2022 Vancouver Canadians outfielder Steward Berroa is the latest to check in for C’s Chat.
The Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic native signed with the Toronto Blue Jays as a 17 year-old on July 4, 2016 and received a $10,000 signing bonus. The switch-hitting Berroa made his pro debut with the Dominican Summer League Blue Jays in 2017 and collected his first professional hit in his first game against the DSL Orioles June 3. He got on base twice June 5 with a single, a walk and stole his first professional base. His first multi-hit games came against the DSL Diamondbacks1 with two hits June 8 and had three hits, a walk and two stolen bases June 9. Berroa ran off a nine-game hitting streak from July 20 – August 5. His first professional homer was against the DSL Reds August 16. He finished the year with a batting line of .261/.352/.367 with 20 stolen bases in 54 games.
The 2018 season saw Berroa make his U.S. debut by reporting to the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays where he improved his batting average and on-base percentage to .282 and .386 respectively and stole 17 bases in 23 attempts in 39 games. He was assigned to Bluefield in 2019 and batted .236 with a .349 OBP with his first two homers on American soil and stole 14 bases in 19 tries in 50 contests.
Berroa’s full-season debut was in 2021 with the Dunedin Blue Jays and he set career highs with seven home runs and 55 stolen bases as he slashed .245/.361/.399. His best game was a 3-for-3 effort against Palm Beach July 23 where he finished a triple shy of the cycle. He had 15 multi-stolen base games, including four in Clearwater July 16.
The first mid-season promotion of Berroa’s career came September but it was not to Vancouver/Hillsboro. Instead, he went to Double-A New Hampshire and recorded a hit in three straight games to end his season and stole three bases. Berroa had a sacrifice fly in his first Double-A plate appearance and would later single, steal two bases and score a run against Harrisburg September 17.
After ending 2021 in Manchester, Berroa began his 2022 campaign back with New Hampshire FC. His first Double-A homer came on Opening Day with the Fisher Cats as he hit a three-run shot that turned out to be the difference in a win over Hartford April 12. That was the start of a five-game hitting streak which stretched to April 20 when he singled twice, walked and stole three baes in Altoona. Berroa’s batting average was up to .318 at that point but Double-A hurlers made the adjustment to Berroa as the BA plummeted to .182. Though he was successful on the basepaths by going 7-for-7 in stolen bases, Berroa was reassigned to Vancouver May 12.
In his second game with the C’s, Berroa had a double, a single and a stolen base in a win over Eugene at P.K. Park May 14. In his Nat Bailey Stadium debut, he singled, stole two bases and scored a run in a win over Tri-City May 17. Berroa hit a leadoff homer against the Dust Devils May 19 as part of a three-hit night that included two stolen bases. He would hit his second roundtripper against Spokane May 31 that held up as the game winner and added a single and a stolen base. That was also the night Berroa cemented his fan favourite status by becoming a Nat Bailey Stadium dancing legend.
After an eight-game hitting streak from June 23 – July 1, Berroa’s best game with the bat and legs was July 13 against Hillsboro when he had three hits and four stolen bases. In the series finale against the Hops, Berroa doubled home two runs including the game winner to help the C’s complete a six-game sweep at the Nat July 17. Berroa had two hits and reached the 40-stolen base mark against Everett July 27 but his season would come to a tragic end July 29. He was picked off at first and jammed his right hand into the foot of AquaSox first baseman Dariel Gomez while trying to dive back headfirst into the bag.
During his 60 games with Vancouver, Berroa racked up 11 doubles, six triples and six homers and stole bases in 47 attempts. His OBP was a respectable .331 and he slugged a career-best .409. He and Addison Barger (currently with New Hampshire) remain tied for the team lead in runs scored with 46.
C’s Plus Baseball caught up with the 22 year-old Berroa just after he injured his hand during the homestand against Everett. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
C’s Plus Baseball – You joined the Blue Jays in 2016. How did you wind up with them?
