Monday, February 22, 2010
#581) DEREK BELL
Derek Bell was traded along with Mike Hampton by the Houston Astros to the New York Mets in exchange for Roger Cedeño, Octavio Dotel, and Kyle Kessel on December 23, 1999. It was reported that the Astros insisted that the flamboyant outfielder, and his $5 million contract be included in the deal to land the pitching ace Hampton. "One thing that you are going to like about Derek Bell is that I am going to tell you the truth," Bell offered at his introduction to the New York media, "I'm not afraid to say I'm excited. I'm just a humble person from Tampa, Florida." Derek was childhood friends with Gary Sheffield while growing up in the rough Belmont Heights area of the city. They were known to shadow Gary's famous uncle during spring training in St. Petersburg. "That's all we knew was Dwight Gooden and the Mets," said Bell who played in two Little League World Series with Sheffield. "I loved the Mets."
Derek was famous for living on a 63-foot yacht and brought it with him to New York. His infectious attitude came as well. General manager, Steve Philips described Bell's daily arrival as a hurricane coming in to a serenade of "Yo, yo, yo!". Derek was able to establish himself as the club's starting right-fielder as the 2000 season opened. Officially the Mets began that season in Japan for a two-game series, but once back in New York for the home opener a Bell family tradition continued. With his mother in the stands, Derek delivered a tie-breaking home run in the eighth inning that produced a 2-1 victory over the San Diego Padres. After circling the bases he stepped on home plate and pointed at his mother in the stands. "Every time I do something I point to her, especially when I hit a home run," said Bell, whose father left when he was ten years old. "It's just been me and my Mom for the past 21 years." The Shea Stadium crowd gave him a curtain call ovation. A tribute the veteran said he had never experienced in his career before. "I go to all of the opening games," Derek's mother, Chestine Bell, still a resident of Tampa, said in the Mets' dugout after the game. "This is the first time he hit a home run and won the game. That's exciting. I got chills."
After a strong start "D. Bell" became quite popular with the Mets' fans. First for his 100 pair collection of various alligator shoes, and then his exploits with stadium vendors. During a pitching change he once purchased cotton candy and then gave it to a child in the crowd. Unfortunately his average would fall throughout the season as a result of prolonged slumps. His teammate Hampton observed, "The big thing about Derek is as long as he's confident and believes in himself, he's going to be a great player."
The oddities of Bell's season might have reached a zenith on August 23rd facing the San Diego Padres. Having last pitched in high school, he volunteered to become the emergency pitcher and took the mound as the Mets trailed 10-1. Wearing sunglasses he used a modest fastball and 40-mph "eephus" pitch to record the three outs. "I was sweating all over my glasses." Derek recalled, "I couldn't see home plate."
An injury to his knee kept Derek out of the lineup throughout parts of the last month of the regular season. In Game One of the National League Division Series, facing the San Francisco Giants, the outfielder would sprain his right angle while fielding a triple off the bat of Barry Bonds. He was unable to return from that injury and was unavailable for any of the eventual World Series against the New York Yankees. He watched the series from his home in Tampa, and summed up his experience with the Mets, "All that stuff about how hard it is to play in New York, it's a myth. They're the best fans in baseball when you've got them on your side, and you're playing hard."
Derek Bell signed his card in the set for me from a private signing in Florida with Christopher Allen on February 20, 2010.