Let’s Do This, St. Louis!

Sam Maller/The Players' Tribune

First things first: No one could ever replace Yadier Molina. We all know that.

It’s impossible. Actually, if there’s some word that means even more impossible than the word impossible … that’s what it is. 

Yadier Molina is a legend.

He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer. One of the best to ever do it. Yadi’s a mentor and an inspiration to people like me. He’s the person we look up to. The role model. I admire everything about him — what he did for his team, for this game, for the community of St. Louis. He’s the guy who set the bar that everyone else is trying to reach. So, yeah, Yadi? He’s not someone you ever replace. And I’m definitely not looking to do that. 

But I do want to say that one of the biggest reasons why I’m so excited to be joining the St. Louis Cardinals is because it is going to be a huge honor to try to carry on the tradition of excellence that Yadi established during his 19-year career in the big leagues. I’ve learned so much from that guy over the years by watching him play. How he carries himself, his passion, all of that stuff is impossible to miss. Everything about the dedication he had, how hard he worked, the type of player and teammate he was, wanting to get better each and every day … it’s all one-of-a-kind. And all of it has me inspired to keep pushing to improve so that I can be the very best player and leader possible for the Cardinals.   

This is truly going to be one of the great honors of my entire life.

Michael Reaves/Getty

So, I couldn’t be more excited about coming to St. Louis. It’s a dream come true, for sure. At the same time, though, I’d be lying if I tried to say this wasn’t going to be a huge change for me … like it’s no big deal. 

All I’ve known in baseball since I was a teenager has been the Chicago Cubs.

The Cubs’ baseball academy in Venezuela was a five-minute drive from my house in Puerto Cabello. I was only 16 when I signed with Chicago. Then, within a year, I’m on a plane to the U.S. I was barely old enough to drive a car. I didn’t know any English. All I knew was baseball. And the Cubs. 

That was my world.

And I couldn’t be more grateful that that’s how things went for me, either. I’ve been so lucky to have been a part of the Cubs family for the past 13 years. It’s been an incredible ride! I mean, winning a World Series right off the bat? In my rookie season? It doesn’t get much better. And it’s an experience I’ll never forget as long as I live. 

But nothing lasts forever, right?

I know I’ve given my all to the Cubs over the years. I did everything I could to help make the team better. I played through injuries. Left it all out there on the field. I’m proud of what I’ve contributed.

So I have no regrets about turning the page. I worked extremely hard for many years to get to this place, to be in this position. It’s something I’ve dreamed about — building a career that would allow me to get to where I am right now. And I’m moving on knowing I did all I could for my team.

But now my team is the Cardinals. 

Sam Maller/The Players' Tribune

Going to the Cards is going to be something totally different for me, for sure. 

The rivalry between these two teams has been a big part of my life over the past six years, and now I’m going to be playing for the other side. I’m excited for that, to see what that feels like. And I know for certain that I made the best decision here. Everything just feels absolutely right. 

The Cardinals took the time to really get to know who Willson Contreras is. And that was huge to me and my family. They came down to meet with me in Orlando, and I felt a connection right away. I got to spend a lot of time with the team’s president of baseball operations, John Mozeliak, and the manager, Oliver Marmol, and those guys … we couldn’t be more on the same page. 

It’s just all about winning.

They asked me what winning meant to me, and then we spoke for a long time about how I work — what I do to help my team, to help my pitchers improve day in and day out. I spoke about how I value winning over everything, and how I am a man of action. I told them I’m looking to create lasting relationships and bonds with my new teammates, and then, beyond that, that I’d be willing to do anything I can to help us win. 

I will leave my heart out there on the field for this team. For this town. For St. Louis. I said that straight up.    

This is a team that’s built to win. They’re built to win now, and they’re built to win in the future, too.

Willson Contreras

I also asked a bunch of different questions, of course, and every answer I got was music to my ears. Because it was completely clear that winning is everything in St. Louis. And not just winning … but winning as a team, with everyone working together. 

At the end of the day, it just felt really good having them tell me that they believed in me — as a player and as a person. They valued me. They told me they wouldn’t have come down to visit with me if they didn’t think I was capable of being the guy to follow up a Hall of Famer, an all-time great. 

And when they said that? Hearing that? Maannn, let me tell you. It gave me goose bumps. First, of course, it made me proud. But also, it just really got me fired up and excited and inspired to be a part of the Cardinals organization. To be a leader in that clubhouse. So the belief they had in me, and the way they made that clear … that’s maybe what impacted my decision the most. 

Sam Maller/The Players' Tribune

Now, having made this decision, I can’t wait to start meeting everyone in the organization and learning as much as I possibly can about how things work in St. Louis. I have so much respect for the Cardinals organization. Just from playing against the Cards for all these years and knowing firsthand about their fanbase, the energy of their stadium, the passion the city has for baseball … I could always tell there was something really special there. It stuck with me. 

Going through this process, I envisioned myself with different teams. (You can’t help but do that. You know what I mean?) And when I closed my eyes and saw myself behind the plate for the St. Louis Cardinals, I don’t know … I just really loved how that felt. It felt right. And I can tell that playing for this team is going to be incredible. 

This is a team that’s built to win. They’re built to win now, and they’re built to win in the future, too. It’s a team that’s constantly improving. And this roster is filled with amazing players — Arenado, Goldschmidt, Edman, Gorman, all those pitchers … I could go on and on. It’s just super exciting to me. I can’t wait to get to spend time with all of them and get to know them and start working toward a world championship. 

I know what it takes to get there. I’m driven to get back — I want it more than anything. So this couldn’t be more of a win-win. It’s the perfect match. I can’t wait to get started.

Now let’s go out and win some titles together, St. Louis.