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Heart and faith compel Richmond Flying Squirrel John Michael Bertrand to give back to the community

Posted at 3:42 PM, Jun 13, 2024

RICHMOND, Va. -- John Michael Bertrand has always played baseball at a higher level. Whether it was with older kids or older veterans, he always seemed to understand what it took to be a successful pitcher.

"Every time we go out there, no matter what you have, whether it's your A stuff or your C stuff, is to give the team a chance to win," Bertrand said. "You start with that, and then you compete with whatever you have that day."

Bertrand was cut from the team as a freshman at Furman University. But that setback did nothing to dampen his dream of playing professional baseball.

"That was the first time I ever vocalized my aspirations to play in the major leagues," he recalled. "I think I first realized I had the ability to sometime later in my college career."

Now in his first year with the Richmond Flying Squirrels, he's realizing that ability. Through 11 starts this season, Bertrand is second on the team and 10th in the Eastern League in Earned Run Average (ERA). He's also in the top ten in innings pitched and has twice been named Eastern League pitcher of the week.

John Michael Bertrand

The unassuming kid from Raleigh, North Carolina, picked in the 10th round of the baseball draft two years ago, has figured out the Double-A level of the game fairly quickly.

"Creating a scouting report. Creating an attack plan and then reading how they react to what you do and then adjusting from there. It's the epitome of what they call chess or a cat and mouse game," he said. "I'm doing a pretty good job of executing. Obviously, I could do better. You can always do better."

That extends off the field as well.

Bertrand's younger brother began working with an organization called Uplifting Athletes. The group's mission is to harness the power of sport to invest in the lives of those impacted by rare diseases. They immediately caught Bertrand's attention as something he could support no matter where he might hang his hat in the transient world of baseball.

"Wherever I am across the country, I can meet with families, bring them to the field and have an experience with them and show them a little of what baseball is. Whether it's a distraction for them or gives them something else to focus on," he said.

John Michael Bertrand

He recently had a donation opportunity that tied in with the number of innings he pitched. He's also donated autographed bats and balls for auction. While the money does help, Bertrand said he believed awareness was even more important.

"For me, it's more about being able to give back to the community and being able to be on a stage where I'll have people come out here and watch. How can I represent something other than myself?" he said.

During a recent homestand at the Diamond, Bertrand met several families through the Uplifting Athletes program.

Chloe Callaway, who met with Bertrand, lives with Central Collecting Lymphatic Anomaly with a genetic mutation.

"I've been told by doctors and her medical team that she's one in a million. There's no one like her. Having an organization that spotlights kids and adults like Chloe, it means the world to us," Chloe's mother Emily Callaway said.

John Michael Bertrand

Her family has been connected with Uplifting Athletes for a while, and on this night everything came together in her hometown.

"It feels great to be a part of something where you feel supported and you know that you're not just the only one out in the world, fighting this battle and doing this alone," Callaway added.

That's what Chloe and her family get back. What Bertrand is able to give comes from the heart and from his faith.

"Before the game, I always take a knee and pray with my catcher for anyone out there who needs prayer. Especially being thankful for the talents we've been given that we may use them correctly," Bertrand said. "It's tremendously impacted me to be able to go out there and know that it's not just about me. Baseball is something that I do, it's not who I am. Who I am is more helping others."

Among the myriad group nights the Squirrels will have this season, they will have other opportunities for Uplifting Athlete Families to come to the Diamond and meet the team.

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