By Emily Waldon
As the name of Wynton Bernard echoes through the concourse at Fifth Third Ballpark, his purposeful jog out to take his position in the outfield is something that is sure to not lose its significance to him or the fans any time soon.
As the youngest of three sons to Walter and Janet Bernard, the Poway, Calif. native’s journey to pursue the game of baseball became a family affair from the beginning.
“Both my parents, day in and day out would do anything I needed, like if it was a new glove or a new bat, even when they didn’t have the money to do it”, Bernard said. “They would make sure I was taken care of.”
A combination of quick hands and extraordinary speed carried Barnard across country to Niagara University (Division 1). After a notable start to his collegiate career in New York, Bernard’s run was struck sharply in 2010, when his father, Walter passed away that July. The tragedy proved to inspire Bernard to work all the harder to see his dream and the dream of his father come to fruition.
Despite suffering a broken hand in college, Bernard caught the attention of the San Diego Padres and his ability to run a 60-yard dash in under seven seconds was enough to have him selected in the 35th round of the 2012 MLB Draft.
As the pre-season moved just within reach in 2014, Bernard received word that his path was about to take a drastic turn.
He had been cut from the Padres organization.
Words that would have derailed most individuals spurred Bernard to continue digging and soon came across a tryout online for the Detroit Tigers.
“I figured I might as well try out every option, so I paid for it on my own dime to go down to Florida”, Bernard said.
Little did he know that his financial investment would shift the outcome of his future and produce a second chance to do what he and his late father had spoken about so many times before. He would go on to be the only signing for the Tigers out of a list of 120 tryout attendees.
“I just never wanted to give up and I’m so glad I didn’t”, he said.
The eternally optimistic outfielder entered West Michigan this season purposing to make the most of each opportunity he’s given. From signing autographs to participating in a friendly piano dual with equally musical teammate, Javier Betancourt, Bernard continues to raise the bar.
“My personal goal is to be mentally prepared every single day and try not to throw any at-bats away,” he said. “I have so much confidence in our team, like the pitching and the hitting and defense is just ridiculous”.
He is also proving to take advantage of his opportunities on base, as well. The speedy outfielder currently stands as one of the top four stolen base leaders in the entire league.
On July 5, Bernard stepped to the plate exactly four years to the day his father passed and sent a solo shot high over the left field corner to cap the victory against the very team he had played for just one year prior. While every home run ball embodies its own significance, this one in particular would produce a tribute to a man whose legacy will not soon be forgotten.
“I’m just so thankful that I get to play professionally”, Bernard said. “Even though he never got to see me play professionally, I know he’s watching down and he’s really happy for all I’m doing.”
Emily Waldon was raised in Howard City and currently resides in Wyoming, Mich. A lifelong sports enthusiast, she also enjoys photography, traveling and bringing a fresh outlook to the world of athletics, both collegiate and professional. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.