After Yonathan Daza went down with a shoulder injury on Thursday, the Rockies called upon outfielder Wynton Bernard to take his place on the active roster. After spending a decade in the minor leagues (including stints in foreign leagues and independent ball), the 31-year-old outfielder finally made his big-league debut.
Bernard has been having a breakout season in 2022, slashing .325/.374/.588 with the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes (and winning Pacific Coast League Player of the Week for the first week of May and PCL Player of the Month for July). With a line like that, he was finally ready to make his mark at a major-league level. In his debut, Bernard went 1-for-3, scored a run, stole a base and struck out. His first hit wasn’t without controversy, though, but luckily the Rockies were able to successfully challenge the call and give him that moment (which would ultimately help them win the game 5-3).
After letting the bright lights and big moments of his long-awaited debut sink in for a night, Bernard said it still feels surreal that he’s finally here.
“Waking up this morning, I’d gotten a couple calls and obviously a million text messages from everybody and it’s just like ‘I did it, I’ve come a long way’ and that’s all I can say,” he said.
Bernard has come a long way. He was originally drafted by his hometown San Diego Padres in the 35th round of the 2012 draft. He spent one full year in the Padres system before being released in January 2014. He was signed by the Detroit Tigers as a minor-league free agent in March 2014, and he’d spend the next two years in their system. He then bounced between the San Francisco Giants’ and Chicago Cubs’ systems, while also playing some seasons of winter ball in Mexico. He first signed with the Rockies in 2019, elected free agency and then was re-signed in 2021.
And the rest, they say, is history.
Bernard made his MLB debut in front of 32,055 cheering fans and was grateful for every one of them.
“Walking up to the plate and hearing everybody cheering for me, I can’t even describe it,” he said with a huge grin on his face. “And then to see my family out there, just thinking about all the times that they supported me and they continue to support me… it’s just like everything coming full circle.”
Among those 32,055 cheering fans were four very special folks: his mother, Janet, and his three brothers. Knowing they were watching was “super special,” he said. “I try to tell them all the time that they’re such inspirations to me and I’ve seen how hard everybody’s worked in my family, and for them to be here for my big moment was truly incredible.”
“I know they’re proud of me,” he continued,” but I’m also proud of them. We’re proud of each other and I always say it’s not just me who made it, I feel like we all made it. And that goes to my friends and family and my teammates. Everybody played a part.”
Unfortunately, though, there was one person who was unable to be there for Wynton’s big-league debut: his late father, Walter, who passed away in 2010. But Bernard believes that his father was looking down upon him during that special game.
“Throughout my whole career I’ve played for him,” he said, “and I think of him all the time during games. I just hope he’s looking down on me.”
Bernard flew up from Albuquerque on Friday morning and was immediately thrust into the starting lineup, which he was very glad to see. And even though he was coming up on a huge milestone, he kept his routine the same... minus a few more pre-game interviews.
But at the end of the day, Wynton was grateful for all of the support he’s been shown throughout his career and during this big moment. He was bombarded with calls and texts from his coaches and teammates in Albuquerque (“I haven’t been able to get to all my messages yet, so hopefully people are understanding that I’ll be able to respond!” he chuckled), as well as plenty of advice from his new big-league manager and teammates.
“Everybody just said ‘be yourself’ and that’s how it was last night,” he said. “That really helped, it went a long way. When I went up to the plate, I felt so comfortable. I was like, ‘I belong here.’”
With all the weirdness of the 2022 Rockies season, hopefully Wynton Bernard can be a feel-good story to finish it all out.