Mom's reaction to son's long-awaited callup is priceless

After 863 Minor League games, Wynton Bernard stars in debut in Rockies' win

August 13th, 2022

DENVER -- One day after “Field of Dreams” was honored by Major League Baseball, the Rockies’ produced the feel-good infield hit of the summer on Friday night.

In his 10th season of affiliated ball, a journey that involved six stints in foreign leagues and a pandemic season in 2020 spent in the odd but aptly named Constellation Energy League as part of his independent league resume, the 31-year-old Bernard finally made his Major League debut in the Rockies’ 5-3 win over the D-backs at Coors Field.

Denver folks needed to cheer Bernard, who had given them a good cry before his debut. Late Thursday afternoon, Bernard shared his dream becoming reality via a video call with his mother, Janet Bernard, after being informed by Triple-A Albuquerque manager Warren Schaeffer that he was, indeed, getting the call to The Show. That emotional call was then shared with the world.

And the debut was magical. The scene of Bernard beating out a grounder to third was slightly awkward at first -- due to first-base umpire Alex Tosi initially calling him out. But this is a feel-good story, remember, and after a replay review confirmed Bernard actually beat Josh Rojas' throw to first, it sent both him and Rockies fans into euphoria. He'd later swipe second base for good measure.

According to STATS Inc., at 31 years and 322 days old, Bernard became the oldest player to get a hit and steal a base in his Major League debut since the Cardinals' Joe Delahanty on September 30, 1907 (31 years, 347 days).

“My first thought that went through my head was so many times in the Minors, that's happened to me, and now I’m so thankful we have review,” said Bernard, who was cheered wildly in each at-bat in his 1-for-3 night, and returned the love by going to the stands to sign autographs after the game.

It was part of a two-run inning that gave the Rockies the lead and sparked a happy ending for an enthusiastic Friday night crowd -- a nice turnout for a matchup of fourth- (Arizona) and fifth-place teams in the National League West.

Before finally getting his moment in the Major Leagues -- which going into Friday according to Baseball-Reference consisted of more than 20,000 men since the game started in 1876 -- Bernard at times choked up.

“I never had the thought of not making it,” said Bernard, who seized his opportunity by batting .325 with 17 home runs, 24 doubles, eight triples and 74 RBIs at Albuquerque. “I just tried to focus on the positives, and that’s what kept me through.”

Guys make the Majors all the time, and there are many happy, tearful scenes. But the source of Bernard’s heartstrings was laid long before Thursday’s video call.

A San Diego native, Bernard learned the sport from his father, Walter. Bernard’s desire led him to a baseball camp at Clemson, S.C., where a coach from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh recommended him to his college home, Niagara University. Already, his path to the Majors was winding. But after his freshman year, Walter Bernard had a stroke. Wynton sat out a year. When he went off to play summer ball, his father passed away.

“I felt some sort of resentment for baseball, for a full year,” Bernard said. “Then I said, ‘No, that's not the way my dad would have wanted this. He wants me to live my dream.’

“The last time I saw him, he was crying ... and now I think he would be OK with me making the Major Leagues today.”

In 2012, the Padres selected Bernard in the 35th round of the MLB Draft. He never advanced beyond Single-A when the Padres released him in ‘13. He was with the Tigers from 2014-16 and reached Triple-A, but he gained his most attention as a contestant on "Family Feud."

After stints with the Giants (2017) and Cubs (2018-19) and the pandemic year with Sugar Land in the Constellation circuit, it all began to come together back home in San Diego. Former Major Leaguer and longtime coach Phil Plantier was working with Bernard and another inspiring fellow looking for a team, current Rockies player Connor Joe. Plantier called another San Diego-area resident, Rockies manager Bud Black. Black liked what he saw, and the team would sign both.

Earlier this year, after winter ball in Mexico, Bernard earned his chance to play for Black, who managed the Padres when they drafted Bernard.

Black was emotional when greeting Bernard at the ballpark before the game, but even more he was looking forward to him continuing his power-hitting-speed combo that led to his chance.

“These are the dog days, for sure,” Black said after the game. “You’d like to interject some energy at times. Sometimes it happens like this, with a guy coming up from the Minors who's never been here before, who plays with a lot of spirit and inspiration.”

Sure enough, after his single Friday, Bernard -- who also made a running catch in the fifth inning, while Janet was being interviewed on the Rockies' broadcast -- stole second.

He would later score an insurance run on Jose Iglesias' sacrifice fly, effectively capping his feel-good story with a dramatic, win-the-game ending.

But he wants more.

“It’s funny -- the first thing I looked at last night was like, how many games back are we?” Bernard said. “I just want to do everything I can to help the team win. So in a big situation like that, to come through for the team, it was huge. I’m so glad it happened.”