Tri-City ValleyCats third baseman Bobby Wernes went 2-for-4 and started a seventh-inning, two-out rally as his team pushed ahead 6-4 before winning 7-6 in extra innings on Friday night at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium. But his name will get lost in the shuffle.
It’s OK. He’s used to it.
During the collegiate season, Wernes and the Arkansas Razorbacks advanced to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
He was an everyday starter, second on the team in runs scored (50), led in triples (6) and was third in total bases (99). Those are solid numbers. Until one realizes he was in a lineup with the 2015 Golden Spikes Award winner, Andrew Benintendi. Benintendi was the seventh overall pick in the 2015 draft to Boston.
“I am awesome with that [role] because, if I’m doing well and someone’s doing better, then that just means it’s going to be good for the team,” Wernes said. “I love playing behind really talented players, like Andrew and Johnny. They’re really similar guys. I’m a team-first guy, 100 percent. I don’t need the credit or anything like that. I just want to win.”
Wernes, Houston’s 30th round pick, walked and came around to score the tying run on a wild pitch on Friday night. Next, standout centerfielder Johnny Sewald laced a two-run single back up the middle to give Tri-City the lead. Sewald got the hit on the game-winning play, as well.
“We have so many good hitters in the lineup, so when we get something going with two outs we know something special can happen,” Wernes said. “So, two outs and nobody on, you just kind of have to be a table-setter.”
Discipline on the offensive side of the ball has been a focus for Wernes since arriving in Troy a few weeks ago.
“Coach Steiny [Russ Steinhorn] is just really big on dominating the strike zone and that’s just something I’ve really taken to heart, to [get] good hittable strikes and keep that approach. Law of percentages [says] it’ll even out,” Wernes said.
ValleyCats manager Ed Romero has been pleased with Wernes’ approach to the plate, despite limited at-bats.
“He’s adjusting to this level and he battles at the plate,” Romero said. “He’s got a good eye. He’s disciplined. He doesn’t swing at bad pitches. He goes deep in counts and he puts the bat on the ball. So, that’s good to see.”
Before joining the University of Arkansas for his sophomore year in 2014, Wernes started his college career at Neosho County Community College in Chanute, Kan., in 2013. He was an all-conference player as the team went to its second Junior College World Series in the last five years. His ride to professional baseball has been anything but smooth.
“It’s been crazy because, out of high school, people said I was maybe a Division II NAIA, and I didn’t really want to be that. So, I went to JUCO,” Wernes said. “Thankfully, Arkansas, my No. 1 school that I really wanted to go to, offered me [a scholarship]. So, no one really thought I should be starting at Arkansas. Luckily, I got to play a little bit at Arkansas and go to the College World Series.
“No one thought I was going to get drafted and now I’m here. I’m kind of the kid no one really expected to be here where I am now, so I’m just really, really fortunate and blessed.”
Wernes is ready to do what it takes to succeed at the next level. He recognizes that he is on a big roster with a lot of talent, so playing time may not be as consistent as in college. At Arkansas this season, he started 64 of 65 games. In five games for Tri-City, he has already missed one game.
However, what’s important to him is not the headlines or personal success. He just wants to play ball.
“It’s a grind,” Wernes said. “Probably the biggest thing is in college you’re either going to practice or you’re going to play. In pro, you’re practicing in the morning and playing at night, so that’s the biggest thing is. It’s baseball all day and I love it.”