Wynton Bernard has played baseball professionally all over the planet.
On Friday night, he finally played his first game in a big league city at the age of 31.
It was a 5-3 victory for the Colorado Rockies, but it was a victory for perseverance and inspiration to witness a player who has spent 11 years in the minor leagues finally get his Major League debut.
“You just got to think positive and positive things will happen,” Bernard said of his mentality through his decade-long journey. “So I never had any doubts. I just didn’t know where the path may lead…. Now that I’m here, I’m just trying to make a statement that I belong here.”
A base hit, followed by a stolen base, certainly made a strong first impression that he’s deserving of a spot on the roster.
Considering he was hitting .325 with 17 home runs, 26 stolen bases and 74 RBI with the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes, there shouldn’t have been much doubt that one of the best players in the Pacific Coast League belongs in MLB.
But all those seasons in the minors will end up making you the second-oldest player to have their debut with the Rockies.
Truly, it’s been more like 11 continuous years than just baseball seasons.
In the offseason, when most players are going back home to recover from the previous slate of games while preparing for the next, Bernard was grinding away with boyhood dreams of making it all the way to the top through the winter.
The pursuit each time was not about another stamp on his passport, but to improve his abilities on the diamond in the winter months of November, December and January. So, off he went traveling the globe for more opportunities to ply his craft.
Dominican Republic, Mexico, Venezuela. Even Australia.
“Honestly, it’s mostly number one,” Bernard responded when asked about picking his winter league destinations. “I want to get better. Like when I went to Australia, I did it right before Spring Training because I wanted to get some more at bats.”
During the regular season, he has traversed just about every corner of the United States riding buses as a minor leaguer with the San Diego Padres, Detroit Tigers, Chicago Cubs and Rockies.
Somewhere, photographs exist of Bernard donning uniforms from the Eugene (OR) Emeralds, Erie (PA) SeaWolves, Fort Wayne (IN) TinCaps and Tennessee Smokies as evidence of his grind on Greyhounds throughout the great expanse of our country.
Growing up outside of San Diego in nearby Rancho Bernardo, CA, he didn’t have to travel far for his first big chance. Drafted in 2012 in the 35th round by the hometown Padres following his senior season at Niagara University was a start.
In 2013, he had the opportunity to play on the big field at the Peoria Sports Complex in a Padres’ Spring Training game.
The manager who sent him in the game was the same one who managed his first in the show: Bud Black.
“For me to see Wynton this afternoon brought me back to when I first met him 11-12 years ago in San Diego when he was out of the draft,” Black shared of Bernard. “This (debut is) special just because of the person, the perseverance, all the adjectives you can place on 11 years in the minors.”
Bernard has persisted his entire tenure as a professional.
Cut by the Padres after only two years, he sought other options. After being rejected by the Los Angeles Dodgers during an open tryout, he was the only one of 120 players signed in another held by the Tigers.
He turned around and immediately won the Midwest League MVP the next season with the Class A West Michigan Whitecaps.
Though he was eventually placed on Detroit’s 40-man roster, he couldn’t get past Triple-A following his age-25 season in 2016.
It was only one step away from the majors needed for the dream to finally come to fruition.
That was six years ago.
“All I can say is that he deserves it,” Janet Bernard said of her son’s opportunity. “He has worked hard and he’s never let anyone deter him from playing baseball.”
Even his Triple-A manager Warren Schaeffer couldn’t help but recognize the how unique Bernard is as human being who simply believed in his abilities despite others failing to recognize.
“What I saw today made this the best of my coaching career,” Schaeffer said to Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal. “What I witnessed in a locker room today, the reaction of Wynton, the reaction of his teammates. It just made… everything that you do worthwhile….”
It only took until his second game before Bernard notched his first RBI as a big leaguer on Sunday.
At over 1,000 professional contests before reaching the mountain top, he knows how to be patient.
No matter how long it takes for his first diving catch or home run, it will all have been worth it.