In the third Major League plate appearance of his life last Friday night, 31-year-old Wynton Bernard started to swing, visibly restrained himself momentarily, then topped a changeup from Arizona pitcher Chris Devenski inside the left foul line.
Diamondbacks third baseman Josh Rojas raced in, scooped up the slowly hit ball and gymnastically fired to first baseman Seth Beer, who stretched to catch the throw before Bernard could reach first base. Thirty-four-year-old umpire Alex Tosi, who called his first major league game three years ago—as Bernard labored for the Iowa Cubs (one of his four teams that year)—leaned in for a better look and called the runner out on a close play.
Most of the 32,055 fans at Coors Field, aware of the significance of Tosi’s decision and convinced he erred, booed heartily.
“My first thought,” Bernard said after the game, “was that so many times in the Minors that’s happened to me. I’m so thankful we have review.”
David Rackley, chief of the umpire crew, announced that video review established (clearly, though he didn’t go that far) that Bernard’s foot indeed had hit the base ahead of Beer catching the throw. Wynton Bernard had his first Major League hit.
In the stands, Bernard’s proud mother Janet, other family members and many friends who flew to Denver on a moment’s notice to be part of this special moment—including his college coach at Niagara— led the cheers as the stadium erupted.
He subsequently would steal second base and later score the final run of the Rockies’ 5-3 victory.
A look at his professional record quantifies Bernard’s memorable debut:
At 31 years and 322 days old, he became the oldest player to get a hit and steal a base in his Major League debut since Joe Delahanty (31-347) on September 30, 1907.
His debut in The Show came after 3,857 plate appearances in the Minors and independent and foreign leagues.
In 10 seasons he played in Australia, Mexico and Venezuela, in addition to the U.S., where he played for 11 teams (some twice) in 10 leagues, plus two independent teams.
Among his stops: the Lake Elsinore Storm, Fort Worth TinCaps, Eugene Emeralds, West Michigan Whitecaps, Erie Seawolves, Toledo Mud Hens, Sacramento River Cats, Tennessee Smokies, Sugar Land Skeeters and, finally, the Albuquerque Isotopes.
During the pandemic year of 2019 he played in something called the Constellation Energy League, rather than miss any time chasing his dream.
In 863 games in the Minors, his lifetime batting average is .286, with an on-base percentage of .347—both worthy of a shot at playing in the Bigs. At Albuquerque this season, he hit .325 with 17 home runs 74 runs batted in and 26 stolen bases.
The Rockies are his fifth Major League organization.
Bernard’s determination and perseverance is the embodiment of one of my favorite poems, inspiration written in the 1920s by Edgar A. Guest titled ‘Don’t Quit.’ Here it is:
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low but the debts are high,
And you want to smile but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.
Life is strange with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many failures turn about
When we might have won had we stuck it out.
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow –
You may succeed with another blow.
Success is failure turned inside out –
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
You can never tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit –
It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.
“I never had the thought of not making it,” Bernard said after his hard-earned debut Friday night. “I just tried to focus on the positives, and that’s what kept me through.”
Bernard lost his father after his first collegiate season. He struggled for a year with the haunting feeling that he’d missed being with his father at the end because of baseball.
But Walter Bernard, a 17-year Navy veteran who succumed to cancer believed to have been caused by his exposure to certain chemicals during the Vietnam War, had worked the graveyard shift so that he would not miss even one of his son’s games. That, eventually, is what Wynton Bernard decided would be his motivation.
“I said, ‘No, that’s not the way my dad would have wanted this. He wants me to live my dream.”
We all can learn from Wynton Bernard and ‘Don’t Quit.’
Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 14 books, eight of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at email@example.com.