Wynton Bernard has been chasing his major league dream for a long time now.
Albuquerque is giving him a chance to realize it.
Bernard, a 31-year-old outfielder for the Albuqerque Isotopes, is putting up dazzling numbers in 2022. Bernard went 2-for-4 with a double in Wednesday night’s 10-5 victory over visiting Sugar Land and is hitting .403 this season with six homers and a team-best 23 RBIs in 24 games.
The numbers are not what anyone might have expected. Bernard came into the season as a career .281 hitter in the minor leagues. He hit .254 for the Isotopes last season and was re-signed by the Colorado Rockies over the winter with a limited role in mind.
“Wynton was told he was going to play about three games a week,” Isotopes manager Warren Schaeffer said. “He’s played and hit so well, he’s forced his way into the everyday lineup batting leadoff. He’s the ultimate stick-with-it guy. He’s been phenomenal.”
The gregarious Bernard smiled when asked about his transformation at the plate.
“Part of it is a swing change in the offseason,” he said, “and then it’s a matter of working on it every day, every day. I played winter ball in Mexico, I’ve worked a lot with (Isotopes hitting coach) Jordan Pacheco. It’s all paying off so far.”
A San Diego native, Bernard has been toiling in the minor leagues since he was a 35th-round draft pick of the Padres in 2012. His path included a stop in independent ball (Sugar Land in 2019-20) and winter stints in Mexico, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Australia.
“Yeah, I’m kind of that veteran guy now,” Bernard said. “I’ve been all over the place.”
New Mexico is Bernard’s latest stop, but his familiarity with the Land of Enchantment dates back further than his pro baseball career. Bernard remembers rolling into the state to watch his older brother, Walter, play football for the University of New Mexico.
It wasn’t a short ride.
“My parents and I used to drive 12 hours to come here for games,” Bernard said. “We made that drive from San Diego lots of times. I used to love coming here. A lot of Walter’s teammates were like older brothers to me. Some of them still live here and come sometimes to watch me play.”
The Bernard family does not lack for talent. Wynton’s other older brother, Wayne, played college basketball at Davidson and professionally in Europe. When he’s not playing baseball, Wynton sometimes plays piano or saxophone.
“My parents wanted us to have opportunites,” Wynton said. “My dad put us in anything, music lessons, sports, whatever. We’ve all tried to take advantage of that.”
Walter Bernard’s stint with UNM football paved the way to a five-season NFL career with the San Diego Chargers, Indianapolis Colts and Seattle Seahawks. Wynton hopes his time in Albuquerque will prove to be a final steppingstone to the majors.
“It’s hard not to think about it,” he said. “That was my dream as a kid. But I always try to remind myself to stay in the moment and enjoy what I’m doing. I love playing baseball and I’m having fun playing here.”
Bernard has had some memorable moments this season. He was named Pacific Coast League Player of the Week for April 26-May 1, when he hit .391 with three homers, three doubles and three RBIs. That span included a 473-foot blast at Isotopes Park that Bernard didn’t initially see.
“I got back to the dugout and (teammate) LJ Hatch told me, ‘That ball came about 5 feet from going over the scoreboard,'” Bernard said of his April 26 leadoff home run against Sacramento. “I had to watch the video – about a million times. That has to be the best I’ve ever hit a ball. It felt so good.”
As a 31-year-old, Bernard knows getting that first major league call-up is something of a long shot. He’s doing his best to force the Colorado Rockies’ hand.
“I’ve never even thought about hanging it up,” he said. “Not when I was playing (independent) ball, never, ever. I’m always the type of guy who believes that at my best, I’m as good as anyone. My job is to make sure I’m at my best.”
‘TOPES THURSDAY: Vs. Sugar Land
610 AM/95.9 FM
PROMOTION: School day matinee
PROBABLES: Space Cowboys RHP Brett Conine (1-1, 5.11) vs. Isotopes LHP Dillon Overton (2-3, 7.77).
WEDNESDAY: Elehuris Montero homered, doubled and drove in three runs as the Isotopes rolled to a 10-5 win over visiting Sugar Land in front of 6,563 fans.
Albuquerque bounced back from Tuesday’s 20-1 rout, outhitting the Space Cowboys 12-8. Montero, Carlos Perez and Alan Trejo drove in three runs apiece for the ‘Topes.
Jake Bird (1-1), the first of four Isotopes relievers, got the victory. Albuquerque’s bullpen allowed one run on three hits in five innings, striking out nine.
Note: The Isotopes will put berm seating on sale Thursday for Saturday’s promotional Mariachis/fireworks game against Sugar Land. Berm tickets are $9 each.
(Click here for updated Pacific Coast League standings.)