Monday, September 20, 2010

Roger Bernadina--Trying To Finish Strong

The 2010 Major League Baseball Season began for Roger Bernadina like every previous season of his professional career--not on the Big League Roster. Sent to AAA Syracuse by Our Washington Nationals at the end of spring training--thanks to a crowded group of outfielders in camp--Bernadina did not give up. He played well for Washington's top farm club and after a brief return to D.C. for one appearance on April 11th, was recalled for the final time this season on April 28th.

From that day on--Roger earned a regular staring outfield position in a Nationals uniform by becoming a better all-around player. He's always been known for his defense and speed. The native of Curacao has even played all three outfield positions this year. But what's surprised some has been his power displayed at the plate, 10 home runs now hit during his rookie campaign.

Nationals Hitting Coach Rick Eckstein says few players work harder than Roger Bernadina. Eckstein also believes "Bernie" has all the tools to be a very good player. Like everything in Bernadina's professional baseball career, little has come easy. None of his success has come without hard work, dedication and direction. As the 2010 season is slowly coming to a close, Bernadina finds himself struggling again at the plate (batting just .154 for September) and says he is just trying to finish strong.

Recently, Nats320 sat down with Roger Bernadina to review his nearly completed rookie season in Major League Baseball. Here is that conversation:

Roger Bernadina: In the past, I have really struggled, but I have learned from all those mistakes. I can talk about them now. So far, everything is going well for me and I want to finish the season strong. But the main thing for me is my focus. I can focus better and maintain my swing. I have been working out with Rick Eckstein. He's been teaching me the little things to help make my game better.

Nats320: At each level in the minor leagues, you struggled, you had to remaster things and move up again. Has that been frustrating for you?

Bernadina: Yes, it’s always frustrating because you want to be in the Big Leagues. And whenever you get sent back down there is something you have to figure out. Each time, I went back down there and figured it out. I kept working to get myself back up to here and earn the opportunity again. Sometimes, it’s real hard, but you have to deal with it.

Nats320: Earlier this year, there was a platoon involving you in right field along with Justin Maxwell, Willie Harris, a few others. Was it tough having to wait again for another chance to get more playing time?

Bernadina: Patience is a big part of this game. I wasn’t even on the opening day roster. But I have got to be patient. Whenever they have given me the chance to play, I have gone out and shown them what I can do. It’s always hard, especially here, where we had a lot of rightfielders. Thankfully, I took advantage of it and things turned the right way for me, so far.

Nats320: Which position are you most comfortable playing here?

Bernadina: To be honest, I like centerfield and rightfield. Leftfield is not my favorite. I am getting used to playing leftfield, but I like rightfield because whenever you have guys on first base--they love to run. And I like to throw them out.

Nats320: You’ve shown virtually no fear going to the wall to attempt a catch of a flyball--even after breaking your ankle last year.

Bernadina: I still go there every single day. I am not backing down. It’s a part of me inside. I am real confident about playing defense. I am not afraid to hit the wall and I will do that, day-in and day-out. And if I have to break my ankle again, well so be it, but I am not going to change. Sometimes, it happens (shrugging his shoulders).

But to be honest, at the beginning of the season, I kept thinking something will happen. Then they (batters) started hitting a couple of balls at me and I became more confident out there. I’ve maintained that confidence and I feel real good out there.

Nats320: Until this year, you had not been known for hitting with power. Now you have 10 and during the last homestand--you hit your first one’s here at Nationals Park. Where is that power coming from?

Bernadina: I don’t know. I don’t know. In the Big Leagues you have a lot of guys that throw hard and sometimes when you make contact--the ball carries. I really don’t know what it is--but I am going with it.

Nats320: Because of that power, the team seems to be looking at you differently with your bat in the lineup. Last year, maybe they were thinking you were a leadoff guy. Where do you see yourself batting over time?

Bernadina: Well, I see myself batting wherever the manager puts me. Whether that is leadoff or down lower in the order--whatever it is to help the ball club. It doesn’t matter to me right now. I am still in my first full season. Maybe in the future I will be hitting somewhere else and I will find a regular spot. But for now, I am hitting wherever the manager puts me in the lineup and I am good with that.

Nats320: Having a regular role with this club settled you down?

Bernadina: For sure, whenever you can play more it helps. When you don’t play as much, every little thing wrong bothers you and affects your play. That’s one of the things I had to learn from the past. But I am very happy to get a better opportunity to play here.

Nats320: How about understanding the league and the pitchers more?

Bernadina: With the scouting reports and watching video, it’s been really important for me to see what the pitcher’s got. It helped to give me more confidence and that’s the most important thing. When you are confident, you feel like you are on top of the world. Baseball has been a lot of fun for me this year. I really want to finish strong. I want to show the organization I am not done yet. And I want to improve and get better every day.

But I will never say I am a Major Leaguer. I am a Major Leaguer--you know what I mean. I just want to get better every year. Maybe one of these days when I retire, I will look back and say so (laughing).

Nats320: What are you going to do this off-season?

Bernadina: I am going to play winter ball in Venezuela for a little bit to maintain my swing so I can be ready for next year.

With that final answer, Nats320's conversation with Roger Bernadina concluded. Did you know that Roger speaks four different languages: english, dutch, spanish and papiamento (the dialect of his native Curacao). And because he chews gum all the time,some of his teammates call him: "Chiclone" (meaning gum chewer)

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