MINNEAPOLIS — Doug Bernier started to have his doubts. He had a brief taste of the major leagues, but it started looking like he may never get back there again.
It’s been five years, almost exactly to the day, since Bernier had his first cup of coffee in the major leagues. The utility infielder debuted with the Colorado Rockies for two games in mid-July in 2008. His first action came as a defensive replacement at second base in the eighth inning of a 10-2 Rockies win over Cleveland. Two days later, he got his only start and went 0-for-4 with a strikeout.
Then his big league dream was over, at least temporarily. He was sent back to Triple A, where he spent the next five years with four different organizations. The latest, the Minnesota Twins, has given Bernier another crack at the majors. He was called up on Sunday and was with the rest of the Twins on Friday for the first game of the second half of the year.
Bernier didn’t play Friday, and he wasn’t in the lineup Saturday against Cleveland. But the important thing for the 33-year-old journeyman is that he’s once again in a big league clubhouse.
This time, he’s hoping it lasts for more than a few days.
“It’s so exciting. This is what you dream about when you’re a little kid,” Bernier said. “This is what I was dreaming about all through the minor leagues. To get an opportunity, it’s special.”
Bernier can play any of the four infield positions, although he’s a shortstop by trade. In his 12 minor league seasons, he spent 662 games at shortstop, 185 games at third base, 139 games at second and 22 games at first base.
Defense has never been the problem for Bernier, who signed with Colorado as an amateur free agent in 2002. Instead, his bat was the biggest thing holding him back from another shot at playing in the majors. In 2009, he hit just .181 in 79 games with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The following season his average jumped to .240 with 15 RBI in 69 games. Last year Bernier hit just .201 for Scranton, the Yankees’ Triple-A team, and was granted free agency.
Minnesota signed him in February, just a few weeks before spring training began. He didn’t get an invitation to the Twins’ big league camp and began the 2013 season at Triple A once again, this time for the Rochester Red Wings.
Finally, something clicked offensively for Bernier in his 12th minor league season. In 92 games with Rochester, Bernier hit .295 — his best average since hitting .310 in 2007 — and drove in 41 runs.
“I’ll tell you right now, he was the MVP of that team in Rochester, for sure,” said Chris Colabello, Bernier’s teammate in Rochester, who also got called up by the Twins in recent days. “Fun to watch and fun to be around and a great teammate. –. . . I think every guy in that clubhouse was excited for Doug.”
Bernier got the news after Rochester’s last game before the All-Star break. Manager Gene Glynn called a team meeting and informed his players that Bernier — as well as catcher Chris Herrmann — were headed to Minnesota.
“Obviously I had my chance already this year. I got my call-up, which was really exciting,” Herrmann said. “I was excited again this time, but just seeing the look on Doug’s face shows you how much it really means to him to be up here.”
As it turned out, Bernier had never been to the state of Minnesota before. So he, his wife and their daughter hopped in the car and drove from Rochester, N.Y. to Minneapolis, arriving in town on Wednesday. It was a long drive, but that trip from the minors to the majors always seems like a shorter trip than heading the other direction.
With the Twins still on break Thursday before resuming the second half Friday, Bernier got a chance to see Target Field for the first time. He had visited just about every minor league stadium during his lengthy 12 years in the minors, but Coors Field was the only big league stadium he had a chance to play in.
Now, after all the years of riding buses in the minors, Bernier once again has a chance to play the game he loves at the highest level. After his brief stint with the Rockies five years ago, he wasn’t sure this chance would ever come again.
“I definitely had some times where I was like, ‘What am I doing? Am I just wasting my time out here?'” Bernier said. “But I really believed in myself. I really believed that there was an opportunity for me if I could just get a little more consistent. Seeing that’s been happening so far this season, it was nice. But there were definitely those doubts. I just had to keep pushing through, because I just believed that I could play at this level.”