Facing his locker, AirPods in his ears, Willson Contreras pulled out a little samba move as he danced his way into the next phase of his pre-game routine.
Before meetings and batting practice, Contreras began his morning by lifting weights, trying to get his mind on baseball and off the stress that has heaped the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Baseball is providing the 26 year-old with an escape from the devastating situation in his homeland of Venezuela.
“When I’m at the ballpark I’m happy, I enjoy my teammates and every second here,” Contreras told me during spring training. “But once you leave, everything that comes to my mind is Venezuela. How are the people doing there and when is going to be the end?”
Contreras’ 2019 resurgence – including a monster home run Wednesday night in Seattle – is even more remarkable when you put in perspective everything he’s dealing with on a daily basis outside of baseball.
This isn’t managing some prolonged slump at the plate or a 2-7 start to the season. To Venezuelans, this is a matter of life or death.
“I went down to Venezuela... it’s hard to see kids from 5 to 8 years old looking in a trash can for food,” he said. “It’s hard to see people dying because they don’t have medicine at all. Nowadays, it’s hard to go down there because you watch all of that.”
Watching Venezuelans contemplate their future in their home country hurts.
"It’s not supposed to be that way because we’re born in Venezuela and you want your future to be in Venezuela,” Contreras said.
Just this week, thousands of marchers protested in Venezuela to try to force socialist President Nicolás Maduro from power. With tensions escalating and a revolution on their hands, Contreras told me before suiting up for the Cubs and Mariners game on Tuesday he’s just scared for his country.
“Everybody doesn’t have the same heart because the regime knows how bad they’re doing to the country,” he said in spring training. “They know they’re killing people. They know the military is killing people because the regime is making orders. You cannot go to the streets and have a democracy because the military will kill you just like that. It’s hard. It’s really hard.”
With those thoughts constantly weighing on his heart and mind, Contreras continues to find a way to channel his emotions into the game he loves as much as his country.
Willson Contreras is raising money for his country by selling "Freedom for Venezuela" shirts, with 100% of the profits going to Venezuela.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Cubs easily on your device.