As you’ve noticed, I enjoy writing stories about guys that don’t get as much attention. It’s why I cover the minor leagues. It’s because I enjoy the human interest side of baseball. Sure, we’ll write about the big stories too here, but getting to know the other guys who are putting in work every day down here in Ft. Myers is important too.
Doug Bernier is a guy who knows about hard work and perseverance. He made his big league debut in 2008: two games and four at bats (no hits) with the Colorado Rockies in 2008.[PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
In 2013, shortly after his 33rd birthday, and about five years since his debut, he got the call he’d worked so hard to get again. At the All-Star break, he learned the news that he would be heading back to the big leagues as a member of the Minnesota Twins.
“It was so awesome. It was like all the work that happened, to actually get to the big leagues and play and get some time there. You know, the first two weeks there, my mind and heart were just racing all the time. But after a little bit, I was able to slow down and it just kind of felt like baseball a little bit. That’s exactly what I wanted to feel when I got up to that level. It was a blast, and that was something that I thought about every day this offseason and it’s where I want to get back to.”
Photo by Steve Mitchell
Many would have left the game sometime in between, satisfied to get that one chance to forever call himself a big leaguer. Bernier has those moments cross his mind too, but obviously he is thrilled he didn’t quit on himself. He also had a very strong supporter encouraging him along the way.
“There was a couple of times where I was getting frustrated, but I also talked to my wife about it a little bit. She was totally supportive. She wasn’t like ‘hurry up and hang ‘em up so we can have a normal life.’ It’s cool just to have the support from her, and she’s like, ‘If you still love it, and you still believe you can do it, and you still believe you can play in the big leagues, go for it.’ And that’s what we did, and that made me relax a little bit, and I just went out there and played and had fun. So that was a little easier.”
At the end of the season, the Twins designated Bernier for assignment, removing him from their 40 man roster. Maybe 24 hours later, he re-signed with the Twins. It was an easy choice for the veteran.
“To me, it was easy. This is the place I wanted to be. Sometimes you can just kind of feel right away the closeness between the guys, the chemistry. I felt like even on the minor league side here. There was a closeness between the guys which is pretty unique. And it’s just a fun place to play baseball every day. And also, I had the opportunity to play in the big leagues last year. After the season, for me, it was a no brainer. I wanted to be back here.”
Bernier has always played a very good defense. He takes a lot of pride in it and works at getting even better.
“I’ve kind of always been that guy. I’ve had a lot of years in the past where I struggled offensively, but being able to stay consistent defensively has kind of kept me around. They tell you to separate offense and defense. That was something I had to do because if I didn’t, I’d have been out of the game a long time ago.”
Bernier came into spring training this season with the same mentality he has every year, to make himself better. “I mean really, I’m just trying to do what I can to try to improve my game. I know there’s a lot of things I can work on. I’m just trying to go about it, do the best I can. Just trying to improve myself, and hopefully with that it can help the team. Just working on playing multiple positions, and trying to get better offensively. That’s just kind of the process of spring but everything’s feeling alright.”
Bernier is a guy who not only wants to play baseball, but it is really important to him to be able to help others. Maybe they won’t experience the same journey he has, but players of all ages, kids and adults, often have questions about the game. Bernier and his wife found a way to do that. They started the Pro Baseball Insider website to put themselves in a position to help others. Twins Daily contributor AJ Pettersen has contributed a few articles to Bernier’s site as well.
“The thing we started with Pro Baseball Insider is… I was doing lessons on the side, and we were getting kids that were asking, ‘Why do you do this? Or why do you do this? My high school coach is telling me this, is this good or is this bad?’ A lot of times, it’s just knowledge and information. I’ve been fortunate to be around a lot of the best baseball players in the world. I feel like, sometimes kids have questions like, ‘Are plastic spikes good, or are metal better?’ Things that you kind of take for granted that they have questions about.”
Bernier continued, “Being able to talk to a bigger community of kids and parents, I thought was a pretty cool thing for me. So we decided to put the website together with some basic instruction on there. We have a little feature where people can e-mail and we can communicate back and forth. Sometimes we go in-depth on things. It was basically just a way to communicate things I’ve learned and what others have learned. I guess the professional way of doing things to try to teach kids when they’re young so hopefully they don’t have to go through the same mistakes that I had to battle through. I guess that was kind of the idea behind it.”
Giving back is something that is often said, but it isn’t always followed up on. Bernier said that he gets quite a few e-mails from people each week.
2013 was certainly a dream season personally for Doug Bernier in many ways. After such a long time, he finally got a chance to get back to the big leagues last year, appearing in 33 games with the Twins. He was able to take a few weeks off after the season and spend some quality time with his wife and daughter. He was able to reflect for a while on all that happened but also looks forward to getting back in 2014.
“It was a couple of weeks of being able to reflect. Once I started working out, it was just how I do it. Just get back and work hard. At that point, I wasn’t thinking about the past. I was just kind of thinking about what I was doing that day and thinking about this upcoming season.”
Less than three weeks until Opening Day, and Doug Bernier is still on the Twins spring training roster. The odds may not be real high that he starts the season in the majors, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he surfaces with the Twins again in 2014.