Don’t be surprised if there’s a #99 hockey jersey hanging in Bubba Bell’s locker this season. This winter, Bubba become buddies with The Great One.
“I got to give Trevor Gretzky – Wayne and Janet Gretzky’s son – hitting lessons while I was training in California,” Bubba told me. “I had a chance to get pretty close to the Gretzky’s and got to go over to their house for dinner and hang out with them which was an unbelievable experience. One of my really good buddies who used to be in this organization – Dustin Kelly – his fiancé is the Gretzky’s personal assistant. Dustin was working with Trevor but his job limited him to weekends, so they asked me if I would like to help out during the week. I said absolutely and ended up developing a great relationship with Trevor. He’s going to get drafted in June – hopefully in the first couple of rounds – so it was fun to be able to work with him and get to know his family.”
Not bad huh?
But Bubba’s excellent off-season adventures didn’t end there.
“A friend of mine drives the rapper Nelly‘s tour bus,” Bell said. “He was in Vegas on New Year’s Eve and I ended up being there too, and I hung out with Nelly. I went to the party that he hosted and got to kick it with him. That was my first Vegas trip and that’s going to be a tough one to beat. Then for the Super Bowl, I got invited to hook up with them again in Dallas. I got some cool video backstage at a concert that I can show you. He was a baseball player, so that was our connection.”
When he wasn’t hanging out with the greatest hockey player in history or a three-time Grammy award-winning musician, Bell was looking to build on his outstanding 2010 season with the PawSox.
(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)
Last year, the 28-year-old outfielder played in the Triple-A All-Star game and was named Pawtucket’s MVP after batting .293 (.366 OBP) with 6 HR, 49 RBI, and 13 SB in 104 games. That led to an opportunity to play for Caracas in the Venezuelan Winter League, and Bell overcome a 2-for-17 start to bat .290 (.402 OBP) in 25 games.
“I was getting booed by 25,000-plus and then about five or six games in, I had a big game where I went 4-for-5 against one of the rival teams and they loved me from then on,” Bell said with a laugh. “People told me that they drew good crowds and were loud, but I’m telling you, it sounded like World Cup soccer games with horns and chants and everything. I saw some of the craziest things with fights in the stands and people running out on to the field. It’s intense, but it’s a good intense. It’s crazy from the first pitch on. When you see their passion for the game and some of the stuff that goes on there it’s incredible. I’m looking forward to going back next season.”
After spending two months in Venezuela, Bell went home to Texas for about a week, before heading to California to work out at a high-tech training facility called Peak Performance Project or P3. Bubba also trained there prior to last season, and said it was a major reason why he was able to avoid leg injuries.
“I got to spent a little more than two months there this year,” Bubba told me. “I can’t say enough about that place. My body feels great right now and I’m looking forward to seeing how it translates out on to the field. I spent a month there last year and was able to stay pretty healthy for the entire season, so I’m excited to see what two months is going to do for me this season.”
Baring spring training injuries among Boston’s outfielders, it appears that Ryan Kalish, Josh Reddick, and Daniel Nava will begin the season as Pawtucket’s starting outfield. That makes Bell an extra outfielder and designated hitter for the PawSox unless he gets dealt to another organization.
“It’s similar to the start of last year, but when you’re coming off a great season you almost feel like – where’s the reward?” Bell said. “They’ve been pretty vocal about telling me that if the opportunity presents itself and they have a chance to get me into a better situation with another team they would want to do that for me. I get the feeling that if that’s going to happen they would want to wait a little bit closer to the end of spring training just to keep on eye on the players that are ahead of me in case something happened to any of them. But it’s definitely something that could take place in the next couple of weeks.”
After spending his first six professional seasons in the Red Sox organization, Bubba has developed life-long friendships and has been a fan favorite wherever he’s played. But Bell would welcome a trade.
“It sounds bad to say that, but the ultimate goal is to get to the big leagues obviously,” Bubba told me. “I definitely have loyalty toward the organization, but if I’m not going to get a shot, what sense does that make for me and my career? But I can’t worry about what I can’t control – something is going to happen. Somebody will go up or things will get shifted around where I get to play but it’s not necessarily the ideal situation that I’d like to be in.”
For Bubba’s sake, I sincerely hope he gets the opportunity that he’s looking for. But if he winds up in Pawtucket this season, I’ll look forward to plenty of Gretzky stories.
“His wife still texts me every couple of weeks to check in to make sure that everything is going good, and they want me to work with Trevor again next off-season if I’m in California,” Bell said. “It was great off-season with a lot of cool experiences, so I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of the year has to offer.”
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