Bell having a ‘blast’ as Pride volunteer - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Sports

Bell having a ‘blast’ as Pride volunteer

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Posted: Monday, April 19, 2010 11:00 pm | Updated: 1:15 pm, Mon Jun 21, 2010.

His spikes have dug into infield dirt in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, New York and Phoenix.

So retired Major Leaguer Jay Bell knows what a ballpark is supposed to be like, and he’s doing his best to make sure that players at Mountain Pointe have a field as close to those pristine grounds as possible.

He rakes, drags and waters the infield long after the players have gone home from practice.

“I tell people I missed my calling,” Bell quipped.

He is also a volunteer assistant coach with the Pride and alternates between the varsity and freshmen teams during the season.

Bell has lived with his family – which includes two young ballplayers, Brantley and Brock, and daughter, Brianna, who graduated from Mountain Pointe last year – in Ahwatukee Foothills since he played for the Arizona Diamondbacks from 1998 to 2002.

He closed out his 17-year Major League career – where he played every position on the infield – with the New York Mets in 2003.

Bell retired from big league baseball after that season, but he will be forever remembered in Arizona as the player who scored the winning run when the Diamondbacks beat the New York Yankees in the bottom of the ninth inning in the seventh game of the 2001 World Series when Chase Field was called Bank One Ballpark.

He was the bench coach for the Diamondbacks until he retired again in 2006 to spend time with his family.

It didn’t last long.

That spring he was back on the diamond helping coach Ahwatukee Little Leaguers, including Brantley, and working on the grounds at Ahwatukee Park.

During his career Bell befriended grounds keepers, asked questions, got some tips and even now has Diamondbacks head groundskeeper Grant Trenbeath coming out to give him some advice.

Last fall when some of the young players he got to know in Little League started to play at the high school level, he moved up with them.

“It’s been a blast to get to know these kids and watch them compete at a higher level than Little League,” Bell said.

“It’s really been enjoyable to watch their progress and spend time with them,” he added. “It’s been a thrill for me because it’s one thing to help make them better ball players and another to help them become better men, too.”

Little Leaguers who might have been in awe of having a big league veteran on the bench with them are used to it by now.

Mountain Pointe head coach Brandon Buck is working on it.

“As a kid I watched him play,” Buck recalled, “and now to have him with us is a big deal.”

But Buck has been able to control his euphoria.

“We must talk baseball two or three hours a day,” Buck said. “Mostly it’s about our guys, what he sees and what we can do. Every once in a while I’ll ask him a question.”

It’s not ego or the need to be around baseball that has Bell putting in so many volunteer hours, Buck said.

“He’s out here for the kids and no other reason,” Buck said. “But to have a guy around with as much baseball knowledge as he has and to put in so much time on the field; we have to have the best field in the state.”

When he puts down his rake and hose, Bell picks up a bat and hits grounders or fly balls in practice then works with infielders and batters. Then, when the kids leave for the day he’s back on the tractor, dragging the infield.

“I’m having a great time out here,” Bell said. “It’s a thrill for me to be out here with all of these coaches because they’re having an impact on these guys’ lives, too. There are a lot of coaches out there making an impact, I just have a little more time on my hands than most of them.”

Community volunteerism isn’t something that Bell started when he retired here. When he played for the Pirates he won the Dapper Dan Award, recognition from the city of Pittsburgh for a professional athlete who volunteers in the community.

“This is my community now,” Bell said. “We love it here, and it’s important to give back.”

He says he’s getting something out of it, too.

“It’s been fun hanging out with the guys, and meeting some of their dads,” Bell said. “There must be 40 guys who are putting in time around here, I’m just a little more visible.”

He has also coached and been around players sometimes on the opposite bench.

“There are boys going to other schools I’d like to spend some time with, too, like some kids at Desert Vista that I’m pulling for,” Bell said. “Silently, of course.”

Bell isn’t the only former big leaguer to help out at Mountain Pointe.

Retired Chicago Cubs infielder Ryne Sandberg kept a lower profile, but also occasionally volunteered to work with infielders and hitters during the 2001 and 2002 high schools seasons when his son, Justin, played for the Pride.

Bell credits Mountain Pointe athletic director Ian Moses and principal Bruce Kipper, a former professional ballplayer, for the opportunity to get dirty and put on a Pride uniform on game day.

“Brandon has been wonderful in allowing me to throw my opinions in there sometimes,” Bell said. But I wouldn’t be able to do what I do if it wasn’t for the fact that Coach Buck, Ian Moses and Bruce Kipper allowed me to do it.”

And Moses, who was a freshman baseball coach at one time, appreciates what has fallen into his lap.

“Honestly,” Moses said, “I don’t think I’ve ever met a nicer guy. He loves every aspect of the game, and he wants all the kids to have every possible chance to do well.”

When Bell works with Pride players as a coach it isn’t just about throwing, catching and hitting.

“It’s been fun to watch their progress emotionally, too, and how they handle themselves mentally,” Bell said. “That’s huge to me because that’s where you separate the really good players.”

Attitude, he says, is as important as fielding a ground ball or hitting behind a runner.

“I’ve always maintained composure and control on the field and it’s what I try to teach these kids I’ve spent time with,” Bell said. “You’re dealing with control out there.

“If a pitcher is frustrated or upset he’ll throw a fastball as hard as he can and if he doesn’t have control he’ll leave it out over the plate,” he continued. “It happens from Little League to the big leagues. It’s just a matter of paying attention.”

Bell has not only coached his sons, he’s groomed Brantley to groom baseball fields because he isn’t going to be riding that tractor forever.

When he got a taste of being a bench coach for the Diamondbacks under Bob Melvin he enjoyed the experience.

“This is my fourth spring I’ve been away from (big league) baseball, and I’d like to get back into it,” Bell said. “Being a bench coach might be the best job in baseball. You get to manage along with the manager, but you don’t have to take the heat. It was a great job, and I enjoyed it.”

Bell is 44 and entering a time when a new generation of baseball managers are starting to return to the bench.

“I want to manage,” Bell added. “I still have those aspirations. It’s a different game now and a younger generation is getting into coaching.”

And maybe, someday, he’ll get to work with some of the youngsters he’s mentoring now.

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Jason P. Skoda
  • Jason P. Skoda
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  • Resident sports writer at the Ahwatukee Foothills News

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