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Detroit Tigers' Wynton Bernard refuses to quit on path to the major leagues

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After tasting rejection, Bernard continues to make the most of every opportunity within the Tigers' organization.

Emily Waldon / Bless You Boys
Emily Waldon / Bless You Boys

As Wynton Bernard stepped up to the plate that July afternoon, common sense could have easily told him his chances of producing were slim. After striking out and grounding out the two at-bats prior, common sense was probably right.

One factor that was noticed by few as Bernard prepared to approach the plate once again was the four letters written on his wrist: A-S-N-F, "a son never forgets." The journey leading to that moment holds enough twists that remind him daily of the gift he has been given.

The youngest son to Walter and Janet Bernard who idolized the swing of Ken Griffey Jr. as a child had no trouble following the same vein of athleticism that ran in the Bernard family.

"I used to watch Ken Griffey growing up and I kind of wanted to idolize him and I think that was the biggest thing," Bernard said. "I just found that attraction to Ken Griffey Jr. and I kind of wanted to be like him, so he kind of inspired me a little bit."

The native of Poway, Calif. caught the eye of the baseball department at Niagara University in New York and was presented with an opportunity to join the program alongside head coach Rob McCoy. The combination of a strong field presence and intellect on the base path built a resume for Bernard that was hard to ignore.

I'm so blessed to go play this game. I'm so appreciative to be a part of moments like these."

As a freshman with the Purple Eagles, Bernard hit .293, tallying 44 hits, 23 stolen bases and 28 RBI. During his sophomore year at Niagara, amidst the rush of accomplishments for the youngster, Bernard received word that his father; one of the biggest support systems had suffered a stroke and Bernard made the decision to return home.

Later that summer, Walter Bernard passed away.

For Wynton, the ambition to pursue the dream that he had discussed with his father so many times before only grew and he returned to New York to continue his time with the Purple Eagles.

"I think about him every day, it's hard to say I don't," Bernard said. "When I wake up or even if it's before the game. At some point, I'm going to think about him during the day."

As a senior at Niagara, Bernard batted .314 with 54 hits and 32 stolen bases. Again, Bernard's accomplishments grabbed attention and the San Diego Padres selected the outfielder in the 35th round of the 2012 MLB amateur player draft.

Upon joining the Padres, Bernard spent time between four affiliate programs between 2012 and 2013, batting .251 with 44 hits and 16 RBI. Despite the progress of the developing outfielder, one more curve was about to be thrown into the mix. As the spring of 2014 drew near, a decision out of the San Diego camp would be the source of a crossroads for the 23-year-old. The Padres announced that Bernard was being released from the organization.

To many, circumstances often discourage an individual from moving forward, but to Bernard, there was no feasible option to slow down.

With the investment of his own finances, Bernard made the excursion to Lakeland, Florida to attend an open tryout held by the Detroit Tigers. In a rare twist, Detroit notified Bernard that he was the lone selection out of 120 additional players that was to be offered the opportunity to join the organization.

"I just never wanted to give up and I'm so glad I didn't," Bernard said. "It took like a lot of perseverance and a lot of faith just to do all that, because I had no idea that I was going to be the only guy signed and I had no idea I was going to get released either, but I felt like everything happens for a reason."

Fast forward to July of 2014 as Bernard stepped to the plate to face the very team that had released him earlier that year. Exactly four years to the day that Bernard's father passed, Wynton sent a solo shot over the left field wall, capping a victory for the program that handed him his second chance at doing what he loves the most.

With Single-A West Michigan, Bernard batted .323 with 47 RBI, 91 runs scored and 45 stolen bases. Bernard's accomplishments earned him the 2014 Midwest League MVP award, as well as breaking the overall team record for hits in West Michigan.

Following a successful Spring Training to kick off 2015, the eternally optimistic California transplant received the assignment of moving up the ladder to join the Double-A Erie Seawolves.

For the outfielder, it was business as usual and before long the numbers were growing to a noticeable level. Bernard was suddenly hitting and hitting every game. For the first time in Erie since 2008, Bernard was stringing games together; 17, 18 and then suddenly 20.

As the Seawolves took the field last Thursday, all eyes fell to Bernard. Unfortunately, against the performance of righthander Ben Lively, surpassing the 20-game franchise record would prove to be just out of reach.

To some, it may be the end of a stretch, but to Bernard it's simply beginning the next phase of growth in a game he knows he's so fortunate to be involved in. Bernard is currently batting .283 with 16 runs off 36 hits and a team-high 10 stolen bases.

"I'm so blessed to go play this game," Bernard said. "I'm so appreciative to be a part of moments like these."