piña, a countryman who was a Venezuelan Winter League opponent in both the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons. That’d fit the description above and the direction WillCo was facing when he let fly with some explicit language. Piña would have been part of that irksome at-bat as well.
Except there’s one more wrinkle to this that we need to take into account, and doing so points us in the direction of a seemingly unlikely character.
Willson Contreras says he has some beef with a Brewer player who likes to chirp at him. Goes back to Winter ball in Venezuela a few years ago. Someone in the dugout at the time of his triple
— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) April 8, 2018
The part about the dugout is really important here, since that may eliminate all but one possibility from the list of potential suspects. Check out the Sherlock Holmesian deduction from the ever-astute Twitterer @EJBlock.
In the VEWL Contreras was teammates with Orlando Arcia, who was on the field during the triple. Hernan Perez, Jesus Aguilar, Manny Pina were all opponents in the VEWL but were also on the field during the triple.
Winner for Contreras’ ire in the dugout: Eric Thames
— Block (@EJBlock) April 8, 2018
And in 14-15 season, I don’t see anyone that was in the dugout in the VEWL. Just Arcia, Pina and Aguilar again.
— Block (@EJBlock) April 9, 2018
Well there you go. Definitely not the first guy I’d have guessed, but it makes sense when you think about it. Baseball players carry chips like Frito-Lay delivery drivers, and having Thames as a division rival would certainly fan the flames of an old tiff. Not to mention Thames has reason of his own to be a little salty with the Cubs, even if the parties involved in last year’s kerfuffle are no longer with the team.
Notice Contreras mentioned an incident from 2014. Baseball players have a long memories. For better or for worse. It is helpful for remembering game patterns. I think there is probably a pitcher from Teaneck Western Little League from 1981 that I would charge today. ? https://t.co/fJcVSkdZHP
— Doug Glanville (@dougglanville) April 8, 2018
I know a lot of folks are quick to pooh-pooh talk of a growing I-94 rivalry, particularly after the visiting team logged a 3-1 victory in front of what seemed like a pro-Cubs crowd at Miller Park. And that came despite the Brewers instituting measures to prevent such an incursion by selling tickets only to Wisconsin residents. But make no mistake, the Brewers aren’t going to make like their fans’ attendance or their front office’s pursuit of a big-time free agent pitcher.
Or maybe they are, we’ll just have to see.
Either way, Sunday’s histrionics could signal a little more fire and fury in future matchups between these two teams throughout the remainder of the season. Whichever station is broadcasting the next Cubs/Brewers game may want to kill the field mics when Thames digs in or Contreras makes it to first base.