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From Freckles to Fastballs, Making It to 'the Show'


Adam Bernero was once a little boy with red hair and freckles, watching baseball games, fantasizing in the stands about being out there on the mound, under the stadium lights, striking out the sluggers, one-two-three, boom.

On Tuesday night in Anaheim, Bernero, a long-limbed and graceful 23-year-old, stood on the mound in the glare of the lights, wearing the subtle gray road uniform of a Detroit Tiger. Called up from the Toledo Mud Hens so fast his name wasn't even in the printed program, he struck out his first major league hitter, the Angels' Darin Erstad, one, two . . . well, actually, it took nine of Adam's versatile pitches.

In a middling seat somewhere between the Tigers' dugout and the concession stand, sat a little boy with red hair and freckles happily watching Bernero's abrupt major league debut. Scattered around the boy--who was looking forward to meeting the pitcher later, because after all, someone like Adam sure makes it easier to have red hair and freckles when you're a kid--were those who love Adam Bernero most, his mother, his father, his first stepmother and her second husband, his second and current stepmother, his aunts, step-aunts, uncles, step-uncles, grandparents, step-grandparents, his agent, his college pitching coach, his old girlfriend and his new girlfriend, all of them watching some version of their own dreams come true before their very eyes.

Yes, you do almost need a scorecard to figure out this 21st century American family. And if life seemed complicated before for Adam Bernero, what with so many households containing people who consider him a son, think of how it will be now that he is pitching in the bigs, with an annual salary that, fast as one of his 95 mph pitches, has zoomed from $8,000 to $200,000. The speed of his ascent from farm leagues to majors--14 months--is rare, even at a time when the ranks of respectable pitchers are painfully thin.

Always big for his age, Adam, at 6 feet 4, is a broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped, 204-pound hunk. As if his life weren't dramatic enough right now, a subplot was churning as the two girlfriends, tall and gorgeous young women, one blond, one brunet, not only hung on every one of the 77 pitches he hurled through five-plus innings, but found themselves in uncomfortable proximity, repelling each other like two identical magnetic poles. They hardly looked at each other as they waited for the young man to return to the DoubleTree hotel for a postgame family bash.

Waited and waited, actually.

Although the game ended around 10:30 p.m., Adam, who grew up in Sacramento, was delayed. The team shuttle, it seems, had driven off from Edison Field, leaving the starting pitcher behind. Long after everyone expected Adam, his old girlfriend's cell phone rang.

"Can someone give me a ride?" he pleaded. Everything else he imparted during the call, 21-year-old April Crow of Savannah, Ga., said saucily as she drove off with Adam's agent and college coach to fetch him, "is between me and Adam."


The unanticipated delay gave Adam's extremely extended family time to share stories in the private reception room, where they'd gathered to celebrate. Given the tangled relationships and potential for conflict in the room, everyone behaved beautifully, although Adam's father, Gino Bernero, surveyed the crowd at one point and pronounced it "pretty weird."

His ex-wife Susan Roberts, 44, who'd organized the party, strolled over. "I've only given Adam one piece of advice," Susan began telling her ex, who'd married her when Adam was 5 (I happen to know because I was Susan's maid of honor) and already possessed of a remarkable throwing arm.

Gino chuckled good-naturedly because Susan, never one to hold back, is known to dispense advice as regularly as Adam fires fastballs. "Well, Susan, we know that's not true, but what did you tell him?"

"I told him if I ever heard he was charging little kids for autographs that I'd kick his ass around the block," said Susan, who has remained close to her stepson, though she and Gino divorced when Adam was 10.

Gino, a tall, handsome carpenter and outdoorsman who wears a small golden ring in his left ear, has always had an appealingly sonorous laugh. He guffawed.

Watching his son pitch, he said, had made him euphoric. "As a parent, you live the highs and lows. You never allow yourself to get sucked into the possibilities of what may be. But when it finally comes to fruition, you just can't believe it."

When Adam was about 13, said Gino, he and his wife, Janet, started the boy on private pitching and hitting lessons, and Adam began using an expression that became a mantra. "Living the dream," he'd say, in that poignant way 13-year-olds affecting adult mannerisms do. "Living the dream."

And now, of course, he really is, and as with all dreams that come true in the public realm, a legend is taking shape. "The story he'll be stuck with," said Susan, "is that he signed his first contract on a napkin."

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