Over the past decade, Janet Bernard has logged countless miles to watch her son Wynton play baseball. She doesn’t like flying, so she twice drove her high-top van more than 1,400 miles from their hometown of Poway, Calif., just north of San Diego, to the Houston suburb of Sugar Land. She’s driven to Tennessee and Pennsylvania, and has frequently made the 2,200-plus mile trip to Grand Rapids, Mich.
But after learning Thursday that her son would make his MLB debut for the Colorado Rockies on Friday after 10 seasons of affiliated ball, Janet was open to a short flight if it got her to Denver in time for Bernard’s introduction against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The video of Bernard sharing the news of his call-up with his mother tugged at heartstrings before and after the Rockies’ 5-3 win in his debut. As the 31-year-old acclimates to the big leagues, he and Janet hope his long-awaited dream becomes a more permanent reality.
“I’m still trying to take it all in and process what has happened to Wynton,” Janet said in a phone interview. “Never in my wildest dreams did I expect his story to go viral. That is just the most amazing part of this journey.”
For Bernard, that journey began with sacrifice.
The speedy outfielder remembers the countless hours Janet spent with him at the batting cage when he was younger. He remembers how his late father, Walter, eschewed buying a new car to fund tutoring and baseball tournaments.
Those sacrifices helped forge a family of standout athletes. Bernard’s brother, Walter, 44, played as a defensive back for the Chargers, Indianapolis Colts and Seattle Seahawks. Wayne, 40, was a basketball standout at Davidson and played professionally in Europe.
Bernard, who was named after the jazz pianist Wynton Kelly, moved across the country to extend his baseball career at Niagara University. He briefly transferred to Riverside City College after his father died of kidney disease in 2010, but later returned to Niagara and was selected by the Padres in the 35th round of the 2012 MLB draft.
He dreamed of becoming an all-star and an MVP, but over the next decade, Bernard toiled in the minors, spending time in the farm systems of San Diego, Detroit, San Francisco and Chicago. Two of his six stints in foreign leagues took him to the Mexican Winter League and the Australian Baseball League. He played independent ball in the Constellation Energy League, a one-off league in Texas created during the early days of the pandemic in 2020. Most of the way, Janet continued to drive to his games as he pursued the majors.
“Coming from Niagara as a 35th-round pick, it was obviously a grind, to say the least,” Bernard said in a phone interview. “It was an extremely tough road, but I battled it out.”
Janet hoped her son’s dream would come to fruition, but doubt occasionally crept in over the past decade. Bernard constantly talked about baseball, so she said she eventually stopped discussing it with him to offer a reprieve. When he had a great game, they didn’t exchange words, but she would text him a heart or a clapping emoji, and he would send a heart back.
“I kept learning and I’ve tried everything,” Bernard said. “I’ve tried different swings, I’ve tried different stolen base techniques, I’ve tried different things in the outfield. I think all of my failures have allowed me to progress as a major league player. There were times where I think I could have gotten called up, but maybe at that moment, I wasn’t the best. Right now, I feel like I’m in my prime, and so it’s just perfect timing.”
The call-up came Thursday evening in Albuquerque, the home of the Rockies’ Class AAA affiliate. Bernard was going through his pregame routine — visualizing his at-bats against the opposing pitcher and readying for a quick nap — when Manager Warren Schaeffer made an announcement to the team.
“After 11 hard minor league seasons,” he said, “Wynton Bernard is going to The Show, boys!”
The clubhouse erupted. Bernard cried. He dapped up some teammates and scooped others off the ground. The moment was unexpected. It felt surreal.
Later that day, Janet was watering plants and cutting an overgrown shrub in her garden in Poway when her phone rang. She was expecting a call from someone else, but was curious to hear what Bernard wanted to talk about. When they connected on FaceTime, he told her he was headed to the major leagues.
“It never dawned on me that he would be calling to tell me that he just got called up,” Janet said. “My reaction was like, ‘For real?! I can’t believe this, but you deserve it. You’ve worked so hard.' And you know, after we hung up I just fell to my knees and I just started thanking the Lord.”
Janet, who hadn’t boarded a plane in four years, flew into Denver to arrive in time for the game, which she watched at Coors Field alongside Walter, Wayne and Bernard’s college coach, Rob McCoy.
In 10 seasons across the minor leagues (excluding his one season of independent ball), Bernard had hit .286 with 825 hits, 50 home runs and 220 stolen bases. In his Friday debut, he registered a base hit, a stolen base and a run scored.
“I was in the outfield in the ninth inning just like, ‘Is this a dream, or is this real? And it’s real,’ ” he said in his postgame interview. “It’s truly a dream come true.”
At 31 years and 322 days old, Bernard is the oldest player to get a hit and steal a base in his MLB debut since 1907, according to Stats Perform. Despite that distinction, he said he feels young enough to accomplish the remainder of his big league dreams.
“The sky’s the limit,” Bernard said. “I want to be a part of a winning team. I want to win a World Series. I want to be an all-star. I want to be a major league player every single day, and I’m gonna work as hard as I can to do that.”