Thu Mar 25 06:44pm EDT
Heath Bell(notes) might be the freest spirit in the majors. Despite being 32 years old and a father of four, Bell likes to play with toys — almost to obsession. At 6-foot-3, 240 (?) pounds with an upper-90s fastball, Bell pitches with a scary mound presence when trying to save games for the San Diego Padres. But he's not very likely to mix it up in a fight or even bust up his locker when things go poorly.
The big league's biggest kid also has conspiracy theories, a penchant for baking cookies with his kids and some great marketing ideas, as the Answer Man found out in the funniest, strangest (and, perhaps, longest) session in its history. Bell might even be traded by the time you're done.
David Brown: When you were a kid, did you think the Heath Bar was named after you?
Heath Bell: No, but my parents told me that I was named after an English waste dump. So I always thought I got dumped on.
DB: How old were you when they told you that?
Bell: I was like 6 or 7. I asked them what my name meant. "Was it from a candy bar?" And they're like, "No, it's actually a waste dump. It's a waste pile."
Bell: No, it actually is [laughs].
DB: Are you curious as to what it's like?
Bell: I went there when I was like, 13, 14.
DB: Does it stink?
Bell: Yeah, but I don't really have the best nose. I don't smell anything. It didn't really smell to me. You could get the worst farts in the world and I wouldn't know it.
Bell: He definitely karate-chops the ball; he's got the kung-fu power. I was more of a Sticky Buns kind of guy. I'd probably eat some Sticky Buns, some donuts, probably have one around my waist. I do sweat a lot, so I guess my buns would be sticky [laughs].
DB: What kind of deodorant do you use? Or do you?
Bell: Axe. I actually use the chocolate Axe because of the commercial where the girls will come up and bite you because [they think] you're chocolate and they want to eat you. I like ... biting.
DB: I can't tell if you're being serious or not.
Bell: I actually am [laughs].
DB: Do you model yourself after the Hanson brothers from Slap Shot because you play with toys? They used to bring their toys on the road with them.
Bell: I haven't thought about that but, yeah, it makes perfect sense. Except I don't wear glasses. If I had a twin brother, we'd definitely be the Hanson boys. That's probably a very good indication of who I am.
DB: What toy do you not yet have that you're dying to get?
Bell: Boy, I have so many. Jeez, tough question.
DB: I'm sorry to make you work.
Bell: No, I was just thinking because my wife [Nicole] told me I wasn't allowed to have stuff anymore. Well, just for one year [laughs]. Because I buy too many toys.
DB: So you're on a one-year hiatus?
Bell: No, she knows it won't happen. ... Actually, the one thing I wanted and she kept telling me "no" was, there's a Nerf gun that can be like a rifle, or a pistol or a machine gun or bazooka. You take the pieces off. It's like four guns in one.
DB: Like a Transformer gun?
Bell: Somewhat, but it's a Nerf. I kept trying to buy it, saying it's for my son, but my wife said no, it's for me. He has a bunch of guns already. My wife would also say the iPad. The reason I don't have it yet is because it comes out April 3 [laughs]. I already know the release date.
DB: But isn't that just a giant ... ?
DB: So why do you want it if it's just a bigger version of the same thing that's already out?
Bell: I don't have the iTouch. I just thought it was really cool.
DB: Do you have any conspiracy theories? Like, "The CIA killed JFK," or "We never really landed on the moon"?
Bell: I don't think Harvey Oswald acted alone. I do think we landed on the moon, but I have a speculation as to why we've never gone back. But I really think that UFOs are true and the government's hiding that. And I think the best pitch in baseball is a curveball and everybody else says it's a slider.
Bell: No, because he had a sinker.
DB: Isn't a sinker just a fastball that ... ?
Bell: Moves? Then what's a cutter? It's a fastball that moves. It's not a slider that's harder. ... And I do believe in National League rules. I don't think there should be a DH.
DB: I grew up a White Sox fan, so ...
Bell: So you're wrong.
DB: Maybe, but that's what I believe.
Bell: But I definitely believe in UFOs and the government ... You know in "Men in Black," how the toaster's been patented and TVs? I do believe that's alien technology.
DB: The toaster?
