After most of the other Cubs had exited the dugout through the tunnel to the home clubhouse after Tuesday afternoon’s game, two remained just long enough to share a hug in the dugout that lasted a full 15 seconds.
In other words, roughly as much time as homegrown All-Stars Ian Happ and Willson Contreras have left in a Cubs uniform.
They know it. The contending teams peppering the Cubs front office with calls about them know it. And so did most of the fans at Tuesday’s final Wrigley Field game before next week’s trade deadline — fans who held up “Thank You Willson” signs and who delivered standing ovations throughout the afternoon.
“I wanted to be out there for Willy,” said Happ, who waited, pressed against the dugout rail, gazing around the ballpark, until Contreras finished a postgame interview on the field. “I was going to stay out there and take it in.
“But Willson,” he added. “We’ve played together for a long time and being able to be out there for him and give him a hug, those are special moments that you don’t really forget.”
Contreras: “It was a really cool moment for both of us. This is the only thing that I know. This is the only thing that Ian knows.”
Few teams have more players at the center of substantive trade talks with a week before the trade deadline than the Cubs — with Contreras and Happ drawing as much attention as any of more than a half-dozen available Cubs.
Neither has received an extension offer in the last year from the club, they say. And Contreras has understood since the start of spring training he was destined for a deadline ticket out of town the way former World Series teammates Anthony Rizzo, Javy Báez and Kris Bryant were a year ago.
Happ’s market has heated up as his heater of a first half was sustained through a first All-Star appearance, with more recent reports suggesting almost every buyer has checked in on him.
But as much as both anticipated the emotions that awaited when they showed up Monday for the start of this final, two-game “homestand” against the Pirates, neither was ready for what hit them.
“I could tell he was distracted in the game,” manager David Ross said of Contreras’ emotional night Monday.
“I don’t think you’re ever prepared,” Happ said.
The ovations began before the game did.
Happ’s usual cheering section in the left field bleachers greeted him with a standing ovation when he took the field for the start of the game, Happ taking a few extra moments to acknowledge them and doff his cap.
After the game Happ was presented with a ball autographed by as many left-field bleacher fans as could find space to scribble a name.
“It’s amazing,” said Happ, who had the ball safely tucked in the lockbox in his clubhouse locker after a fan gave it to him via the guys in the bullpen.
“They’re there every day,” he said of his fans/pals in left field, “no matter what, no matter the weather. April until now, they’re there every single day. And they care so much, and that was really meaningful.”
The loudest moments marking the day were reserved for Contreras, who started five World Series games four months after he debuted in 2016, then started three All-Star games behind the plate for the National League — that last part something that only Hall of Famer Gabby Hartnett can claim in franchise history.
In the bottom of the first, when Contreras stepped to the plate for his first at-bat, a 30,000 strong standing ovation came over the ballpark — and overcame Contreras, who stepped out of the box and raised his helmet to the fans.
“That first one got me,” Happ said. “It was an emotional day for a lot of us.”
Six innings later, with the Cubs leading in the seventh, Contreras stepped to the plate with two outs in what is all but certain to be his final plate appearance at Wrigley Field as a Cub.
The ovation this time was bigger than in the first inning, forcing him to step away again, waving again to the only home crowd he has known in seven years in the majors.
“It was amazing,” said Contreras, who teared up again talking about it Tuesday — less than 18 hours after similar emotion hit him talking after Monday night’s game. “I didn’t expect it in the first at-bat because it was a long game, but when I [stepped in] for the first at-bat, it was amazing.
“I tried to enjoy it as much as I could and take it all in.”
That was the theme of what’s believed to be the shortest homestand in franchise history.
Happ said he isn’t even as sure as everyone else seems to be that he’ll be traded by Tuesday’s deadline. But no way was he going to miss the chance to absorb every scene in every moment in case it all plays out the way it looks like it will.
Then, he said, “I would have regretted it if I didn’t take it in that way.”
Contreras’ roots run deeper than Happ’s, His experiences soar higher than those of any Cub in a century before he debuted.
And 18 hours of emotions said as much as he braced for the call that takes him out of the uniform, out of this place.
“I love how the fans embraced myself and how much they love me,” he said. “That makes me feel good. It makes me feel good if I have to walk away from this team I’m going to walk away with my head up high because I know that I did everything that I could to make this team better from Day 1 when I got called up in 2016.”