Steward Berroa – Hi, man. Thank you for the opportunity first of all. Glad to be here talking with you about life and about how everything’s been going. I was a little kid with a big dream. I tried to play for a big league organization. I was down in the D.R working hard and I was like 14, 15 years old when I started to think about signing as a professional. I think at some point, because of my skill that I have with my feet, the speed skill that I have, I figured out that I can be a pro with all the hard work that I put in. And in the D.R., they have like a complex where they have scouts too, in Latin America, when they are around the country, around the Caribbean, They go to Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia looking for some good players that can impact the organization. I think they found me. I was just trying to work hard and do my best. I got Sandy Rosario who was the guy who really impacted me. And I really appreciate the opportunity that he gave to me. As soon as I signed, that really changed my life.
CPB – How did it feel signing that contract knowing that, ‘Hey, you’re gonna be in professional baseball?’ That must have been really an incredible feeling for you.
SB – Oh yeah. It is an incredible feeling especially when you don’t have that big talent, when you have to earn and work hard for every opportunity that you’re going to get. I trust a lot in God and when God has something for you and you work for it, I think you’re going to get it. It was a really special feeling because as a kid, I saw a lot of professionals. That was cool seeing them playing baseball, being young and having the opportunity to change the life of the family, the parents, that was a big experience for me. It was really cool. Trying out as a professional, it was really cool. To be young and do what you love to do and get paid for it, you know, that’s really awesome.
CPB – How did you get started playing baseball?
SB – in my family, I’m the only one who played baseball. When I started, I was like five years old. The guy who really like inspired me to play ball was my Dad because my Dad started playing softball and he got some friends on the softball team who saw me being on the baseball field and the softball field every time. And he had a Little League team. He told my Dad like, ‘Oh, you can bring him. ‘ And the league was Los Gigantes. And that guy’s nickname is Poncho. That was something that was really fun.
CPB – You start your professional caree in your home country with the Dominican Summer League Blue Jays. What was that experience like?
SB – That’s something that I can’t describe because it was a lot of feelings at the same moment. First year as a professional. And then a couple times my family see me play. That was one of the best things ever. The way that we play, the effort that we put in every day, the coaches that we have, the staff that we have down there, it was incredible with us. And yeah, the first year you’re excited to see how that is going and you’re excited to put your best effort to keep going. It was something really fun and really excited to be a part of.
CPB – I understand they played the games (in the Dominican) really early in the morning. What was that like, those morning ball games?
SB – For me at that moment, it was something like when I wake up to practice at 6:00 or 5:00 a.m. But now I’m up here, I play at night. So thinking about that, it makes you tired a little bit but yeah, at that moment, that was something that I was used to. And it was something like I told you, it was something that I wanted. It was something that I was excited about. Even in the hard times in the past, at that moment, it was beautiful because, you know, it was a big experience. My first year ever as a pro. So that’s something that you have to enjoy.
CPB – You make your way to Bluefield in 2019. What was that experience like?
SB – It was a big year mentally away for me because it wasn’t like that good year, you know, with numbers and all the stats. But at the same time, it was a year where I learned a lot about baseball, like I mentally grew up. That change from early games, from morning games to night games. It was something to get familiar with because now you got to go to bed late, wake up late, do kind of different things, practice in the afternoon. But it’s something that you can be familiar with in a couple days. It’s nothing crazy, but yeah, the city was a good city, good people down there, beautiful people down there and something that I really enjoyed too.
CPB – You got to play against the Princeton Rays. What was that like playing Princeton with the two cities basically right next door to each other?
SB – That was something cool because we have a mini series between us.
CPB – The Mercer Cup.
SB – Yeah, the Mercer Cup. And that was something that each game with them, it was more than just a regular season (game). Each game with them is something that you have to put like more focus on because we wanted (to win). That’s something that helped the Blue Jays and helped us because they want to develop winners. So that was something that we were proud of. And that was something really cool. It was really cool.
CPB – How did you get through COVID first of all with no baseball in 2020 at least as far as the minor leagues go? How did you stay prepared?