Bell: I'm just giving you an example from "Men in Black" where they say the patent from the toaster and 8-track player is from alien technology. I believe that computers are from aliens.
DB: You're not giving us humans much credit.
Bell: We're not very bright. I mean, think of it. If somebody says that "X" happens, everyone believes it because it's in the paper. But not everybody has their facts straight. If it's on TV, people believe it. If you're rich, poor people believe whatever they say. We're a bunch of followers.
DB: I kind of believe whatever you say.
Bell: [Snickers]. Yeah, right. You know, I definitely believe there shouldn't be Republicans or Democrats. Because Republicans don't stand for Republicans and Democrats don't stand for Democrats like they did before. I definitely think independent's the way to go. And ... This country needs to ... You know how if you don't like who's running for president, you just pick your party? That's not right. Find out who is the best candidate.
DB: I think you just answered a question I didn't ask.
Bell: Yeah [laughs]. I'll keep rambling on. We will literally talk about cooking if you keep me going.
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DB: What's the bullpen atmosphere like at Dodger Stadium?
Bell: We get thrown a lot of beer in that little area. The fans over there do a good job of rattling us. It's their territory. You just want to tiptoe. You don't want to dig your feet into L.A. You just want to tiptoe in, play the game, tiptoe out. Don't tick anybody off.
DB: Jason Heyward(notes), the Braves prospect, has a habit of breaking windshields with home runs and foul balls. They've even put up screens at the Braves facility to save, like, Frank Wren's car, or whatever.
Bell: Oh, that's cool.
DB: Do you like to break stuff?
Bell: Oh, yeah. I like to break a lot of stuff.
DB: What's the biggest emotional charge you've ever gotten out of breaking something?
Bell: Anytime you blow a game. I like taking a baseball bat to something. I've learned to channel my rage without breaking a whole lot of things. So I kick a lot of doors. I have broken a lot of handles.
DB: You don't hurt yourself?
Bell: I do it in a good way. Like I'll come in and tear my locker apart. But me tearing my locker apart is me coming in and getting really mad at my locker. I'll take everything off my hanger, lay it down, put everything upside-down and then just grunt and walk away.
DB: That's very orderly rage.
Bell: Well, I felt bad for all the clubhouse guys when I really would tear it all apart and then they'd have to pick it all up. I'm really a nice guy. I think a pencil is probably the hardest thing I've ever broken.
DB: With your mind?
Bell: That'd be cool.
DB: So you're not that violent.
Bell: I'm not, but everybody thinks I am, because I get to the point where I could run through the wall. I stop before I hit the wall. I'm a smart, violent person.
DB: There's recent video of a horrendous baseball fight in Cuba. You should look for it. How do you act in a baseball fight?
Bell: Like a wrestler. WWE. Jake the Snake. I'm picking up guys, putting their heads in a bag with a big, giant anaconda. I've got one in a box in the dugout just in case we get into a fight. And I've watched the Nolan Ryan-Robin Ventura video so I'm really hoping that someone someday charges me so I can do the ...
DB: Head noogies?
Bell: Yeah! The worst part is, unless we're in San Francisco [where the bullpens are close] and we get into a brawl, I'm not going to get there in time. Literally, it's like, "Hey, buddy, how ya' doin'?" to the other bullpen. It's always like, "Man, we never get anything good!"
DB: I just talked to Nolan Ryan about that the other day.
Bell: I played with Ventura and he said that he got hit — I forget the whole situation — but he got hit and started charging and halfway he goes "Why am I charging Nolan Ryan? And the next minute, I'm in a head lock getting punched by a 40-year-old man."
DB: How long before Nintendo comes out with a Wii game that's of you, training on the Wii getting in shape?
Bell: We're actually working on that right now. Nintendo and I are working on a game like that but it's so massive that it won't fit on one little disc. My booty can't get there. We've got to wait until the technology goes back to tapes, to the original Nintendo, because my booty might fit on that.
DB: You can't get the virtual reality guys to slim you down?
Bell: Then it wouldn't be me.
DB: When you're finally comfortable with the changeup as a regular option, will you have a release party like when record companies release a single?
