You Know It Don’t Come Easy
Roger “the Shark” Bernadina has been “Side B” for his entire baseball career. For those of you too young to have ever seen a “45” they were what boomers played on their record players, a two-sided vinyl disc that contained two songs, the hit single on Side A, and a throwaway song on side B. As a center fielder for the Nationals in 2012, Bernadina has been Bryce Harper’s flip side.
Bernadina started baseball late. He dreamed of a career as a professional athlete since his mother played professional volley ball internationally. Roger was born in Curacao where soccer is king for Caribbean kids. Bernadina had the speed and strength for the game, but somehow baseball won out. Washington Nationals fans are learning to love that decision.
The pressure of leading the NL East was evident at times for Washington as they teed it up against Houston, the NL team with the worst record in baseball and a lineup of try out players. The games were unexpectedly close and in game two of the Houston series, it was on the line in the bottom of the twelfth inning with the Nationals clinging to a 3-2 lead. Tyler Clippard, who has not converted an easy save in weeks–and blown a few–had two men on base and two outs when Brett Wallace got enough of a fastball to chase both runners home and win the game for the ‘Stros.
But that is not what happened. Bernadina read the ball off the bat perfectly and converged on it like a—“shark.” Who knows how Roger got his name, maybe it’s the clothes he wears, but he took that ball out of the air like a flying fish just in front of the wall. “The catch” put the game in the win column for the Nationals.
Bernadina has been doing it with the bat as well. Playing intermittently–like any side B player–he has hit .317 for the past month.
But he has been making the most of the opportunities. He scored the winning run in the final game against Houston on Thursday night. Behind a remarkably efficient Jordan Zimmermann performance–eleven strikeouts and six scoreless innings–the Nationals swept the series, but it was as notable that Roger started in center field as it was that he went 3-for-4 with two steals.
Bernadina hit second in the game because manager Davey Johnson sat the “Side A” player, Bryce Harper on the pines. Harper’s wild throw in the bottom the ninth inning the prior night put the winning run on second base, adding unneeded pressure on Gio Gonzalez, who nonetheless struck out the final batter for the win. But Davey said the play by Harper–coming one night after “the catch”–was the result of a batting funk that was affecting Bryce’s overall play. Harper is hitting .176 for the past month and his frustration has been evident–let’s just leave it at that.
Roger Bernadina has hit .248 over five major league seasons. While it is gratifying to see him cement his place on the ball club and make important contributions to a memorable season, he is likely to remain the fourth best outfielder for the Nationals. Bernadina is 28; Harper is 19. Never has the wisdom of nine years been so apparent as in comparing the two men’s play on the field for the last month.
So there is Exhibit A–the catch–by Bernadina and exhibit B, the fit of pique when home plate umpire, Angel Hernandez, called Harper out on two outside pitches the next night. The two moments sum up where the two men currently stand. One is in center field making great plays, the other in Davey Johnson’s dog house waiting for a bus, a train, or whatever will get him out.
In Las Vegas the betting odds still favor Harper over Bernadina. Ray Knight, the MASN post-game commentator, explained the simple flaw in Harper’s swing that is the source of his problems. Baseball is about making adjustments and Harper has but to learn another one of many sure to come and he will be on another hot streak that can only help carry the Nationals closer to the winner’s circle.
Baseball is a difficult sport and no doubt Roger Bernadina has spent many nights doubting his decision to pursue it rather than soccer, volleyball or maybe even rowing. But Washington fans are glad to have “the Shark,” grateful that those tribulations have worked out so miraculously well for all concerned.
For those who never had a collection of “45’s,” when you get tired of the hit single, it’s always good to give the flip side a listen. Sometimes that side sounds just as good, makes you forget why you ever thought that side A song was so wonderful to begin with. But in the end the Las Vegas odds are always on the Side A song. For the Washington Nationals both sides look like winners.