The latest C’s Chat is with 2011 Vancouver Canadians second baseman and current Miami Marlin Jon Berti.
The Troy, Michigan native was called up by the Marlins from the Triple-A New Orleans Baby Cakes Saturday to help out in a utility role. Berti earned his call-up by slashing .286/.490/.486 in 13 games with New Orleans, drawing 13 walks against six strikeouts. Along with showing a good eye at the plate, he added a double, two home runs and four stolen bases in four attempts. He reached base by hit or walk in all 13 games at the time of his call-up and collected a base hit in his first at-bat with the Marlins organization April 5.
Despite his success in the Big Easy, the road to the major leagues was anything but for the 29 year-old. Berti began his pro career with the 2011 Vancouver Canadians, being a key contributor to the C’s first Northwest League championship. He reached Triple-A Buffalo in 2015 but injuries derailed his progress. He reached the end of the line with the Blue Jays in 2018 when he was dealt to Cleveland for cash last May.
We were in Norfolk, we were on the road. They pulled me into the office and just kind of told me how it was and that they were trading me to the Indians in the hopes that I would get more of an opportunity there because there wasn’t a whole lot of opportunity for me in Buffalo at the time. As much as I didn’t want to leave the Blue Jays organization, I was really excited for a new opportunity.
Coming into 2018, I knew I was kind of up against the wall a little bit with my career in the sense of I had battled some injuries the past few years. Coming off those injuries, to be honest, I didn’t play well. I didn’t play up to my capabilities so I knew I kind of had to make a statement and it was little frustrating early on in Buffalo when we were snowed out for like eight games in a row which was something I had never been a part of.
Then shortly after that happened, I got traded to the Indians organization and I was in Columbus with them for about seven weeks. I enjoyed my time in Columbus but I really didn’t get much of an opportunity to get a whole lot of at-bats in that time so that definitely was frustrating.”
Goodbye Ohio, Hello New Hampshire
However, Berti’s stay with the Cleveland organization lasted just 25 games at Triple-A Columbus as he was returned to the Blue Jays in early June.
My time in Columbus, I enjoyed it like I said but it didn’t turn out as well as I would have hoped but everything happens for a reason so I was glad to come back to the Blue Jays and go back to New Hampshire where I had spent a lot of my career and was able to play with them.”
Upon his return to the Jays nest, Berti was assigned to Double-A New Hampshire to help fill the void when uber-prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. suffered a knee injury. The right-handed hitting Berti was a significant addition to the Fisher Cats attack by hitting .314/.399/.498 with 13 doubles, seven triples, eight home runs, 42 runs batted in and 21 steals. One thing that helped Berti was joining forces with a familiar face from his Vancouver days.
“When I got the call that I was being traded back to the Blue Jays and sent to Double-A, I was excited for the opportunity to get some at-bats and get some every day at-bats. Knowing John Schneider being the manager, he was actually my first pro ball manager back in Vancouver, I knew if I played up to my capabilities he would find a place for me in the lineup.
Fortunately I was able to play really well and he was able to find different spots for me in the lineup and different positions because we had such a young, talented team that was really fun to be a part of and it kind of turned my season and potentially turned my career around.
I love playing for Schneids. He’s a great manager and his players love him for a reason because he’s got tremendous feel for the team. He knows when to push guys and he kind of knows when to pull back a little bit when guys are getting a little tired and need an extra day of rest or something along those lines. He communicates very well with his players so I was very excited to come back and play for him.”
Among the regular season highlights for Berti included a walk-off, inside-the-park home run against Erie August 5.
“That was pretty funny because I think it was a week or two prior to that, I hit a ball kind of similarly and Schneids held me up at third and I kind of joked with him. I said, ‘I’ve never hit an inside-the-park home run.’ I was hoping he would send me and he kind of laughed about it. So then when that happened, obviously round third, hoping he would send me but kind of half-expecting he’s probably going to hold me up like the week before. I think he sensed it was a good time for me to try to get that first one and he made a good call. He read the play really well. Fortunately, I was safe and we were able to win the game.”
At first glance, Berti thought Erie outfielder Daz Cameron was going to make the catch.
“Honestly off the bat, the way he jumped up for it, I thought he was going to catch it. As soon as it hit off the wall, I was thinking ‘Okay, for sure I have a triple.’ But as I’m rounding second, it’s tough to see the ball behind you when it’s in right-center so you rely on your third base coach. As soon as I saw him continue to wheel me in, I was like, ‘Alright! I guess I must have a good chance to be safe or he wouldn’t send me.’ ”
Another great moment for Berti with New Hampshire included hitting for the cycle in Portland August 28, capping it off with a ninth-inning home run off Jordan Weems. That came just over two months after 2014 C’s outfielder Jonathan Davis accomplished the first-ever cycle in Fisher Cats history.
That was really awesome. First seeing J.D. do it, he’s a tremendous player and a tremendous teammate. Watching him do it was a lot of fun and I was so happy for him and then for him to go up to Triple-A and have success and then up to the big leagues was just awesome to see.