Bell: I probably will, because every time I throw a change-up and it doesn't get hit, I actually throw a party after the game. I could strike out the side, with Jeter, A-Rod and Albert Pujols(notes), with fastballs. I'd be like, "Yeah, but did you see the change-up I threw?" They'd be like, "Yeah, you threw it for a ball." The funny part is, as soon as I get it to where it's a regular pitch, I probably won't throw it.
DB: You just want it in your library of pitches?
Bell: I want to be able to throw it. I just know myself. But until someone makes me keep throwing it, like the catcher ...
DB: Are you afraid to throw it?
Bell: No. Definitely not. I'll throw a split-finger up there right now and I haven't even been working on one. But I know I can throw one. The thing was, my dad, he never let me throw all of the different pitches, but he taught me every one of them as a kid. I can teach you how to throw a curveball, a slider, split-finger, a change-up, a palm ball, a screwball. Not the gyro.
DB: Should a right-hander be throwing a screwball? Isn't that a lefty's pitch?
Bell: Heck, yeah. You can use a Phillips screwdriver.
Bell: No, but I wish I had one. That would be pretty cool. I could still learn a lot from that guy. He's 40 years young, with a bunch of knowledge and it would really be cool to have him still here in San Diego. He could teach me to be a better pitcher. Even though I'm not really that good of a pitcher. I'm just a guy that works really hard.
DB: Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Baseball projects you to be the No. 8 closer, right in front of Trevor. And that you'll finish with 39 saves. Where are you with those numbers?
Bell: Yes! [pumps fist]. One, 53 saves is my goal. That's what I'm shooting for. I don't know why it's that and not 50. I thought, "53, I could do." If I'm in the top ten of the closers in the game this year, I like it. Pretty cool.
DB: I had nothing to do with those rankings.
Bell: I don't like you then. Don't call in sick next time.
Bell: Wow! ... Drink tequila and pass out. ... Another time, he walked out of the shower without a towel on. No, he wouldn't do that. Yeah, what he did was, he came out of the shower with a towel on, walked into the food room and grabbed something to eat. No shirt, just flip-flops.
DB: What kind of reaction did that get?
Bell: I think it was only, like, me and somebody else in there. But I was like, "Dude! C'mon." He's like, "There's nobody in here." I'm like, "You don't do that." So, I'd say, drinking tequila and passing out and then this.
DB: Did his head hit the table?
Bell: No, he was just passed out cold. I never thought I'd see that happen.
DB: If you went up to Craig Italiano (a pitcher on the Padres' 40-man roster) and asked him if he was Italian, what do you think he would say?
Bell: This almost happened, because I went up and asked him if he was German when I first met him. He goes, "Ha ha, I've never heard that one before." And I go, "Well, have you?" And he goes, "Well, people usually ask if I'm Italian." So I'm like, "See? You haven't heard that one before."
Bell: We worried he needed an oxygen tank, for sure. Coming around third, I don't think he was breathing. He fell down when he got to home plate. The ball wasn't even coming home and he slid. I'm pretty sure he fell. He definitely lost his ability to breathe running around. I think he was also shocked. "Keep going?!?" It was more funny to watch him run around and lose his breath than it was exciting that he hit an inside-the-park home run. I was in the dugout for that one.
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DB: Checking the Padres promotions schedule ...
Bell: [Sighs, shakes head].
DB: The Padres don't have any Heath Bell giveaways this year.
Bell: "We're saving them for the playoffs!"
DB: Is that what you've heard?
Bell: Yeah, we've talked. They're "saving them for the playoffs and World Series." You know, just in case nobody wants to come out for those, that's when we're going to put the Heath Bell stuff out there. That, or I'm just too "big boned" for a toy. Or maybe they'll know I'll take all the toys.
DB: How many saves last year? Forty-three?
DB: And yet ...
Bell: No. I don't have anything. I'm not a fun guy. I'm not a fan favorite. People in San Diego don't even know who I am. That's why I grow funny things on my face. That's why I run in from the bullpen so quickly, so as not to be seen. I'm in disguise. I'm a big secret.
Bell: Jayson Werth's beard? Yeah. Whoa [laughs]! I didn't know that Philly was in the wilderness. He's definitely an outdoorsman.
DB: He says he likes to hunt. Bow and arrow. He just started.
Bell: Well, he definitely has the look. Is he married?
