PITTSBURGH -- "Hi, Mom, I'm home!"
Jay Bell could walk through the door with that line at the end of every one of his long Spring Training days. When he rejoined the Pirates after a 17-year separation -- this time around as their new batting coach, it was a homecoming in more ways than one. Bell spent the spring living with his mom, Betty, in her Tampa home, making the daily 90-mile commute to Pirate City.
A 47-year-old son returning under the roof, making each day a Mother's Day.
"It was fantastic," Bell said. "A great opportunity to spend a lot of one-on-one time with her. Even though my days were filled with baseball, being able to have dinner with her, then spend a little time together until going to bed -- and getting up at four in the morning to do it over again -- it was very enjoyable."
The Bells have always remained a close and extended family, so for Jay this was not a case of a major reconnect with his mom. But it was on a level different than when his dad was alive. Until Ron Bell passed away in December 2007, his shoulders and ears were the ones Jay leaned on and sought out.
"My dad was my hero, my buddy. He was always there, and was the inspiration [for me and my brother Jeff] getting into baseball. He was not an athlete, but he taught us the game and would spend hours hitting ground balls. When I moved out at 18, he became more than Dad. Our relationship became more friendly. Even after I got into pro ball, we would play catch in the offseason.
"I'd call home, Mom would answer the phone and we'd talk for a few minutes then I'd say, 'Let me talk to Dad.' And I'd be on with him for a long time."
Ron and Betty had moved to the Tampa area at the end of 1994, to be closer to the grandkids, the children of Jeff and his wife, Katie, who had been practicing law there for a few years. For several springs, as Jay trained with the Pirates (and one season with the Royals) the clan was back together, and it was like spending "an extra six weeks at home." Then, Jay signed with the D-backs in 1997, meaning Spring Training was spent in Arizona, where he, Laura and the kids (Brianna, Brantley and Brock) still make their home.
That moved Jay farther away from his parents. Then, his father's passing brought him closer to his mother.
"Since Dad passed away, I call her probably four, five times a week," Bell said. "It doesn't have to be a very long conversation, just to reach out and let her know we're thinking of her and are always there for her.
"Mom will come out and be with us for four, five weeks during the offseason. So she's lived with me more than I've lived with her, so to speak. But spending extra time with her this spring -- just the two of us a lot of the time -- was special. The chance to spend seven weeks alone with her was different."
Well, not entirely alone. With his mom, Jay reconnected with his past. Through his mom, he reconnected with branches of the family.
"She was a connection to catching up with other family members. The doors to the house were always moving," said Bell. "Several of Mom's first cousins came in, and one of the really special things was sharing what we'd been up to with them and other family members who visited. Mom was the link for that, and it was very enjoyable."
Like Ron, Betty had always been there for the Bell boys. In a common parental split, he coached the Little League teams, and she was behind the concession-stand counter and the books.
"Mom was at every game, she was always there to run the concessions and do all that stuff that Little League moms do," said Bell. "Athletics overall were a huge part of our lives, and she was a big part of that. In school, she had always gotten straight A's, so she knew all about studying and guided us with that. Otherwise, Mom and Dad were on the same page in all aspects, with the way they parented."
A mother's work is never done, as the saying goes. A mother's influence is never over, either. In a very real sense, Betty Bell is still parenting an entire team, through her son.
"The takeaway Laura and I had from watching how Mom and Dad parented is that we've tried to do the same thing," said Bell. "They always held us accountable to be the best we could be, and we took the same approach with our kids.
"And now I preach it on the field with the guys: Be prepared, strive for perfection. Understand that you won't reach it, but you want to strive for a benchmark. Mom made sure we always did that. Our guys now are doing it, too."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less