Basketball was not Junior Bernal's only option

06/30/2012 11:02 AM - Devo

Junior Bernal.pngWhen it comes to becoming a professional athlete, so many things have to fall into place, that if you think about it your head will spin. 

You need the smarts, the size, and the athletic ability. Combine that with the fact there are hundreds and thousands of people out there with the same dream and the same aspirations as you. 

Some of us are lucky enough to be that superstar high school phenom that graces the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16, and others become highly touted college prospects that we watch on ESPN winning National Championships. 

Regardless if you are the superstar baseball, basketball, football player, or if you take that college education and prepare for your life after the game, each of us takes his own path and tries to do something great. 

Junior Bernal is that guy. 

Junior was a 4-year starter on the University of Maine basketball team. He played 115 games averaging 9.0 ppg, 3.1 assists, and 4.6 rebounds per game. 

I was fortunate enough to connect with Junior on this fascinating social media tool called Twitter. Junior was a basketball player with dreams of playing in the NBA. Unfortunately, as with many others, that dream went unfulfilled. However, Junior decided to take his career in to his own hands.

Devon Teeple: Can you give us a little background on your basketball career? Were you a highly touted prospect coming out of high school? 

Junior Bernal: I went to a boarding school in Maine and played AAU in New Heights out of New York, my home town. We travelled to the biggest tournaments; Las Vegas and California. I also had genuinely good players on my team-one who went to Duke. That’s where I started getting noticed. Plus, in high school I was averaging over 22 points per game, and after my junior year I went to a basketball camp called the Eastern Invitational camp where I made the top 20 All-Star team. But where I got the majority of my looks from college recruiters were at the AAU tournaments. 

DT: How tough of a choice was it when you were getting scholarship offers? If I am not mistaken, they came from a wide variety of schools; including Iona, Delaware, San Francisco and Cal Poly? 

JB: I had more schools than that interested; unfortunately my SAT scores weren’t high enough at the time. Some started to back down and take away the offers because of it. At the end of the process, only a couple schools stuck around, and I decided to do a Prep year at MCI (Maine Central Institute). From there I got recruited by University of Maine. I went on my recruiting trip and really enjoyed the atmosphere. I had the chance to play right away, and it really was the best spot for me at the time.

DT: I remember when I was getting recruited. You receive many offers, but the majority aren’t the best fit. York College gave me the opportunity to play right away as a freshman, had a great student-teacher ratio, and had an atmosphere you could not top.  

JB: It’s interesting, because Maine was interested despite my SAT scores. Maine took a chance on me. They had what was called Proposition 48. I was on the team but had to get my grades up so they gave me a red-shirt year. They trusted that I would get my grades up and assured me I would have the opportunity to play once I got the chance. Maine really had my best interests at heart. 

DT: Once you were at Maine, how big of a transition was it from the high school game to the college game? 

JB: In high school, the kids who went to Division 1 schools were the best players on their basketball team. When you get to college, every player on the team was the best player on their high school team. The biggest transition was just everything that came with it. Time management for example; 6:00am weightlifting, early morning and afternoon practices, the classes are at a higher level than what you were used to. From a basketball point of view, there was never a lot of scouting, but in college, for me, no one really knew me my first year, giving me a leg up on the competition. But after the mid-way point of the season, opposing coaches had scouted me, and tried to exploit my weaknesses. Now you’re going back to square one, working on the fundamentals of the game trying to improve. I couldn’t just rest on my laurels. 

Junior Bernal 2.jpg

DT: And while at Maine you had a very successful career. When people hear Maine they never think basketball. During your four years you went from being ranked in the lower tiers of college basketball, to 94th in the country and third in the American East Conference after your senior season. What was the major difference from your freshman year until your senior year that resulted in the major breakthrough? 

JB: In my freshman year I was a starter but I was still learning and trying to fit into the system. I wasn’t very outgoing at that time and wasn’t showing those leadership qualities. By my senior year I was the only senior on the team, my coaches told me we were only going to go as far as my leadership would take them. Since I had experienced the bad times, I was more aware of what was needed to take it to the next level. Off the court relationships helped. You have to bond with your team to become successful. It’s not just basketball, its building that closeness. 

