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Alumni News: Class Years 1970-1979

Jerry Bell (1967), Belmont's First MLB Player, Profiled by Athletics

Wednesday, April 8, 2020   (0 Comments)
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Former Belmont baseball player Jerry Bell didn't play for personal recognition. 

In fact, he didn't realize his groundbreaking accomplishment in Belmont Baseball history until he attended the Belmont Baseball Leadoff Banquet back in January. 

When he was told the news, he realized his accomplishment created a path for Belmont baseball players for life after Belmont. Bell was the first Belmont alum to do something a majority of baseball players strive for: play Major League Baseball. 

"(Belmont head coach Dave) Jarvis told me, 'You realize you're the first (MLB player out of Belmont)? I never realized that," Bell told "I'm 72 years old now and in the last couple of years, I've found out some of this stuff. It means a lot to me. It really does."

Shining for DuPont High School in Old Hickory, Tenn., a former high school classmate and friend of Bell's, James Harold Fyke, was friends with Belmont assistant coach Ron Bargatze and encouraged him to scout Bell in basketball and baseball. When Bargatze was younger, he watched Bell's father, Nashville Old Timers Association Hall of Famer Blackie Bell, pitch for Old Hickory's semi pro baseball team and was especially fascinated by his curveball. 

As soon as he saw Jerry play, he immediately noticed similarities from Bell's father. 

"You could see that Jerry had that same pitching motion and he learned a lot about pitching from his dad," Bargatze told "He looked like a really great two-sport athlete at that time. I really liked him personally and I convinced him that he would be a really good two-sport athlete (at Belmont)...I felt close to him as a person in addition to liking his athletic ability."

Vanderbilt had offered the Madison, Tenn., native a partial scholarship for basketball. After watching Bell play in both sports, Bargatze upped the ante and offered Bell a half scholarship for both basketball and baseball to give him a full ride to Belmont. 

When Bell arrived on campus, he tackled the challenge of balancing his classes with being a two-sport athlete with ease. 

"I don't remember (the two sports) overlapping very much when we started fall baseball," Bell said. "There were just a few guys that were throwing in the gym when the weather was cold. It wasn't like it is now where it's very hard to be a two-sport athlete in college because they're doing so much baseball stuff in the fall when you first come back to school. It wasn't a problem as far as juggling the schedule, going to two practices and having to miss a lot of stuff because there wasn't a lot of stuff going on except the sport that was in season.

From the day Bell stepped foot on the Belmont campus, he was an immediate contributor in both sports. He scored in double figures 14 times in basketball and helped the baseball team to two Volunteer State Athletic Conference playoff appearances and an NAIA Tournament appearance in 1966. 

According to Bell, over half of the men's basketball players also competed for the baseball team. To his coaches and teammates, Bell stood out as an elite member of that group, Bargatze said. 

"He was one of the better athletes in school and possibly the best two-sport athlete in school at that time," Bargatze said. "You could see his potential from the day he walked on campus. You knew there was something special about him ability wise, character wise. To this day, he's one of my favorite people." 

It's not only Bell's accomplishments that made him stand out to his coaches and teammates. 

It was his toughness. 

In a basketball scrimmage during the Christmas break in his freshman season, coach Wayne Dobbs, who served as the head basketball and baseball coach from 1965-66, yelled at Bell to enter the game. Not knowing the side basketball goal had not been pulled up all the way, Bell split his head wide open on the corner of the glass blackboard.

Following his trip to the doctor's office to get stitches, Bell immediately returned to practice. 

"I needed stitches, but I came back to practice and was just sitting there," Bell recalled. "Coach Dobbs was kind of a disciplinarian and he looked over (at me) and he said, 'Are you ready to play?' I said, 'Yeah, I got stitches in my head. But I'm ready.' He said, 'If you're breathing, get out there.' So I went back in the game."

After being drafted in the second round and 48th overall in the 1969 MLB Draft by the Seattle Pilots, now known as the Milwaukee Brewers, Bell quickly went to work at the Single A level. He played so well that he was able to skip Double A and move immediately to Triple A, competing for the Evansville Triplets. 

During the last six weeks of the 1971 season, the Brewers had their eyes on catcher Darrell Porter, Triplets' manager Del Crandall and Bell. With Milwaukee firing Dave Bristol, the Brewers elected to hire Crandall and told him to bring Porter and Bell with him. 

"I'll never forget that night after our last game (in Evansville)," Bell said. "Crandall called me and Porter into the office at the same time and said, 'Well, I got some bad news and good news. The bad news is our season is over here. The good news is they've hired all three of us to go to Milwaukee.' That set me on my heels." 

By stepping on the pitcher's mound in his MLB debut on September 6, 1971 against the Kansas City Royals, Bell had made Belmont history when he threw his first pitch by becoming the first Belmont alum to reach the big leagues. Bell finished his MLB career with a 3.28 earned run average and 89 strikeouts, posting a 17-11 record from 1971-1974 with the Brewers. 

It's not his stats or his personal accomplishments that stick out to Bell, however. What means the most to him is how he helped put Belmont on the MLB map. 

"That means a tremendous amount to me," Bell said. "If I paved the way or even got scouts to start scouting Belmont players a little more, that means a tremendous amount to me. It's very special."

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