For Father's Sake

Josh Bell, The Orioles' Third Baseman Of The Future, Persevered Through His Dad's Death And Honors The Man Who Sacrificed To Put Him On Road To The Majors

August 14, 2009|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,dan.connolly@baltsun.com

It's not the number of tattoos.

It's not the profound message attached to those lasting images.

What sets apart Josh Bell's tribute to his late father is the location.

There's no coincidence that the body art memorializing Bruce Bell - the cross, the halo, the angel wings, the doves and the clouds - adorns the entire right arm of the Orioles' newly anointed third baseman of the future.

Bell threw 90 mph in practice as a high school sophomore. Scouts still rave about the cannon attached to his right shoulder.

And so Bell, who has lost count of his tattoos, believed there was no better place to honor the man who had sacrificed so much for him.

"I felt like the right side was the spot for it," Bell said. "It's my dominant side. And I want him on my dominant side."

* * *

"I'm not really much of a talker."

A succinct statement, one that encapsulates Bell's introductory teleconference last month that announced the trade of Orioles closer George Sherrill to the Los Angeles Dodgers for two Double-A players: Bell and pitcher Steve Johnson.

Johnson, 21, whose father, Dave, pitched for the Orioles and now broadcasts for MASN, talked comfortably about coming home. Meanwhile, Bell, 22, spoke softly and cautiously about new opportunities.

"He's not one for the spotlight," said Bell's agent, Joshua Kusnick. "That's not something Josh plays the game for."

So it hasn't exactly been a breeze for him the past two weeks, joining a new team, the Double-A Bowie Baysox, while fielding mounting media requests.

The new-team part, though, he already has down.

"He's quiet, but he has fit in really well," Baysox manager Brad Komminsk said. "Just in the couple of days he has been around, the guys have had good things to say about him."

That's how it is with Bell, said his mother, Jacqueline. People have always gravitated toward her son, his easygoing nature and understated approach. And once he is comfortable, he talks, jokes and makes everyone else feel at ease.

"He's very family-oriented, and it shows through. He's very fan-accessible," his agent said. "I have a feeling you'll be seeing him one day in Camden Yards going line to line signing autographs like Cal [Ripken Jr.] used to."

* * *

Bruce and Jacqueline Bell moved from Rockford, Ill., to Palm Beach County, Fla., a dozen years ago to give their sons, Jacob and Josh, a better chance to excel in sports.

"They made a huge sacrifice," said Bell, who was entering fifth grade at the time of the move. "I think sometimes that's what it takes for a kid. With basketball and football, it's not as bad. When you play baseball, you need to be in a state that you can play all year around."

By ninth grade, Bell had already garnered attention.

"He started as a freshman playing varsity, and that never happens in the southeast part of the state," said Nick Presto, the Orioles' Southeast scouting supervisor. "This guy was on the map for a long time."

Brian Joros, who coached Bell his sophomore and junior seasons at Boynton Beach High, managed against him as a freshman. He remembers the first time he saw the lanky second baseman.

"He made three errors in that first game and even making those errors, I said to my coaches, 'That kid is going to play in the big leagues some day.' " Joros said. "He was that good, that smooth, his actions were that polished."

Before his 6-foot-3 frame filled out and he became a powerful, switch-hitting corner infielder, Bell was a five-tool shortstop, winning a district title game by stealing home.

Entering his senior year, he was a second-team preseason All American. But he didn't live up to expectations. He switched schools, his conditioning routine suffered, his numbers dropped.

And he was quietly dealing with the death of his father.

* * *

Bruce Bell wasn't easy on his sons, Jacob, a basketball star and the elder by two years, and Josh. He was always at their games. He always demanded their best.

"He knew Josh had the talent and he kept him focused," Jacqueline Bell said. "Josh would want to go to the movies and he'd say, 'Have you hit 30 times yet? Have you taken 100 ground balls yet?' He kept him in line that way."

An accomplished high school athlete in Illinois, Bruce Bell was in his early 40s when he began struggling with kidney-related issues. After a two-year illness, he succumbed to kidney failure in June 2004 at age 44.

"It was extremely difficult," Josh Bell said. "I went from always having him around and talking to him about baseball to not having that one guy in my life that was there all the time. ... I knew he was real sick, and it was better that way for him not to be here. But for him not to share the dream with me is pretty hard."

Bell's tight-knit family grew closer. His mother took on an even larger role.

"She definitely put up with a lot," Bell said. "She had to take care of me and my brother and my dad, and she never ever once complained about it."

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