Jon Berti hit .291 with a .387 on-base percentage and stole 23 bases for the Vancouver Canadians in 2011.
The latest C’s Chat continues to look at the year 2011 with Vancouver Canadians second baseman and current major leaguer Jon Berti. Part one of this interview—which focused on his 2018 season that culminated in his first major league call-up—can be found right here.
Plenty more has happened for Berti since our chat in the 2018 offseason in which he signed with the Miami Marlins. The 2019 season saw him begin the year with the Triple-A New Orleans Baby Cakes where he compiled a .930 on-base-plus slugging percentage and was a perfect 5-for-5 in stolen base attempts in 22 games before the Marlins called him up April 20. That was the night he made his Miami debut in which he recorded a pinch-hit walk and scored a run in a win over the eventual World Series champion Washington Nationals.
Berti’s first major league home run came on May 6 when he connected off the Chicago Cubs Cole Hamels in a Marlins win at Wrigley Field. He was sidelined with an oblique injury in late May but did return at the end of July. Other highlights included scoring four runs after a 2-for-5 night with a walk in a Marlins victory in Pittsburgh September 5 and a career-high four-hit night in a Miami road win against the New York Mets September 23.
The year-end totals for Berti in Miami were a .273/.348/.406 batting line with six home runs, 24 runs batted in and 17 stolen bases in 20 attempts over 73 games.
The professional journey to Miami for Berti began nine years ago in Vancouver after being drafted in the 18th round by the Toronto Blue Jays from Bowling Green State University.
“It was definitely a new challenge and new opportunity coming from college to my first experience playing professionally. Each level you move up-from high school, college and all the way up to the big leagues-everyone around you gets better so you need to get better as well. I think having a good start definitely gave me the confidence that I could compete at that level and be successful and continue to grow as a player.
I had so much fun playing for that team. We had such a good group of guys. We were very loaded with talent, especially when it came to playoff time. Playing for Schneids was a lot of fun for my first pro ball experience. The city of Vancouver, that’s a major league city. We had fun, we loved playing for the Canadians and we had a great time and obviously capping it off with a championship was something special.”
In 2008, Berti was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the 36th round out of Troy High School in his hometown of Troy, Michigan. The A’s were affiliated with the C’s at the time and remained so until 2010. Perhaps it was inevitable that he would wind up in Vancouver at some point. He recalls the initial excitement of the Blue Jays becoming the new affiliate for Monty’s Mounties.
“Absolutely. I can’t speak for what it was like before when they had the Oakland A’s but I can speak for when we were there. It kind of took on a whole new look where the fans were super-excited being the prospects of the Toronto Blue Jays, their home country team. I loved it. The city embraced us and loved us. We were very happy to help win them a championship.”
Berti’s first professional at-bat resulted in a walk June 18, his third at-bat saw him take on for the team before getting a base hit against future major leaguer Evan Marshall in his fourth plate appearance.
Berti played 60 games for Vancouver during the regular season and saw his name inserted into the leadoff spot on the lineup card 31 times. Getting the opportunity to set the tone for the offence is something Berti relishes.
“I enjoy it. I enjoy it a lot because speed is a big part of my game. Trying to get on base early in a game kind of creates some pressure, puts some pressure on the opposing pitcher and the opposing defence. It always excites me and something I really enjoy doing, trying to get our team off to a lead early.”
In the first 18 games in which Berti got one plate appearance, he got on base at least once via a hit, a walk or a hit by pitch. His streak came to an end in the strangest of ways. Berti had a sacrifice fly in his first trip to the plate in Spokane but he did not have a chance to bat again on the night of July 11 because of a bench-clearing brawl that involved future Blue Jays nemesis Rougned Odor.
“That was the first one I had ever been in one. For me, it was just about protecting my teammate. Kind of the way it happened, it was kind of a late slide and then words were exchanged but my buddy (Shane Opitz) who was playing shortstop said he didn’t know what (Odor) was saying because he was speaking in Spanish and then all of a sudden, he started throwing punches. I kind of just went in there to protect my teammate. Both benches came out to protect one another and kind of just escalated from there.
