SAN FRANCISCO — Gripping two aluminum Budweiser bottles in his hands, Willson Contreras walked up to Theo Epstein with a big smile and dumped beer all over the boss’s head in the middle of a TV interview last October.
Contreras stood in roughly the same spot as that wild clubhouse celebration on Monday afternoon at AT&T Park, no longer wearing Oakley goggles above his eyes or enjoying the playoff ride as a rookie catcher. More and more, this is becoming his team, to the point where there might not be another catcher you would rather build around.
Buster Posey still owns those three World Series rings from the San Francisco Giants. Yadier Molina built up Hall of Fame credentials with the St. Louis Cardinals. Salvador Perez means so much to the Kansas City Royals as a World Series champion, an All-Star five seasons running and a four-time Gold Glove winner.
But at the age of 25 — and in the middle of his first full season in The Show — Contreras is the rising stock.
“I don’t really pay attention to those comments,” Contreras said after being named the National League player of the week. “I play baseball because I love baseball. This is my life. I don’t pay attention to who’s the best catcher in the league.
“I’m just aware of where I am right now with the team. And I hope I can play here for a few more years.”
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Contreras put together a monster week — 10-for-22, five homers, 13 RBIs — against two likely playoff teams in the Arizona Diamondbacks and Washington Nationals. The way the Cubs have snapped out of their sub-.500 funk and surged back into first place will likely put Contreras on the edges of the NL MVP discussion.
“Yeah, that’s something that the fans have (mentioned) and they will tweet or comment about it,” Contreras said. “Like I said, I don’t pay attention to those details. I just pay attention to my routine, to my work, to who I’m going to be today at the ballpark and what my teammates are going to do today, so I’m not really worried about that.”
Contreras is batting .346 with 10 home runs and 29 RBIs in his first 20 games since the All-Star break — while handling a veteran rotation that has gone 12-3 with a 3.10 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP and 14 quality starts in 22 games since the Jose Quintana trade.
Contreras now has 33 career homers through 175 games, the most ever for a Venezuelan player and one more than future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera during that stage of his career.
“I’m not trying to be The Man,” Contreras said. “I’m just trying to have a good at-bat, put the barrel on the ball, and the ball just goes. Besides that, I try to keep making mental adjustments. That is a huge part of baseball. And watching the game, you can learn a lot from it.”
Not that Contreras spends a lot of time standing still or sitting on the bench or wondering how he can possibly keep this up while hitting cleanup and playing such a demanding position.
“Of course,” the energy will be there, Contreras said. “When I cross the line, all the energy comes from my heart, comes from who I want to be and (how much I want) to win the ballgames. If I’m going to win another World Series, it would take all of my energy out there.”