DT: I had the same experience. Entering as a freshman, and once you do become the senior on the team, it’s a lot of responsibility. You want to show those younger guys how to win, and you want them to continue to build on what you started. 

DT: You mentioned that the possibility of playing professionally was cut short due to back problems? What was it like when you found out that you cold no longer play the game you have played your whole life? 

JB: All throughout college I had back problems, but during school you have top of the line trainers and facilities. I was able to manage the pain and play through it. When I can back home, I was ready to play beyond college. I had an agent, and was preparing myself over the summer, to play overseas. I was working out one day, and that recurring pain shot though my back. I went to see my doctor; they told me there were bulging disc. Things happen and you have to accept it. 

I was going to play over in Spain for eight months, but there were some days where my back hurt so bad I couldn’t get out of bed. Instead, I went over to the Dominican Republic to play professionally for a season. But a season isn’t a season like we’re used to, it’s more like a bunch of tournaments played together to fill out the requirements of games played. I played over there for two months. When I can back, the pain was so bad, the doctors told me I could damage myself permanently. It’s hard. It’s something you work your whole life for. I put in a lot of time on and off the court. But I try to stay positive and carry on with my life. 

DT: Once school was done, there is obviously a huge transition period where you realize that the cheering is over, and the game you played your whole life is no longer there, but you decided to take a different route. 

Basketball isn’t your only passion. You have a passion for music and you are currently pursuing a career in the industry. 

I plead ignorance on this, but I have zero idea how one gets into a position like that. How did you know that rap/hip hop was your calling? And how does one go about getting started in an industry that is as difficult to getting into as professional sports are? 

JB: Actually, I’ve done music since high school. I was performing in the school at different events, coffee houses etc… It was just basketball was my opportunity to get me through college. Music has always been something that I loved. Even in my spare time in college, I was writing and recording. I had to slow down on the music because basketball was 24/7 in college, but as far as the industry, I see it just like basketball. I had to start at the bottom to get noticed and you hope that you peak someone’s interest and they will give you that opportunity. 

There are so many outlets over the internet with Social Media; Twitter, facebook etc… I record my music and put it out there for people to see and enjoy. I’m also looking for representation that can take me further, and help me reach those heights. Eventually, with hard work, and the proper marketing everything will shine through.

DT: When it comes to production and videos etc…how can you build your name/brand in this business? Obviously there are many talented people out there. What makes you stand out from the crowd? 

JB: My life story. Since I was young I had to do a lot of things on my own. My parents were incarcerated when I was 12, and I was raised by my aunt and my grandmother. Obviously I had many people help me along the way like my AAU program, friends and some family members. But when I speak on music, I try to bring positivity to the words, but I also talk about life and how you can overcome. Look at my experience of doing something your whole life and then transitioning to something else. I don’t speak about stuff that I haven’t been through. Fans will recognize when it comes from the heart. I try to stick to that and let them know God led me down the right path. 

Even if my music reaches one person and gives them hope I’m satisfied with that. 

DT:  Junior how can your fans or anyone interested in your music, and/or your business follow you and get in touch with you? 

JB: They can follow me on Twitter @JuniorBernal12 , You Tube or they can look for me on facebook. I love talking to people about anything. I’d be happy to chat and connect. That’s how you build a fan base. 

I really want to thank Junior Bernal for his time to talk to The GM’s Perspective. 

Everyone involved in sports can connect in many ways. We connected on Twitter and this led to a really fascinating conversation. A conversation that reinforces the fact that hard work and dedication can take you many places. 

Junior’s dream of basketball only took him so far but, his dream of music keeps the fire fueled. Who knows how far it will take him? I can say with confidence, as far as he wants.

Devon is the Founder and Executive Director of The GM's Perspective. He is a former professional baseball player with the River City Rascals & Gateway Grizzlies. Currently, Devon is a Manager at a financial institution in Northern Ontario Canada, and can be reached at devon@thegmsperspective.com. You can follow The GM's Perspective on Twitter and Facebook. His full bio can be seen here.

