Baseball's in Bell's Blood
Mudcats manager mixes on-the-field intensity with low-key demeanor
Zebulon- When David Bell is not on the baseball diamond at Five County Stadium he is a soft-spoken, quiet, easygoing person who seems as though he would never lose his temper. Once his turf shoes hit the concrete dugout steps, something happens.
Bell’s demeanor changes to an animal staring down its prey as his intensity level rises up and he becomes focused solely on the game and his players. It is as though once he puts on his Mudcats uniform he becomes an entire different person.
When his team is on the field, you can spot Bell, 37, on the home plate side of the dugout as he relays signs to his catcher and watches each pitch go by. But when he is in his third base coaches’ box, you see an all-aware Bell. He doesn’t overreact or try and show up the other team on a good hit or homerun by one of his batters. If a homerun is hit, just a high five as the batter rounds third is sufficient.
His intensity and competitiveness on the baseball field is something that he has possessed since he was very young.
“Probably of how we grew up, there is a certain way I believe you have to approach the game,” Bell said. “There is a certain amount of intensity that you have to play this game with and have to approach the game with. The fact is, it is a competition between two teams.”
Bell’s attitude comes from a childhood that was different from most peoples. Growing up, he and his brothers lived, slept, and ate baseball. His grandfather, Gus Bell, was a four time All-Star outfielder that accumulated over 200 home runs, while his father, Buddy, was a six-time Gold Glove third baseman and also major league manager for three different clubs.
As a kid, in David Bell’s mind, he didn’t have any other choice but to play baseball. The two generations before him had nine all-star selections combined. Bell assumed that he had to continue the tradition.
Bell felt that, because he was so close to his father and grandfather, they knew how much he loved baseball and how much he wanted to play the game. He said that they did everything they could to take the pressure off of him.
“That allowed me to develop my own love for the game even though I was around them.” Bell said.
Can't Stay Away
Once Bell hung up his cleats at the end of the 2006 season, he was able to spend time with his wife and daughter and take a break from baseball. After the 2008 season concluded, the itch returned and he decided he wanted to try and get back into the game.
“I made about five or six calls to different teams where I knew people in the organization, just to see what it was like, just to see what was out there and get my name out there more than anything, to let them know I would be interested in getting into the game,” Bell said. “When I called the Reds, it just so happened they had a Double-A job open, and for them to even just consider me, I felt ‘hey, I definitely have to take this opportunity’ because I know it’s pretty fortunate to jump in at this level.”
Bell’s rookie campaign as a manger had its ups and downs. The Mudcats were in the race for the Southern League first half title until its final days. After the Mudcats were unable to clinch, and the Triple-A Louisville Bats were in the thick of the play-off race, many of the Mudcats top players, including the 2009 Southern League Pitcher of the Year Travis Wood, were shipped to Kentucky to help out. Bell and the Mudcats ended up with a combined 62-77 record.
Now in his second season as a manager, Bell plans to have the same approach as he did last year. Bell’s baseball philosophy is more of small game; he likes homeruns but he prefers to manage “good, solid baseball.” Bell does note, however, that the abilities of the team are more important than the manager’s approach
“It depends a lot on the team,” Bell said “Your own personal style, I don’t think, should override the style of your team.”
He has basically the same team he did last year. There are only four players on the Mudcats’ 24-man roster that he did not share a clubhouse with at one point last year.
Players like David Bell as a manager and they feel as though he is there for them, no matter what.
“As a player, to have somebody like him as a coach and as a friend out there really helps in our process in becoming a better player, a better person,” Mudcats catcher Chris Denove said. “The best part about DB is his ability to relate, considering he’s been through pretty much everything we’ve been through. He understands how beneficial it is for us to hear the truth from him. He’s gonna tell the truth whether it’s good or bad.” Denove said.
But as a catcher, a position that has the most communication on the field with the coaching staff, Denove values Bell’s approachability, often analyzing plays together
“We’ve grown to trust each other,” Denove said. “He trusts my judgment, I trust his judgment….We’ll discuss what happened, what we should have done, or what we did good and we’ll kinda move on from there.”
And it doesn’t stop there. Denove and the rest of the Mudcats know that if they have an on-the-field problem or personal problem, he’ll be there as a confidant to listen and not judge.
Closer Jordan Smith feels as though Bell helped him last year when he spent a majority of the 2009 season on the disabled list.
“We’d talk about, because he went through the same thing, being hurt, “ Smith said. “It made my life a lot easier last year.”
But maybe more so than Bell’s good nature, Smith likes Bell’s approach to the game.
“I just like the real, I don’t know, ‘hard nose’ type of mentality he’s got, “Smith said. “You can’t tell by just talking to him but when stuff hits the fan, he gets after it a bit and I love it.”
Bell’s ‘getting after it’ did cost him a decent amount of money as he had six ejections, with an undisclosed fine tacked on to each, a likely league leader for the 2009 Southern League.
“It’s not something that you ever want to have happen,” Bell said about the ejections.
Bell revealed that arguing with the umpires can be exhausting. Any time Bell gets ejected, he does get his money’s worth. He is sure to let the umpires know what he is exactly thinking. The fans in the stands don’t mind, as that is usually the time when the crowd at Five County is the loudest. The fans enjoy the intense, face-to-face arguing, even though they cannot hear what is being said.
“It’s stressful, you know, you try to make a point and the umpires, you know, are doing everything they can do to their best and so it’s not something I look for by any means and hopefully that number will go way down this year.” Bell said.
And so far this season that number has gone down, as Bell has been able to stay in the dugout a majority of the time as he was only recently tossed for the first time this season. That is something his players- and wallet- are happy about.