I had come close throughout my career. I was always one hit shy, no matter whether it was a double, triple, home run – something along those lines. To finally do it was pretty cool. In that at-bat in particular, I kind of gave myself one strike to really try to hit a home run knowing I had to do it but then I fell behind in the count, I believe 0-2, and I knew I had to battle from there. Fortunately he hung a pitch for me, he hung a slider and I was able to get a good swing on it and I put it over the fence.”
New Hampshire was battling it out with the Trenton Thunder for first place in the Eastern League’s North Division. Leading the North for the majority of the season, the Fisher Cats were unable to hold on as the Thunder struck their way to the division title.
It’s a very long season so there’s a lot of ebbs and flows to the year. Unfortunately, the last few weeks we weren’t playing at the level that we wanted to play. Trenton had a really good team so they caught up to us but we knew what kind of talent we had in that locker room and what kind of team we had. When we lost the lead and ended up having to be the wild card, it never really fazed our locker room. We didn’t really think too much about it because we knew that we were in the playoffs and we were going to compete with them and do everything we could to win it. Kind of having that confidence and relaxed mindset I think went a long way and obviously we were able to do some damage and won the whole thing.”
Eastern League Playoff Drive
The Bowling Green State product contributed to the Fisher Cats North Division final victory with a two-run single, a walk and a stolen base in a Game 1 victory over Trenton. Game 3 against the Thunder saw Berti go 1-for-2 with two walks and two runs scored to help New Hampshire advance to the league final against the Akron RubberDucks.
After drawing a walk and a stolen base in a Game 1 win in Akron, Berti kick-started the Fisher Cats to a Game 2 triumph with a two-run single. Saving the best for last, he drove in what turned out to be the winning run for the second game in a row in Game 3. Berti provided another two-run single as part of a 3-for-4 night with two runs scored as New Hampshire captured the Eastern League championship on home soil.
It was awesome. To share it with those guys, it was such a good group, such a good staff. That was a lot of fun to experience it with them. For me on a personal level, spending as much time as I had in my career in that locker room and with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, it was pretty cool to kind of end it with that kind of victory.”
Getting The Call
Just when it appeared that championship finale would be the last game in 2018 for Berti, he got an unexpected phone call.
It was kind of crazy actually. I had finished the season in Double-A New Hampshire where we won a championship which was awesome. That was about September the 15th. I had been home for about I think about 10 days or so. I was at the allergist actually getting an allergy shot and I got a call from (Blue Jays director of player development) Gil Kim. He kind of just had asked me had I been working out and staying in shape and of course, I told him I had been. He said, ‘Alright. We’re going to have you fly up tomorrow for potentially (being activated) for the game the next day.’
I have Gil’s number saved so I knew it was him but originally, I kind of had thought maybe he was calling just to talk about my upcoming free agency or ask a few questions about how I thought the season went but shortly into that conversation, I kind of realized what he was getting at. It didn’t really sink in a whole lot until probably I was on the car service on the way to the stadium from the airport. It kind of started to sink in then and as I walked into clubhouse and said hello to Gibby (Jays manager John Gibbons) and (Jays general manager) Ross Atkins and all the guys there. It kind of really started to sink in to see that I finally made that dream come true.”
The next thing Berti did was give his family and friends the good news.
I told my parents so they were the first ones followed by my two brothers and then the rest of my family and friends. It just kind of fanned out from there.”
Berti had been to Toronto a number of times, including 2013 when he received the R. Howard Webster Award as the Dunedin Blue Jays top performer but getting to enter the Blue Jays clubhouse as a first-time major leaguer had Berti on cloud nine.
That was awesome. I had been there a few times and been into the clubhouse a few times but never for that reason obviously. To walk in there and see the guys and have them all congratulate me and then see a locker with my nameplate and number 64 was pretty surreal. Almost the coolest thing about is that I ended up playing that first game and I probably got to the field about 1:00 and the game was at 4:00 so it was kind of a really quick turnaround and almost gave me an opportunity not to really overthink it or get too nervous about it because it was just strap it on and get ready to play.”
Berti made his first major league start at second base and was slotted in the number nine spot in the batting order against the Houston Astros September 26. Chris Devenski opened the game for the Astros but it was lefthander Cionel Perez that Berti faced in his first major league at-bat to begin the third inning.
With the team we had, we had a handful of guys on that team that made their debuts that year as well or within the past year or so, so I kind of asked them, ‘Any advice for me on my first at-bat?’ They all kind of agreed, they said, ‘Be aggressive. You see something good early in the count, take a good, aggressive swing on it.’
I was fortunate on the very first pitch, it was pretty much middle of the zone where I was looking for it and I was able to put a good swing on it. Unfortunately I lined out to the center fielder but still, hitting that ball hard kind of took some of the stress and anxiety away and allowed me kind of to relax the rest of the way.”
After striking out in a seven-pitch at-bat against Perez in which he fouled off three straight pitches, Berti went up against righthander Dean Deetz with one out and nobody on in the eighth.
