It was a moment he had been dreaming of his whole life.
It was an achievement he fought to accomplish over 11 grueling seasons and 1,015 games of professional baseball — both in the minor leagues and in leagues in five countries outside the United States.
It was what he had always been preparing for.
And yet for 31-year-old Wynton Bernard, that magical Aug. 11 day in the Albuquerque Isotopes clubhouse when he was told he would be, at long last, called up to Major Leagues by the Colorado Rockies wound up bringing two things he never saw coming.
First, despite the years spent trying to get there, when Bernard’s first at-bat in Coors Field came, he was remarkably calm.
“I wasn’t nervous at all, which is the crazy thing,” said Bernard. “I was so ready. And I was just so pumped up. I felt great. People had warned me, ‘You might get nervous.’ Some people say you can’t feel your knees or anything when you’re up there. But walking up to the plate, I was so confident. I was super blessed for that.”
With family in the stands, the centerfielder got a base hit in that first game.
The moment, he discovered, wasn’t too big. He belonged.
But that was the baseball side of the story — one that, for now, lasted just 12 games with the Rockies in which he hit a solid .286 in 42 at-bats before recently being sent back down to the Triple-A Isotopes in Albuquerque.
The other, more overwhelming part of Bernard’s call-up that nobody saw coming was how his journey — his story of perseverance and determination — would become not just a feel good story around Albuquerque or Denver or even around Major League Baseball circles, but around the entire country.
Bernard’s inspirational story was not only a hit with baseball fans, but it had crossover appeal to non-sports fans. National publications wrote about him, he was featured on the CBS Nightly News and video of his tearful call to his mother in California to tell her he finally made it to the big leagues went viral on social media, accumulating millions of views.
“I had no idea any of that was coming,” Bernard said of the national media storm. “But at the same time, I’m just super grateful. I’ve had so many people reach out to me and tell me that my story has inspired them.”
Bernard, who always had a smile plastered on his face at Isotopes Park even before his long-overdue call up, said he’s been taken aback by the number of people who have told him how his story impacted their lives.
One person, he said, told him he had applied unsuccessfully for 30 jobs and was about to quit looking when he saw Bernard’s story. A woman told him about how discouraged she has felt in her male-dominated profession, thinking about getting out but has since chosen to continue on her path. Several teenagers have told him he inspired them to do better in their sports or in school.
Bernard, one of the few African-American players on the Rockies’ Triple-A roster in the past couple of years, cited the famous Jackie Robinson quote — “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives” — when asked how he’s been able to process all he’s been through in the past month.
“I had no idea all this was going to happen, but I think everything happened at the perfect time,” Bernard said. “Of course there were times where I was hoping I would get called up before, but now I really look at it like, this is literally the perfect time because it’s not all about me. It’s about all the people I’ve impacted.”
Bernard remains on the Rockies 40-man roster, meaning they can move him back and forth between Albuquerque and Denver as they so choose to help either roster.
While he loves Albuquerque, he hopes his return is a brief one and he’s back in the majors soon.
“I took a couple of days when I was up there just to reflect on everything I’ve been through, and it kind of finally sunk in,” Bernard said. “I was like, you know, I did this. I’m here. And I’m here for a reason.”