We came back and we won that game. I had forgotten that it had ended my on-base streak but I wouldn’t change it because I’m going to defend my teammates and that’s just kind of the player I am.
Anytime you can build camaraderie whether it’s through that or something else is obviously a good thing for the team.”
Spokane was leading 4-2 when the incident happened in the bottom of the third. Vancouver responded with a five-run fourth inning and went on to win 9-6.
Another bout of adversity for the 2011 Canadians was the departure of manager John Schneider to attend to personal matters in the latter part of the season. Rich Miller took over the reins and Berti admitted it was an adjustment getting used to a new skipper at first.
“A little bit. They both have their different styles but I enjoyed playing for Millsy too. As soon as kind of that change happened, we kind of struggled a little bit early. I think we were kind of re-identified ourselves as a team and see what kind of style we were going to play and kind of what we were really made of…We were just a cohesive group which is why it didn’t surprise me that when we had the managerial change, which was very unfortunate obviously, it didn’t surprise me that we came together and became even a closer team.
Those situations can make or break a team but it made our team because we were able to come together at the end and go on that run and then we were just having fun with it. That’s what I think at the end of the day, you’re going to play your best when you’re out there loose and competing and having fun.”
The first professional home run of Berti’s career came on July 21 in Eugene as his solo blast wound up providing the margin of victory in a 2-1 triumph for the Canadians. It was another Berti blast against the Emeralds that started Game 2 of the North Division final which helped the C’s come from behind to upset Eugene in the third and deciding game.
“I remember battling Eugene, the Padres organization. It was a lot of fun going up against them. They were kind of our rival that year. Both of us had really good teams. We competed really hard against each other. We ended up playing them in the semi-finals. We lost Game 1 at home but we went to Eugene and we were able to beat them twice and move on to the final.”
Berti batted .308 in the North Division final with a home run and four runs batted in. Next up was a visit to Pasco, Washington for Game 1 of the Northwest League final against the Tri-City Dust Devils.
The 2011 Canadians received some extra motivation heading into the series from a disparaging article alluded to here by The Tri-City Herald about their chances against the Dust Devils.
“We went up against Tri-City and took care of business there. I could ask any guy I played with on that team and they would remember this. I don’t know how many other people outside of our locker room knew it but going into that series, there was a newspaper article that was written by a writer, I don’t know who it was, in the Tri-City area about the series coming up between the two teams. He basically said on paper, there’s no chance we could win.
We obviously cut that out and put it up on our bulletin board and kind of used that as extra motivation. Not that we necessarily needed it, but anytime someone comes out and blatantly says your team has no chance, it gives you a little more motivation. We came firing early in that Game 1 and we were able to get the win. Going back to Vancouver, we unfortunately couldn’t hold on late in Game 2 but come Game 3, we were ready to go to finish the job.”
In Game 2 back at Nat Bailey Stadium, it appeared the C’s were on their way to a two-game series sweep when Berti capped a two-run rally with a sacrifice fly in the third inning for the game’s first runs. The Dust Devils would respond with three runs in the fourth and two more in the sixth before Berti drew the home side closer with an RBI single in the seventh.
The bottom of the ninth saw Berti step up with a chance to be the hero as the bases were loaded with one out but he grounded out into a 6-4-3 game-ending double play. Replays showed Berti was safe at first and that would have drawn the C’s to within a run and the potential tying run just 90 feet away but it wasn’t to be.
In a winner-take-all Game 3, the Canadians surrendered the game’s first run before scoring three times in the fourth to take the lead. Berti helped put the game away when his home run to start the seventh sparked a five-run rally. For good measure, his sacrifice fly in the eighth capped off the scoring in a 9-2 win to clinch the Northwest League title.
“We not only had loads of talent that were big major league players but we also had other guys who are really good players in their own right and had really successful careers and played well for us that year.
What I remember most is the fun we had and the camaraderie we had. We were always doing things together on the field, off the field. It was definitely a lot of fun that year. We had a lot of competition. It was a season full of ups and downs which all of them are. Fortunately that year we were on top at the end.”
Berti hit .250 with a home run and three RBI in the NWL championship final.
My thanks again to Jon Berti and I wish him continued success in his MLB career. You can follow him on Twitter @jonny_hustle.