**Devon is available for hire or freelance opportunities**

 

 

Ricky Romero’s true value will show in coming months

06/26/2012 7:41 AM - Devo

Ricky Romero 3.jpgRicky Romero is the ace of the Toronto Blue Jays, there is no doubt about it. Up until Brandon Morrow’s injury, some were questioning that.

Sports is a fickle business where “what have you done for me lately” is as common a phrase as you can think of.  But despite Romero’s early season struggles with walks, and giving up the untimely home run here and there, he is still sixth in the American League in in wins, tied for fourth in games started and twelfth in innings pitched.

Injuries have decimated the Jays starting rotation, however, the Jays are sitting roughly seven games out of first and about three games out of the second wild card berth. With a few lucky breaks, and a triumphant return by Morrow around the All-Star break, this team could be right in the playoff hunt.

There has not been really anytime this season where Romero has been unmatched or overpowered. He conquered his demons and defeated the Boston Red Sox in his first try and has not given up more than four earned runs in any of his 15 starts this year.

There is no definitive answer as to why Romero has struggled except for the fact he may have put too much pressure on himself, trying to prove that last year was not a fluke and that he was ready to step up and be the man. The only other thing I can think of, is a lack of control in his cutter which he is throwing more than ever; 13.8 percent  in 2012 to compared to 9.4 percent  in 2011 (courtesy of FanGraphs).

It’s also common knowledge that Romero is struggling against left-handed batters ; .264 BAA / 5.79 ERA compared to right-handers; .219 / 3.74. All this appears to negatives, but can still be looked at as a positive. Romero is winning games without his best stuff and can get that important out when he needs to.

Since signing his five-year extension in 2010 (5yrs, $30.1 million) all eyes have been focused on the 6th overall pick from the 2005 draft, and rightly so. With names like Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Alex Gordon and Justin Upton all picked ahead of him, and all reaching superstar heights in one way or another, (we won’t mention 3rd overall pick Jeffrey Clement)  in all estimation, its Romero’s time as well.

Romero had a dominant year for the Jays in 2011 picking up 15 wins, throwing a career high 225 innings, allowing a career low in hits allowed, and ranked sixth in the AL in ERA. Another sign of his maturation was that he cut down on his walks, albeit two from the previous year, but in 15 more innings. Those are the little things that help you win baseball games, what make you a number one pitcher, what garner you enough votes to be voted tenth in the AL CY Young race.

This year has been a different story.

Romero has been struggling with his command. What seems like a step backwards in performance may be a step in the right direction. The use of the cutter is up (4.4% more than last year), but the velocity of his pitches are nearly identical to previous seasons. The only major difference that really stands out is Romero’s O-contact % and % of first pitch strikes. Batters are laying off more pitching outside of the strike zone, and Romero isn’t throwing as many first pitch strikes as he’s done in the past.

When looking at this from a batter’s perspective. A 1-0 count is very different than a 0-1 count, also evidence by Romero’s ERA of 5.63 down in the count and 2.32 when ahead. If you start off that batter with a first-pitch fastball for a strike, the odds of throwing an 0-1 change-up out of the zone for a strike is significantly higher. Those pitches you throw out of the zone for purpose pitches become less effective when the batter knows what your strategy is or that you can’t command your pitches where you want.

It’s not that Romero is a different pitcher this, year, it’s a command and mechanical issue, which you can clearly see in his follow through and the way his pitches tail away or run away from the batter. An adjustment here and correction there can make all the difference.

Considering he is still winning facing all of these negatives reinforces why he is the best pitcher the Jays have at this time or at any time in the future. Great pitchers can win when they don’t have their dominant pitches or control. Romero will be great, he’s just having some trouble finding his way.

Devon is the Founder and Executive Director of The GM's Perspective. He is a former professional baseball player with the River City Rascals & Gateway Grizzlies. Currently, Devon is a Manager at a financial institution in Northern Ontario Canada, and can be reached at devon@thegmsperspective.com. You can follow The GM's Perspective on Twitter and Facebook. His full bio can be seen here.

