Bell leaves Pirates to become Reds' bench coach
Former Pittsburgh shortstop reunited with new Cincinnati manager Price
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- A year ago, Jay Bell got to go home, returning to the crucible of his baseball career as batting coach of the Pirates.
This time, as the newly hired bench coach of the Cincinnati Reds, the Arizona resident gets to stay home, both in the spiritual -- working alongside close friend Bryan Price, the Reds' new manager -- and, for a significant slice of the baseball year, literal sense.
In three months, the Reds will open Spring Training in Goodyear, a short commute from Bell's home and family and a long way from the Bucs' Bradenton, Fla., complex.
"It will be awfully nice to have that, to be able to see Brock's games. I haven't seen him play in two years," Bell said of his son, a high school junior. "That's not the main reason I made this move, but it works out all the better."
The Reds have yet to make an announcement. At the General Managers Meeting in Orlando, Fla., Cincinnati's Walt Jocketty told MLB.com, "We're getting close. I want to complete it before we announce it."
In characterizing how he wants to see the new manager's staff take shape, Jocketty certainly made Bell sound like a good fit.
"A lot of it is guys Bryan will be comfortable with," Jocketty said. "Guys who will help him in putting the program together. We're looking for guys who are good teachers and hard workers, and they will help change some of the things we are doing."
The main reason Bell left the Pirates after one year is the opportunity to again join forces with Price. Bell and Price were Arizona manager Bob Melvin's bench and pitching coach, respectively, in 2006 and altogether shared four years in the D-backs organization.
"I'm really excited about working for Bryan. It's going to be a really good thing," Bell said. "I'll miss being in Pittsburgh, for sure; there's such a great group of men in that clubhouse I have a lot of respect for. But this opportunity was really nice."
In Pittsburgh, manager Clint Hurdle now has to find his third different batting coach in three years, Gregg Ritchie having preceded Bell. Such lack of continuity in an important role is potentially detrimental, and the Pirates could make the best of it by giving the job to Jeff Branson, who served as an assistant last season to Bell, who called Branson the Pirates' "best hire of the offseason."
"He's extremely capable, and he made my job easier and extra enjoyable," Bell said. "He has a great relationship with the players and could do a great job. [General manager] Neal Huntington knows how I feel about him."
As both a player (1998-2002) and later coach with the D-backs, Bell recalled "pulling from afar" for the Pirates, for whom he was a two-time All-Star shortstop from 1989-96. He tried to put a similar spin on this separation before realizing it can't be the same. The Reds and Pirates have a deep competitive history, and the rivalry was revived last season when both fought for the National League Central title.
"But being in the same division can't negate the fact I made so many friends over there [in Pittsburgh]," said Bell, pleased that his one return season with the Pirates coincided with their own return to the postseason. "Clint and Neal get the vast majority of the credit for that. They had a great vision and saw it through by doing a fantastic job. And the players are extraordinary men, a great group to have been associated with.
"But you don't get an opportunity every day to work with a great friend," Bell added.
Due to that friendship, Bell almost never made it back to Pittsburgh. He revealed having been all set to join Price last season in Miami -- until Mike Redmond instead became the Marlins' new manager.
"Now Bryan has that opportunity to manage, and we're both excited about it."
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.