CINCINNATI — David Bell is expected to live up to lofty expectations in his own family, but unlike most people he can’t go to work to escape.
Bell is a name synonymous with Cincinnati Reds baseball. David, the team’s first-year manager, is the son the of Buddy Bell, who played for the Reds from 1985 through 1988 as part of a stellar 18-year career. Buddy’s dad Gus Bell played in the majors for 15 years, including from 1953 through 1961 with Cincinnati, where he earned four All-Star Game nods.
When asked if as a child he cut classes at Cincinnati’s Moeller High School school to attend Opening Day, David Bell said, “Yes, and not just Opening Day.”
David Bell played 12 years in the big leagues and was hired on Oct. 21, 2018, to turn around a Reds franchise that has muddled through four consecutive seasons of at least 94 losses. He said as a manager he will draw on what he has learned from many people, especially his grandfather, who died in 1995, four days after David made his major league debut with the Cleveland Indians, and father, who is 67 and a senior adviser in the Reds’ front office.
“Grandpa, everything I learned in the time we spent together, I brought that with me,” Bell said. “He’s certainly on my mind and on my heart. I thought about it a lot, really throughout my whole career. I knew he was with me. He was a big part of everything I did and was able to do.”
Bell said he still feels Gus’ presence.
“This is no different,” Bell said. “I know how special it is. He would say go out and play the game.”
Bell said he and Buddy talked on the field for a few minutes at Great American Ball Park and that conversation was calming amidst the hoopla of Opening Day Thursday.
“We talk a lot,” Bell said. “Not as much as we’d like to because we’re so busy, but spending that time on the field put both our minds at ease. That conversation made everything seem normal.”
Nothing, particularly Opening Day, is normal about baseball in Cincinnati. Still, if Bell was nervous, he didn’t show it. That didn’t surprise his players.
“He’s cool, calm and collected,” outfielder Scott Schebler said of Bell. “He lets us play and embraces mistakes. He uses them as teaching moments.”
Bell said the only time he became emotional was when he drove to the ball park on Thursday.
“When I got here, it started to hit me,” Bell said. “I’m grateful for this opportunity and to be a part of this organization and with these players.”
Reds fans are sentimental. Professional baseball started here 150 years ago and Cincinnati is one of the more-storied franchises. Fans reminisce about the Big Red Machine of the 1970s and favorite players of many eras.
They cheered heartily for Eric Davis, a star of the 1990 World Champions when the former center fielder threw out the first pitch on Thursday.
Reds supporters, though, are tired of losing. They embrace Bell as a legacy of one of baseball’s more-well-known families, but they expect Bell to help them make wonderful new memories.
When Bell took starting pitcher Luis Castillo out with two out in the fifth inning and Cincinnati leading 1-0, fans let Bell have it from the stands behind the Reds dugout. Castillo had struck out eight, walked three and allowed just two hits.
“One guy was really on me,” Bell said.
That fan and others were on Bell a lot more after reliever Jared Hughes gave up a consecutive singles, including one that scored two runs off the bat of Jung Ho Kang. Cincinnati came back to win 5-3, but radio call-in shows after the game were filled with fans questioning Bell’s strategy.
“You prepare and try to think through all the scenarios,” Bell said. “No matter how many you think through, something’s going to pop up.”