**Devon is available for hire or freelance opportunities**

Scott Kazmir expected to sign with independent Sugar Land Skeeters

06/22/2012 12:09 AM - Devo

Scott Kazmir 12.jpgFormer first-round pick Scott Kazmir, who had so much promise as a gun slinging lefty, has faced some tough times the past few years. 

Once regarded as one of the best left-handers in the game, has been cast aside after putting up numbers that make you cringe at the sight of them. 

In 29 appearances spanning 2010 and 2011 Kazmir gave up 104 earned runs in 152 innings. That’s works out to an ERA of 6.18. Mix in a lack of control (81 walks over that span) and velocity that decreased over 7 mph since his rookie year, and you have a recipe for disaster. 

Kazmir’s last stop was in Anaheim. He was brought in to solidify an already polished rotation, and to strengthen them for the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Scott Kazmir from Tampa was no longer. In three postseason appearances with the Angels, he went winless and put up an ERA of nearly 8.00 in 11 innings. Eight walks did nothing but contribute to his downfall. 

In June of last year, Anaheim released Kazmir after posting an atrocious 17.02 ERA in his five rehab starts for Salt Lake. Since then you really haven’t heard much. It’s rare when someone with Kazmir’s credentials is out of a job for long regardless of how good or bad the numbers are. 

KHOU.com in Houston has reported that the Sugarland Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League have taken a flyer on Kazmir and are expected to sign him to a contract. 

The mighty have fallen…yes, but this might be just the thing to propel Kazmir into the spotlight once again. Look at Shawn Hill from the independent York Revolution who last played Major League baseball in 2010 for the Toronto Blue Jays. He put together 28 scoreless innings and was recently signed to play again for the Jays. 

Not yet 30, it’s hard to believe someone’s career could be over so early. But if Kazmir regains even just a little bit of his former self, there will be plenty of scouts from playoff contenders attending this first-year franchise’s games come August.

Devon is the Founder and Executive Director of The GM's Perspective. He is a former professional baseball player with the River City Rascals & Gateway Grizzlies. Currently, Devon is a Manager at a financial institution in Northern Ontario Canada, and can be reached at devon@thegmsperspective.com. You can follow The GM's Perspective on Twitter and Facebook. His full bio can be seen here.

**Devon is available for hire or freelance opportunities**

 

Toronto Blue Jays take notice of Shawn Hill’s dominance

06/19/2012 4:51 AM - Devo

Shawn Hill.jpgLate last week I reported on former Toronto Blue Jay Shawn Hill and the dominant performances he’s been showcasing as a member of the York Revolution in the Independent Atlantic League. 

Hill has put together a scoreless innings streak that has reached 27.2 innings and has caught the eye of numerous scouts. It has been confirmed that the Blue Jays had purchased his contract from the Revolution. 

With the recent string of injuries on the Jays pitching staff, they are in need of all sorts of help. Brandon Morrow is out indefinitely with an oblique strain, Drew Hutchinson is dealing with a right elbow ligament sprain, and Kyle Drabek-a huge piece of the Roy Halladay deal-is scheduled for Tommy John surgery for the second time and is likely out for the next 12-16 months. 

Hill is also recovering from shoulder difficulties. Because of circulation issues he endured two Tommy John surgeries to go with a stem-cell procedure and radial nerve decompression. Many would give up after that, but Hill, as history has shown, has amazing resilience. 

It is unknown when or where Hill will make his debut for Toronto, and it’s unknown if he will be slated in as a starter or assist a bullpen that has been over-worked at times this year? Instead of worrying about it, let’s relish in the fact that the Jays have brought in a pitcher with experience and has proven he can get major league hitters out. 

Independent baseball rarely gets the press it deserves and some quality players sometimes slip through the cracks. But Hill’s story is why people play the game, and this is why determination and perseverance is second to none.

Devon is the Founder and Executive Director of The GM's Perspective. He is a former professional baseball player with the River City Rascals & Gateway Grizzlies. Currently, Devon is a Manager at a financial institution in Northern Ontario Canada, and can be reached at devon@thegmsperspective.com. You can follow The GM's Perspective on Twitter and Facebook. His full bio can be seen here.

**Devon is available for hire or freelance opportunities**

 

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