SB – Honestly that was a big job for me too. I took a couple months, just at home, tried to be healhy and take care. The COVID didn’t get me yet so I’m thinking I’m blessed because of that. As soon as I figured out how to go out and practice and do my gym and do my stuff, I never stopped. I just put my mask on and I was on the field every single day to prepare myself because I knew that at some point when we get back, something’s going to change. And that was what happened, everything to affiliate (ball and) up, they have to cut off the roster. So I was trying to be the best player that I can be to try to get that opportunity to stay in the game and I did. God blessed me with the opportunity to be here. And that’s something that every single day I appreciate it. And I just try to be the best that I can every single day.
CPB – In Dunedin last year, you had a really good year especially as far as stolen bases went. How was that year for you?
SB – Dunedin was a special year for me because I saw what kind of player I can be. That year showed me like all the effort and all the work that I put in the pandemic year, in the COVID year, I put in all the effort and it come out in the season. I couldn’t be able to have that year without the staff. I have a really good staff down there who helped me a lot. Some of them teach me how hard I can be, because you never know like how hard you can be until somebody shows you. And that was something big for me. I was doing bad a couple times. My body hurt a lot. (Hitting coach) Matt Young was just like pushing me every day, every single time. And at the moment I was like, ‘Hey, I think that’s too much.’ But now I understand that he just pushed me to be the best man I can be. And yeah, that was something really fun. And I figured out like what can I do on the field. It was a cool year. I really enjoyed that. Stealing the bags, playing good defence, being the man when I have to be for the team. That was a really cool year for me.
CPB – This year, you start off with New Hampshire. What was that like?
SB – New Hampshire, that was huge. You know, Double-A is another level. It’s the same baseball but like mentally you gotta be ready for it. And the experience was really fun, really good. We have a good staff up there too. And we have good teammates up there too that help us, like we support each other. It was the same thing, trying to do my best. Things didn’t go my in my way, but l just try to (make) the best work and the best effort I can do every single day.
CPB – What did the organization tell you when they said, ‘Look, we’re going to send you to Vancouver.’ I’m sure it might have been a disappointment at first, but things are working out here so far. What did they tell you to work on here in Vancouver?
SB – We got to be able to have a good routine. So that is something that I’m doing right here, right now. I try to have a good routine either in defensive ways, hitting ways and base running ways too because this is what it is all about. Sometimes things don’t still work right but if you stick to your routine, it’s something that you know you can improve on. And that’s something that they sent me down here for. But it was a good move because I wasn’t like going good but now, like I have a good routine. I found myself back like who I am right here. You know, man, I have a great staff, great players, great city, great crowd. And that’s something that, you know, reminds me who I am and brings me back to the cool stuff that I can do on the field.
CPB – I want to ask you about the rule changes, the bigger bases. I’m sure you weren’t disappointed that (MLB) decided to increase the size of the bases. Has that made a big difference for you as far as stealing bases go?
SB – Honestly, maybe for some guys it’s going to have some difference but like for me, it was something like, ‘Okay, they want to speed up the game.’ Right? And that’s something that we understand. But at the same time, like it’s going to be easier if every time that I’m on base, the (pitchers) try to pick me off two times and they can’t do it anymore but like, they always try the pick off one time. They have one left so for me mentally, it’s nothing different because I know like every time that I try to go still, they always have at least two chances or one chance to try the pick off, you know? But I think a huge part is the work that I put in with the staff. I put in the hard work trying to see what can I get off the pitcher, try to know the situation of the game, where I can run, where I can’t run, you know? And that’s something that has been huge for me. But yeah, at some point that rules helped some guys and maybe help me one day, one time. But I don’t know. I maybe don’t see it that way but yeah, it maybe does.
CPB – How are you able to be as so successful as a base stealer? I know it’s not just pure speed. You have to know when to go, when to anticipate but what makes you a successful base stealer?
SB – I’m not scared. Do not be scared. That’s something that helps me because like if you got the right information, you got the speed but if you are scared of going, you’re not helping yourself. So that was a switch that I make for myself. Instead of thinking, ‘Oh, I want do it.’ Now it’s ‘I’m going to do it and I do it.’ And that’s something that works for me. And of course, you got to have the speed. You got to have to know where I’m going, when I’m not going. But at the same time, you have to have the action and that’s something that I’m doing right now. I’m not scared to play the game, I just go out, have fun, try to get my best chance and just go out and do it.