Again, I was trying to be aggressive but be aggressive in my zone. Fortunately he gave me a pitch I could handle and I hit it hard. I kind of thought the second baseman (Tony Kemp) was going to jump up and catch it. When I saw it go through, it was a lot of relief to get that out of the way. More relief than anything I would say.”
Before collecting his first major league hit, Berti was able to pay tribute to Blue Jays manager John Gibbons in his final home game as manager.
It was Gibby’s last home game managing so obviously any time he made a pitching change, he was on the Jumbotron which was awesome because the fans were giving him standing ovations which he deserved. The one time he was on the mound and he was up there and I kind of just made a comment and said, ‘Hey Gibby. That’s a pretty good looking mug up there.’ He kind of laughed and drew me in and I think because he’s such a humble guy, he kind of wanted some of the attention maybe away from himself but it was a cool experience.”
Berti was grateful that the popular Jays skipper put him in the starting lineup the remaining three games in Tampa Bay.
I was appreciative of the opportunity that Gibby gave me and then having some good at-bats and playing well that first game kind of opened the door for the rest of the weekend. Gibby said, he kind of told me, ‘Hey, the way you played today. I’m going to get you in there the rest of the way because that’s how you get more opportunities.’ I was very fortunate for Gibby to give me that opportunity to play as much as I did and kind of showcase my stuff a little bit.”
Another thing Berti was grateful for was the scheduled day off before the final series in Tampa to allow him to catch his breath.
Thankfully it was the next day after I made my debut, I had an off-day so I got back to about as many people as I could after the game. It was on a Wednesday but then we flew down after the game to Tampa and had an off-day there. I had a good amount of phone calls and text messages trying to reply to everyone and get back to everyone. I love all the support I have. I have a great support system of family and friends so I was happy to do it.”
Travelling To Tampa
Berti got his second start at second base in the series opener in Tampa Bay September 28 and accomplished another first with his first extra-base hit. His fifth-inning double against left-hander Adam Kolarek tied the game at 4-4 in an eventual 7-6 victory over the Rays.
The next night saw Berti match up against eventual Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell and he managed to achieve another big-league first.
He obviously was the Cy Young Award winner for a reason, you know, he’s got really good stuff. From my understanding, the difference for him this year was not only his stuff because that’s always been there but kind of his command of his stuff. Obviously that was a big challenge but the first at-bat, I was able to squeak out a hit and get a stolen base which was cool.
My second at-bat, he made a couple of good pitches and struck me out but in my third at-bat, I battled him again and hit a ball well to right-center and I believe it was Mallex Smith made a diving catch which was a great catch but facing a guy like Snell is always a great opportunity and it’s always a great challenge and that’s why you play the game. You want to play against the best and compete against the best and that’s always fun.”
The season finale saw Berti accomplish yet another first when he tripled against Austin Pruitt and would come home to score in his final at-bat of the season.
Again, I hit a ball well to right-center and Mallex Smith, Tampa’s center fielder dove out but fortunately this time he wasn’t able to get it. As soon as he kind of missed it, I had a triple on my mind being it was in right-center and fortunately I was able to leg it out.”
The triple was the exclamation point of an eventful final week of the 2018 season in which he batted .267 over his four games with the Jays.
Obviously you’re playing against the best players in the world so that’s something I really looked forward to doing and really enjoyed doing. The amenities are way nicer in the big leagues. Being able to fly in that private jet was pretty cool and all the different things they have for you at the stadium is pretty cool.
I would say playing wise, I mean it’s baseball. That’s the thing that kind of a lot of young players I guess have a tough time with the transition and making it more than it really is. At the end of the day, you’re playing baseball. You’ve played the game for a long, long time so reminding yourself of that definitely helps to relax you and allow your abilities to come out.”
Next Stop – Miami
Early November saw Berti elect free agency and the Miami Marlins signed him to a minor-league deal in early December.
“It’s going to be different being with a new organization and I loved being with the Toronto Blue Jays system for as long as I was and appreciative of every opportunity that I was given. With that being said, I’m super-excited to become part of the Miami Marlins organization. They’re a rebuilding team. I’m excited to get there and get some work started and compete for a major league job and help that team win as many games as we can and continue to build something.”
Berti’s twitter handle is @jonny_hustle and he lived up to his social media moniker in his first at-bat with Miami. Summoned off the bench in a pinch-hitting role, Berti worked a four-pitch walk against Washington left-hander Matt Grace to begin the eighth inning. Martin Prado followed with a ground ball to third but Berti used his speed to beat out a force play at second. A wild pitch by Grace brought Berti to third before scoring on a Neil Walker fielder’s choice. That was the final run in Miami’s 9-3 home victory over the Nationals and it made quite the impression on Marlins manager Don Mattingly.
Speaking of making an impression, Jon Berti was incredibly generous with his time with me as he was battling a cold when we chatted on the phone back in February. I certainly wish him the very best in Miami.
Thanks a million again to Jon Berti for taking part in this major league edition of C’s Chat.