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Conversations with the Herd: Steward Berroa

By: Brian Frank


Steward Berroa has been wielding one of the Bisons’ hottest bats this season. The fleet-footed, switch-hitting outfielder is a big reason why Buffalo is currently leading the International League in total runs scored.


“He’s putting together quality at-bats and not giving away any at-bats,” Bisons manager Casey Candaele recently said of Berroa. “He’s battling and putting the barrel on the ball – and if not, then he’s putting it in play and making them make plays. He runs well enough where some of those are going to be infield hits. He’s really done a good job both right-handed and left-handed of being a catalyst for our offense.”


Berroa grew up in the Dominican Republic, where one of his earliest memories is watching his dad play softball.


“I remember I used to go with my dad,” Berroa said in a recent interview with The Herd Chronicles. “He started playing softball when he was older. He never played baseball. I remember I was with him almost every game, just running around and playing around. That’s a good memory because I think that’s how I found out how to play baseball. There was a friend of his who saw me running around. He had a little league team. He asked me to go to be on his team. That was a really good memory that I have.”


Berroa immediately started playing in the outfield on his new team, but eventually moved around to other positions.


“The first game he (the coach) was like, ‘Grab a glove and go to the back,’” Berroa remembered. “That’s was what I did. I started playing outfield – and later shortstop and second base.”


A natural right-handed hitter, it wasn’t long before Berroa tried hitting left-handed in little league games.


“I was hitting so well right-handed that I kind of got bored, just hitting so well as a little kid,” Berroa explained. “So, I just decided to try hitting left-handed for the first time. In my first at-bat I popped up to second base. First swing – pop up, and I thought, okay, this is going to be fun. Since then I’ve been working as a switch-hitter. It was tough and it’s still tough, but we’re getting there.”


Berroa currently has a 1.006 OPS. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles


Berroa eventually attended a showcase near his home which led to him signing his first professional contract with the Blue Jays. He remembers the moment his father informed him that the Blue Jays wanted to sign him.


“They (the Blue Jays) invited me to their academy in the D.R. in Boca Chica,” Berroa said. “I didn’t have any cell phone or any communication, so I went to the computers in their computer room. I was there for a week with the professional players doing workouts with them so the coaches could see me. My dad was the one that reached out to me on the computer and told me (that the Blue Jays wanted to sign him). I was really excited. It was one of the best days I’ve had in my life.”


After signing, Berroa reported to the Blue Jays’ Dominican Summer League team, just a few days shy of his 18th birthday. He ended up slashing .261/.352/.367 and stealing 20 bases in 54 games.


“That was really fun,” he said of playing in the DSL. “We had such a good group down there. We still have a couple guys that signed the same year as me and played there, like Rafael Lantigua. He’s been my teammate forever. It was a really good experience. A young guy playing his dream. It was really good.”


In 2018, Berroa played his first season in the United States with the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays. Although he was successful on the field, slashing .282/.386/.359 and stealing 17 bases in 39 games, it was a challenging year for him as he adjusted to a new culture.


“The language and the food were the biggest changes,” he said. “For me, it was a little tough being away from my family. But I had some really good friends, really good teammates, that helped me through the tough times. It wasn’t fun at the beginning, but at the end I enjoyed it.”


“I didn’t know English,” he continued. “I just knew how to say ‘thank you,’ ‘hello,’ ‘good morning.’ But I had a trainer with us, his name is Woody (Jon Woodworth). He’s been with the Blue Jays forever. I got injured a couple of times and every time I’d go to the training room, he was the one who was always helping me. In the first five or six months, I was able to have a conversation. After about two years, I was really good and fluent at it.”


He moved up to the Appalachian League in 2019 to play for the Bluefield Blue Jays. Although his numbers dipped a bit from the previous season, he still found a way to take positives away from the experience.


“Bluefield was a year of learning,” he said. “It wasn’t a really good year for me. It was a tough year. But I grew up a lot mentally. I learned how to handle the bad times personally and on the field. It wasn’t a good year for stats, but it was a good growing up year for me.”


In 2020, when the minor league baseball season was cancelled due to the pandemic, Berroa returned to the Dominican Republic and worked hard to be ready for whenever minor league baseball returned.


“I just went to the field because we didn’t know what was going to happen, so I wanted to stay ready,” he said. “Whenever I got the call, I was ready to go right away. The Blue Jays helped us a lot giving us a program to do at home with the staff that we had available. It was a year to find out how to stay ready.”



When minor league baseball resumed in 2021, Berroa reported to the Low-A Dunedin Blue Jays. He showed what he was capable of on the base paths that season, stealing 55 bases for Dunedin and another three in three games at Double-A New Hampshire.


“It was tough at the beginning because they had to cut the number of players in the organization,” he recalled. “I wasn’t in a good spot at the beginning, but with hard work everything is going to come up for you at some point – and that’s what happened later in the season. I got promoted to Dunedin and it was a good year. I had awesome teammates and learned a lot. It was a good year for me. My first time stealing a lot of bags and learning what I am as a player.”


Following the 2021 season, he returned home to play for Gigantes del Cibao in the Dominican Winter League. The last two offseasons, Berroa has returned to the Dominican to play for Leones del Escogido in his hometown of Santo Domingo.


“It is an awesome experience playing in your country, having your family come see you, and the vibe,” he said. “Winter Ball gives you a lot of good vibes, positive energy, a lot of learning about the game. My first year was 2021 with Gigantes, mostly as a pinch runner. I learned a lot from the veteran guys there. We won the championship that year. It set such a high standard, winning your first year. It was fun.”


After spending most of 2022 at High-A Vancouver, Berroa had his best season yet in 2023 at Double-A New Hampshire, where he slashed .272/.380/.414 with 43 stolen bases – before being promoted to Buffalo in late August to get his first taste of Triple-A. He believes the experience he had in Buffalo at the end of last summer helped him get off to a fast start this season.


“When you have a little time to know where you’re going to be, it’s really good because when you come back, and it’s not about – oh, what is this? It’s more about, okay, I know this. I know how to handle this. I know what I have to do. So, it definitely helped me a lot.”


Berroa is slashing .356/.472/.534 for the Herd this season. He's also leading the International League with 20 stolen bases, on pace to put the Bisons modern-day single-season stolen base record (53), set by teammate Cameron Eden last season, in serious jeopardy.


The 24-year-old speedster has his sights set on continuing to rise in the system – and making it to the major leagues to help the Blue Jays win a championship.


“I’ve been here forever,” he said of playing in the Blue Jays organization. “They know me. We have a really good relationship. It’s more about just keep doing my stuff and if at some point the opportunity comes to go to the big leagues – just try to stay humble, keep working, help the team in whatever way they need me.”

 

 

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