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LOS ANGELES — Willson and William Contreras have had the kind of baseball careers dreams are made of. Both play the prestigious position of catcher for the legendary franchises. Both won World Series titles during their rookie seasons. And both will debut for the National League in Tuesday’s All-Star Game.
At the start of this season, however, even Willson and William Contreras didn’t think they could become the first brothers since Aaron and Bret Boone in 2003 to earn Midsummer Classic invites, let alone beat back-to-back in the start. of the National League. line up. Not this year, anyway.
When their two teams, the elder Willson’s Cubs and young William brave, first faced each other this season in April, much of their extended family came from their native Venezuela. At the time, it seemed possible this would be the only series the two of them would appear on together for all of 2022, if not longer, given Willson’s impending free agency and William’s then-shaky hold on a spot in the major league roster. The pair had the honor of exchanging roster cards in the series opener.
“When we traded roster cards, we just thought of it as, [a celebration of] “We made it to the big leagues,” Willson said. “We saw each other in the All-Star Game. But we didn’t think it would happen this year.
For Willson, 30, the fact that he was voted by the fans as the NL’s starting catcher may not have come as a surprise. He had already earned two career All-Star Game appearances and was coming off his best season in terms of Baseball Reference WAR. This year, Willson is once again one of the top catchers in the major leagues, hitting .253/.366/.455 with 13 homers and 2.7 bWAR.
For William, 24, however, finding himself as the NL’s starting DH is seen as a shock, even if his preference for winning a Silver Slugger over a Gold Glove, putting him at odds with his brother, makes their respective assignments for Tuesday. somewhat appropriate night. Because just a few months ago, he wasn’t even sure if he would be in the big leagues in July.
A few days after going 0-for-4 in his debut in the third game of the season against the Reds, William was traded to Triple A. He wasn’t recalled until a few weeks later, when backup receiver Manny Piña was placed on the disabled list with wrist inflammation. the old Brewers backstop had signed with Atlanta in the offseason for two years and $8 million. At the top of the receiver depth chart was Travis d’Arnaud – another 2022 All-Star, making William’s All-Star offer even more unlikely – who last August was signed to 23 at double the salary of Pina. These two movements jeopardize the future of Contreras, at least with Atlanta.
These doubts were quickly dispelled. In his first game back in the big leagues, on April 29 against the Rangers, Contreras hit two home runs. In his next 11 games, he hit five more homers, for a total of seven, becoming the only major league player this season to hit more than six dingers in his first 13 games. By then, Piña had been ruled out for the season. In 46 games this season, Contreras is slashing .260 / .345 / .532 with 11 home runs, which equals his season-high at any professional level and is three more than 2022 Home Run Derby participant and teammate Ronald Acuña Jr. , in nearly 100 less plaque appearances. He leads 39 catchers with at least 170 plate appearances in slugging percentage, and his 142 wRC+ ranks second behind only Alejandro Kirk of the Blue Jays in that same group. His plate prowess made him a regular fixture on the Atlanta roster despite d’Arnaud’s dueling success. This ended up pushing him into National League training as well.
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William, who finished second in All-Star fan voting against Phillies DH Bryce Harper, was voted onto the NL roster by his teammates. By then, Harper had already been ruled out of the All-Star Game with a broken thumb, making William the starter.
Some fans have questioned William’s All-Star selection, and it’s true his season hasn’t been without its flaws. Contreras was completely baffled by broken balls, batting just .105 with zero homers and 22 strikeouts in 62 plate appearances against them. Additionally, William has started more games at receiver (29) than he has at DH (12), and there are a few catchers who might have a better All-Star case than him at that position. Among catchers with at least 170 plate appearances, his 1.5 bWAR ranks 10th in MLB and sixth in the National League, behind several non-All-Stars, including Dodgers’ Will Smith (3.0), who was one of the most egregious snubs of this year. . Still, it was thanks to the support of his peers that William got the All-Star nod.
“Willson was confident I would make it,” William said through an interpreter. “When I did, Willson called me and said, ‘I told you you’d make it. Now you’re coming with me to LA'”
The Boone brothers played in different leagues when they were All-Stars together in 2003, and neither of them started the game. Thus, the Contreras are the first brothers to play for the same All-Star team since Roberto and Sandy Alomar Jr. in 1998. Willson and William are also the first brothers to start the All-Star Game together since the Alomars joined. made 30 years ago. from.
Willson has always been a pillar of support for his brother, even though he hadn’t named him a future major leaguer since he was a kid.
“I always saw my brother play in the Little League and I couldn’t tell if he was going to be in the big leagues. But once he grew up and I saw him play again, I knew he had something special,” Willson said. “He became a professional baseball player with the Braves in 2015. And then I saw him in his third season [with them]. … Then I knew he had everything to be a major league baseball player.
When they were children, the two brothers did everything to fulfill their dream of playing in the big leagues, even if it meant challenging their parents.
“I specifically remember us leaving the house undercover sneaking out just to go and play baseball,” William said. “Our parents were very disciplined. We tried to respect them, but we really wanted to play. So we were trying to find a way to somehow sneak in just to try and play baseball because that’s what we wanted to do.
With much of the Contreras clan returning to the United States for this week’s festivities, it’s safe to assume that those unjustified absences have since been forgiven.
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