In his footsteps: Cardinals’ Contreras honors Yadi with special cleats for opening day

Cardinals catcher Willson Contreras displays the special edition cleat he had designed for...
Cardinals catcher Willson Contreras displays the special edition cleat he had designed for opening day, honoring former Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina.(Brenden Schaeffer)
Published: Mar. 29, 2023 at 11:08 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - After the Cardinals had finished settling into their digs with a workout at Busch Stadium on Wednesday afternoon, new franchise catcher Willson Contreras took questions in front of his locker stall inside the Cardinals clubhouse—the same one occupied last season by Albert Pujols—for the first time.

When asked what he’s been told regarding what to expect for his first St. Louis home opener, which comes Thursday afternoon when the Cardinals take on the Blue Jays, Contreras provided a bit of trivia: He’s actually already played in an opening day game at Busch Stadium.

Only for that contest, he was wearing blue.

“It was really, really good,” Contreras said of the Busch Stadium atmosphere as he recalled it from that opening day in 2017. The Cardinals beat the Cubs 4-3 in that April 2 affair, needing walk-off heroics in the bottom of the ninth after Chicago’s second-year catcher tied the game with a dramatic three-run homer in the top half of the game’s final inning.

Contreras was perhaps too modest to bring up that detail in the moment—or maybe he’s just that good at reading a room.

“But now that I’m here, it’s going to be better,” Contreras added.

On the other side of the rivalry, Contreras has quickly endeared himself to Cardinal Nation. He’s made his newfound allegiance more than clear and has referenced at every turn his desire to help bring another championship to St. Louis.

“We’re all engaged on going back to the World Series. That’s our main goal,” Contreras said Wednesday. “Of course, we have to stay healthy and win a lot of ballgames before we get there. But what’s exciting about this team is that we’re all on the same page and we’re looking to win.”

Thursday will be a culmination of a dream many months in the making for Contreras as the longtime Cub will have a sea of red ready to embrace him in full force for the first time. When the moment arrives, Contreras has planned a special way of showing his awareness and appreciation for the big shoes he’ll be stepping into as the franchise catcher in St. Louis.

“He played here his whole life,” Contreras said of following in the footsteps of Yadier Molina. “This is a really special place for me to be. It’s a huge responsibility because we all know what he did for the Cardinals and for baseball.

“Nothing but respect to Yadi, my idol. Now that I’m here, I’ve got goosebumps. I’m excited for this new journey and I’m excited to help this team in any way I can to win ballgames.”

After he spoke those words, Contreras paused to present a special edition cleat that he had designed to wear on Thursday. The sharp red shoe beamed with the phrase ‘RESPECT4′ and featured the Gateway Arch in the background.

“I made this for him,” Contreras said, proudly showing off one of the cleats. “I know he probably doesn’t expect that, but I felt like I had to do some kind of honor for him... When I first signed I was just thinking of a way to let him know my appreciation for him and his game—and how much he has meant for the game and for the city of St. Louis.”

While Cardinals fans probably won’t see Contreras ride in on the back of a pickup truck Thursday—he’ll likely be in the bullpen warming up the starting pitcher during the fanfare and player introductions, as Yadi did before him—his shoe game should make it clear that he respects the footsteps in which he follows.