Miami Marlins baseball player Heath Bell shares life’s lessons with Carmel Valley students at Ashley Falls
By Karen Billing
Give former Padres pitcher Heath Bell the opportunity to speak to a class full of children and he will attack it with the same enthusiasm he gives to running to the mound in a Major League Baseball All Star game (Google it: It starts with a full-out sprint from the bullpen and ends with a slide). Bell was funny, engaging and open with fifth graders at Ashley Falls on a visit on Jan. 18.
Parent Nina Detrow won the opportunity with Bell, now on the Miami Marlins, in a charity auction and shared it with Ashley Falls fifth graders who, this spring, will use baseball statistics in their math class.
Bell talked to the students about the importance of school, accomplishing goals, his path to the major leagues and took the time to sign endless autographs.
“My father took me to an Angel game when I was 5 years old,” said Bell, who was born in Oceanside and re-located to Orange County. “I fell in love with baseball. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world.”
Bell wasn’t always a star on his team throughout the years. He said he was just “average” on his little league and high school squads, so it took a lot of work to improve.
His parents made him do homework before he could play outside so he would do it as soon as possible—sometimes even doing homework during lunchtime so he could get to practicing.
Bell told the kids he loved being outside. Items that crashed through the windows of his home included a hockey puck and a soccer ball, and he once dented the family car with a basketball.
If his father wasn’t available for a game of catch, Bell would throw balls against his wooden garage door. He’d draw a strike zone on the door and hurl wet tennis balls. The wet balls would leave a mark and Bell could chart where his pitches had landed.
As hard as he worked at baseball, he worked even harder in school.
“I crushed the books so I could go to college and try to get drafted,” Bell said, noting he was the only person in his family to go to college.
“School’s fun,” Bell said. “Listen to your teachers, hang out with your friends. Do your homework right away when you come home…Teachers are cool, they can be your friends. My elementary school teachers came to see me play at Petco Park.”
Playing at the community college level, he still was an average player but he said the coaches liked him because he “tried his best every single day.”
An open tryout landed him on a minor league team and he spent nine, long years at the minor league level, his wife begging him to get a real job to support their growing family.
But Bell never gave up on his major league dream and it finally became a reality in 2004 when he was called up to the New York Mets. His first career outing was against the Padres.
He said he still remembers the huge smile he had on his face walking from his hotel to the stadium, thinking, “I’m in the major leagues.”
“I don’t know how I stuck it out,” Bell said. “My dream came true and I’ve been blessed ever since then. I was never supposed to be doing what I’m doing right now.”
“Then why are you?” asked one inquisitive fifth grader.
“A lot of hard work, dedication and never giving up,” Bell said, not missing a beat.
Some more questions Bell fielded from the kids:
How many homeruns have you hit?“I don’t hit home runs,” Bell said.
Bell is still without a hit in his major league career.
The fastest you’ve ever pitched?99 miles per hour.
Best friends in baseball?Padres catcher Nick Hundley, Marlin Hanley Ramirez, Derek Jeter of the Yankees and new Angel player Albert Pujlos.
What’s your best pitch?“It’s not a fast ball, change-up or curveball. My best pitch is strike three and my favorite one is the one they swing and miss,” Bell said.
Most embarrassing moment?Bell said he tries not to let things embarrass him, but it would probably be the time there was a bunt and he dove for it, flipping the ball to first base before he hit the ground. He thought it looked good but then-Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez told him he looked like “a beached whale.”
“Not a top 10 play on ESPN?” Bell said he asked Gonzalez.
Bell said that “Gonzo” replied: “Maybe the blooper reel.”
What Bell most cared about: He got the out.