Teaching through writing a natural fit for Red Wings’ Doug Bernier

Baseball players enjoy a variety of off-the-field pursuits. Some take up hunting. Some are avid video gamers.  Some are even in bands.

Doug Bernier may have found his second calling.

2011 Scranton 002

Bernier, 2011. Photo credit: Ed Wolfstein

“I feel fortunate that I’ve been taught and got to play with some of the best players and teachers in the world and I want to pass that along,” says Bernier, now with the Rochester Red Wings, the Twins’ Triple-A affiliate. “I think I can help other people.”

As a slick-fielding shortstop with 11 years of minor league experience, Bernier’s had the opportunity to learn from some of the best. As founder and lead writer of the baseball instruction and advice website ProBaseballInsider.com, he’s sharing the wealth.

Originally conceived of as a place where Bernier and a collaboration of professional players, coaches, and scouts could offer practical, good-quality instruction to aspiring ballplayers in an effort to instill correct technique, Pro Baseball Insider has become something of a movement. Featuring step-by-step drills, position-specific skills, and a baseball advice column, the website has grown by leaps and bounds since its inception two years ago. In the process, Bernier has carved a niche for himself  with a combination of experience, a unique perspective on the game, and a talent he didn’t even know he had.

Writing may seem like an unorthodox foray for an active player, but the 32-year-old has grown into the hobby.

“I hated writing in school, [but] now that i’m out of school, I enjoy it. Sometimes baseball gets so monotonous and the days and nights become so routine-oriented and it’s just the same, day after day. Writing [became] kind of an escape, and even though it is about baseball I feel like it’s still a way for me to relax, and I enjoy that.”

The enjoyment is evident, as Bernier generates content that belies his late start, offering crisp, easy-to-read essays on everything from equipment reviews to the importance of mental fortitude. And with this newfound skill comes an outlet for imparting his positive, focused brand of baseball to a new generation of players.

Though never counted among the elite infielders in baseball, Bernier remains focused on the basics–crediting his longevity to good, old-fashioned hard work and a lot of listening–an ethic he brings into his instruction.

“I’ve always had to grind it out as a player. I feel like some guys are just so incredibly talented and they might not know why they do what they do–they’re just good.  Maybe there’s something to me having to grind it out, learn why I do what I do, and understand what makes me play well and what makes me not play well, and to try to just learn about my game, and hopefully when I understand what I do I can pass that along a little bit.”

One thing he’s passing along is a lifetime of being receptive to solid fundamentals. As a high school athlete, he had the opportunity to hone his fielding skills with MLB infielder Brad Wellman, who emphasized the importance of learning technique and practicing it until it became rote. From the experience, Bernier built on a skill set that would eventually lead to a reputation as one of the best shortstops in the league.  But even more than that came an appreciation for instilling correct habits  before bad ones become unbreakable. As a professional ballplayer, that thirst for knowledge hasn’t waned.

“I think every day, as long as you apply yourself, you’re learning something new. I know…sometimes it’s cliched, but I think you really can. I’ve been in the game for a long time, and I still feel like every day I’m trying and learning. I’m more receptive [now] to what coaches are saying because i think it could be an opportunity to pass it along to someone else.”

And Bernier leads by example. Coming from the unique vantage point of a player who still very much gets to take his own advice, he can point to his own career with pride in going about the game the right way–a valuable carryover lesson for anyone who might have been introduced to his words first.

Diagram from Baseball Hitting Drills for a Batting Tee. Photo credit: Sarah Bernier

Diagram from Baseball Hitting Drills for a Batting Tee. Photo credit: Sarah Bernier

“I feel like I give everything I have that day on that day. I try to pride myself on running hard all the time, being prepared, and  being ready to go. I don’t want someone to ever look at me and say, ‘That guy wasn’t hustling’ or ‘That guy wasn’t trying hard.’  There’s a lot of things you can’t control. The things I can I want to do them well and play hard.”

In understanding that technique can only go so far before drive and sheer will to leave it all on the field have to take over, Bernier brings an invaluable perspective to his website. And that blend of precision mixed with dogged determination should be enough to draw prospective ballplayers to Pro Baseball Insider. But that’s not the whole picture. Not even close.

When Bernier discusses his website, he lights up. He speaks about the family element to the project–his wife, Sarah, serves as webmaster, managing the layout and acting as creative partner while his parents edit copy. He discusses future endeavors –the Berniers are working on the second in their new series of books on practice drills, as well as planning to expand the website even further.  He revels in the opportunity he has to reach out to younger players and the positive feedback he’s received in return.

And running as an undercurrent to all of that–to the zeal for instruction and the excitement of being able to share what he’s learned–is genuine joy.

“I love baseball. I remember how I felt when I was a little kid playing, and it’s just so much fun. When you see kids [playing baseball], they’re having so much fun. It’s just 100% a game and that’s it.  I get so excited and I just want to help those kids.”

That love for the game is evident, whether it’s in the countless hours Bernier puts into his own performance or the way he delights in discussing the “chess game” that is baseball. But what is also evident is his boundless desire to share that enthusiasm with a whole new generation of ballplayers. With Pro Baseball Insider, he’s given himself the opportunity to showcase both, and done so in admirable fashion. The advice and instruction he and his team of professionals have put together are a clear extension of the philosophies that have brought Bernier this far–and are allowing him to have an influence far beyond his own diamond.

And what’s the biggest advice he would offer–with all his experience and dedication and passion for the game?

“First of all, you have to love [baseball]. And then just work hard every day. You don’t want to look in the mirror after you’re done playing and think ‘Man, I could have tried a little harder or could have done a little more.’ Play hard, work hard and have fun, and everything else will take care of itself.  If you can give a good effort every day, you’ve got to let the chips fall where they may. You might not make it; you might make it. But you’ve got to be happy with the effort you give, and at the end of the day that’s what matters. You’ve got to be happy with the effort you give.”

Doug Bernier has a lot of reasons to be happy.

Visit ProBaseballInsider.com for advice and instruction on all aspects of the game, or check out the Berniers’ first book,  Baseball Hitting Drills for a Batting Tee, for a step-by-step guide to begin to build the fundamentals of a great swing.

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