Bertrand Story

Author: Greg McKenna

Cut by Mid-Major, ACC’s Best Reflects on Road to Success

By Greg McKenna

John Michael Bertrand and his brother JD head to the indoor facility for Notre Dame’s football and soccer programs about twice a week. Unlike JD, though, John Michael is not a middle linebacker.

Instead, the captain and typical Friday starter for Notre Dame baseball heads towards the turf field and mimics his position post-pitch. JD, standing about ten yards away with a tennis racket and balls in hand, smacks both liners and grounders at his older brother to fine-tune John Michael’s reaction time on the mound.

Ask any of Notre Dame’s coaches about Bertrand, and they’ll voluntarily laud his work ethic. The grad student currently paces the ACC with a league-best 1.53 ERA, but he still remembers being cut his freshman year at Furman University.

Like JD, Bertrand primarily credits his drive to the example his parents set while growing up outside of Atlanta. He doesn’t discount, however, the chip on his shoulder that developed while training by himself for a year to save his mission of playing college baseball.

“Because you take that ego riding high after high school, you’re a pretty accomplished senior going in, and you get told you’re not good enough to play Division I baseball,” Bertrand said. “And you’re like, okay ‘what do I do now?’”

Bertrand wasn’t allowed to practice with the team, but Furman head coach Brett Harker allowed him to use the team facilities if he stayed out of the way. Bertrand typically didn’t have a catcher, so he’d take a bucket of balls and throw into a free net.

Irish head coach Link Jarrett sees it as a “blessing in disguise.” After all, Bertrand wouldn’t still be at Notre Dame without the extra year of eligibility. “It builds a good foundation for later on,” Bertrand said, “when you really need to dig deep and find what fuels you and what brings up that passion.”

The experience also allowed John Michael to help JD stay positive when the younger brother redshirted as a freshman. Bertrand knew what it was like to see little, or none, of the field, and he advised his brother to break the year into “bite-sized pieces.”

“Then you’re not trying to chew the whole elephant at once, right?” he says. “And you’re taking a little bite and a little bite, and you take it day by day. Like, ‘How can I get better today?’” As a junior last season, JD became the first Irish player to record triple-digit tackles (101) in a single season since 2018.

John Michael made the Furman team his sophomore year. His stats didn’t jump off the page; he had an ERA above 4.00 in both of his two full years with the Paladins. During his junior year, though, he grabbed the lone win for Furman in a series against a UNC Greensboro team led by Jarrett, who took notice.

“I recognized that he clearly had a sense of exactly what he was trying to do on the mound,” Jarrett says. “Furman’s athleticism around him didn’t really allow the statistical data to back up what you might see when he’s on the mound.”

Bertrand came to Notre Dame as a grad transfer after Furman canceled its baseball program in 2020. In Jarrett’s first full season as head coach, Notre Dame won its first ACC regular season title and came within a game of the program’s first College World Series appearance since 2002. Bertrand led the Irish in wins, starts, innings pitched and strikeouts. His three complete games led the conference.

A deeper pitching staff this season has put less onus on Bertrand to go deep into games, and his numbers have continued to improve. After a so-so start in a loss to Virginia Tech, Bertrand rebounded what he called his “best game” in a college uniform against then-No. 5 Florida State. Going toe-to-toe with reigning ACC Pitcher of the Year Parker Messick, Bertrand struck out 12 in 7 ⅔ shutout innings as the Irish prevailed 2-0 in extra innings. After being named ACC Player of the Week, the left-hander followed it up with a season-high 8 1/3 innings in a 4-1 win over Clemson.

After earning a Masters of Science in management, Bertrand began cranking out a one-year accelerated MBA just days after the Irish fell to eventual national champions Mississippi State last June in the Starkville Super Regional.

Before the business world, however, there’s the lifelong dream of playing professional baseball to pursue. Jarrett says the scouting world recognizes what Bertrand is doing. If anyone deserves a chance at the next level, he says, Bertrand does.

Just don’t expect Bertrand to dwell too much on the big picture, especially with a national championship to chase. If the Irish get to Omaha for the first time in two decades, a guy cut by a program that no longer exists will have led them there.