DB: Yeah. He has two kids.
Bell: I want that wife. Mine's like, "You have to trim this, you have to trim that." I need a wife like that.
DB: Your hair is not out of order.
Bell: I know, because she was just in town [laughs]. She did tell me I need to shave.
DB: Well, can you imagine your ultimate Heath Bell promotional giveaway?
Bell: Bobblehead, man!
DB: That's the obvious one, sure.
Bell: Well, there's that. I also want a cooler/scooter to give away.
DB: That would be kind of expensive to mass produce.
Bell: Something small that would be perfect for me: A Heath Bell Pez Dispenser! That would be cool. A little candy comes out. Or little cookies! Actually, a cookie jar! That's perfect. I'm always eating cookies. That's what I'm going to say for now. A Heath Bell Cookie Jar. My hat comes off, or my head comes off — OK, that would be kind of scary. Something comes off and little cookies come out.
DB: What's your favorite kind of cookie?
Bell: Chocolate chip. Always home made. But Mother's are good. At home, my brother always had to make the dough and then I had to bake it. Now, with my daughter Jasmyne, we invent chocolate chip cookies. We have no recipes, we just dive and bake them.
DB: How do they turn out?
Bell: Awesome. Honest to God, awesome. If what we bake doesn't work, then we just add some more stuff and then we finalize. You got trial and error.
DB: It sounds like fun.
Bell: It actually is, except my wife doesn't like being around because the kitchen's a mess. But that's OK because my dogs clean it up. A Labradoodle who looks like Scooby Doo and a Yorkie-Shih Tzu.
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DB: You didn't sign with the Devil Rays after they drafted you in '97 ...
Bell: Well, in the 69th round, I wasn't really into that position.
DB: I'm putting that in the interview.
DB: If they let me.
Bell: Probably not.
DB: Did you not think the Devil Rays were a real team, with such a silly name and all?
Bell: They actually drafted me and I asked them if they were going to offer me some money and they said, "No. We just wanted to draft and follow you." So, I never had the opportunity to sign. It was a draft and follow — which I don't think you can do now. They draft you and have your rights for one full year until the next draft. So, if they wanted to draft and watch you play for one full year until next year's draft and then sign you right before it, they could. But I never got an offer.
DB: Didn't that feel awful?
Bell: No, I actually forgot I got drafted. There was an old Devil Rays scout and an old Phillies scout following me. The Phillies scout asked me, "If we draft you in the 20th round, would you sign for $1,000? We have to know. And if you say no, we're not going to draft you." And I said, "No." And they said, "Well, that's a smart move, because I wouldn't sign for $1,000, either." And then, all the sudden, the 69th round comes. I was like, "Good position. Not into it right now."
DB: I didn't know the draft went to the 69th round.
Bell: Before 1998, the draft went as high as you wanted. You could have a 100th round. Mike Piazza(notes) went in the 68th round. Then, in '98, they went to 50 rounds. That's how I got my opportunity with the Mets.
DB: Is it a coincidence that the Mets have gone to pot ever since you left?
Bell: Ooh. Part of me says yes, but a part of me says no. I didn't have the best shot over there but they did give me a shot and I'm always going to have a small part of me that's a Met. I'm always going to follow them a little bit. Was I happy the first year when they fell? Kind of, but after that I was kind of upset. I want to beat them every time we play, but I also want them to get to the playoffs if I'm not playing them. I guess I'm a little softie for that.
DB: If the camo uniforms are so cool, how come we can see you?
Bell: I wish they'd make my butt look smaller. We don't wear camo pants. Well, we're in the city and we're using jungle camo. If we had urban camo, you definitely wouldn't see us. We don't wear urban camo, we wear jungle, so we look like a bunch of plants running around.
Bell: I hadn't heard that, but I really wanted to be that guy after seeing that movie. I so wanted to be a bomb expert guy. That's so me. My wife wouldn't let me. She doesn't let me do a lot.
DB: I'm sure she's a lovely woman, but she seems restrictive.
Bell: She's great. But if she let me go on a rampage, I'd be flying an airplane right now or a dune buggy with a glider. I'd be on the Nitro, or one of those X-Games dudes.
DB: Like Shaun White?
Bell: Probably, but not as cool-looking.
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