CPB – I have to ask you about dancing with the grounds crew. How did that all develop?
SB – (Laughs) Honestly, I was just trying to have fun that day. I think I had like one or two hits, so it was kind of a fun game and I just go out there and I saw them walking into the position to dance and I didn’t know what they were about to do but I just followed them, followed their lead and, I don’t know, that worked. That was funny, that was funny. That was awesome. That was funny. That was funny.
CPB – It was great. That was awesome. Playing here in Vancouver, playing in front of big crowds. What’s it been like for you?
SB – That’s something that is great for me, especially the type of player I am and the play here in Vancouver is different. This is like really serious. The play here in Vancouver is really different because we play for a country. We play for a city and the good thing about that, like the fans just come here, every single game to support us. And that gives me an extra energy. That gives me the extra piece that I need to click. And even if I don’t feel good that day, the fans, the crowd bring me that last push that I need to, to be out there and do my best. But yeah, it’s something that don’t scare me. That’s something that just like push me to try to do my best every single time because I love that. I love it.
CPB – One game this year, you stole four bases. I guess the legs must have been feeling really good that night. What you remember about that night?.
SB – Oh yeah. I do remember. And it’s something that you really enjoy,. It’s not something that I’m surprised about because like I told you earlier, I know what I can and what I can’t do. This year, the hardest part is to being on base. And I know it’s something that I know if I’m on base, I know I can do cool stuff on the bags. And that night I just get on base a couple times and I just did my work, you know? But yeah, it was something fun, especially when those numbers go up. That’s something that you really enjoy.
CPB – Hitting here at Nat Bailey Stadium. You’ve hit a couple of home runs here, What’s it like hitting here?
SB – You have to have the focus. You have to have the approach. And I’m never looking for a homer. It’s just something that happened because the focus that you have, sometimes you just find the right pitch and you make the right swing and the ball goes out. And I think that’s a skill that I’ve been developing. The hitting for power is something that I didn’t have it but now I kind of have it. I have a couple homers here. And yeah, the left field here is kind of short as you can see. Right field, right-center, center field, it’s kind of regular dimensions but you have a big wall where you can have the right exit velocity and right height to go out. But yeah, it’s something that you really enjoy, especially when you hit bombs and you are like, ‘Man, I got some juice, you know?’ Yeah, it’s something that is really fun too.
CPB – Defensively you’ve been in left, center and right field. And now Dasan Brown is here. You certainly have a lot of guys who can go out and get the ball for sure.
SB – Oh yeah. The Blue Jays in general, we have good athletic players. We have good outfielders where they can play defense. My final goal is win the game so I’m a type of player, whatever it takes to win the game., that’s what I do. When it is my turn. I just try to catch the ball and make the play. And at the same time, if I’m in center, I know I’m the boss, but if I’m in right or left, I know that somebody else is the boss. So I got to find and try to play my role that day. And that’s something that I do. I don’t really care if the manager go out and catch the ball. As long as there is an out, I’m okay with that.
CPB – Final question. Growing up, did you have a favorite player or favorite major league team?
SB – When I was young, I loved to see Derek Jeter and José Reyes play. I respect the game like Derek Jeter did when he played the game. I enjoy the game with the same intensity as José Reyes did. On deck, having fun, talking with the fans. And I think that’s something that I take from them. And I think that’s what I’m doing right now.
- Uniform Numbers – Wore number 1 in Bluefield in 2019. Wore number 1 in Dunedin and number 20 with New Hampshire in 2021. Wore number 6 with New Hampshire in 2022.
- Instagram – @stewardberroa
- Man of Steal – Has stolen 159 bases in 195 attempts over his five minor league seasons, good for a success rate of 80 percent.
Thanks a million to Steward Berroa for the latest C’s Chat and to C’s broadcaster Tyler Zickel for putting it all together. You can also listen to Tyler’s interview with Steward during a recent episode of C’s On Deck.