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CURBSTONE Bell, Hirschbeck on same crew



Published: Tue, February 5, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The major league umpire tickled funnybones during a speech Monday.

By BILL SULLIVAN

VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF

BOARDMAN -- Local amateur comedian Wally Bell, who doubles as a Major League Baseball umpire, made an entertaining appearance at the Curbstone Coaches' meeting Monday at the Lockwood House.

Rarely do baseball fans buy tickets to see an umpire work, but when Bell retires from calling balls and strikes, he may have a future making people laugh.

When not giving his opinion on many baseball-related topics ("I don't think contraction is going to happen"), the Austintown Fitch High graduate shared personal moments about the game. Some were warm, some just plain funny.

Shea Stadium: After the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, Bell worked home plate at the first game played in New York City, calling the Mets-Braves game. He made jokes about the security briefing given prior to the game.

"If they throw something on the field, don't pick it up," he was told to his amazement.

He called the experience of being at Shea Stadium "emotional," "amazing," "unbelievable" and "phenomenal."

Without being told to do so, Bell took the first pitch thrown and made sure the ball went to the son of a firefighter who died in the attack.

"In the eighth inning, I ejected Steve Karsay just so everybody knew I was there," he said, resorting to his gruff persona.

"I ran Mike Piazza this year, which in New York is like ejecting God," he said, seeming to take pleasure in the discipline. It was the "first time in his career he was ejected."

Back to work: While he enjoyed his time at the microphone, joking freely with the members of the club, Bell said that this is a bad time of year for him.

"Yesterday was a very sad day for me," Bell said. "The Super Bowl is over and that means I have to go back to work.

"I get paid in the offseason to stay home with my family. What a great job."

Sunday, he will leave for Arizona to attend an umpire's retreat. Then, it's off to Florida for spring training where his wife and two children will join the 10-year veteran.

This season, Bell will be in an umpiring team that includes crew chief John Hirschbeck, a Poland resident.

"I'm excited about it," Bell said, noting both call a lot of strikes.

Strikes: Bell has not seen any significant change with the high strike zone, saying the same players complain as always.

"I don't think you saw any changes. The same guys whine if you call the pitch low or high -- Kenny Lofton, Barry Bonds, [Gary] Sheffield."

Bell said that he doesn't have to be fluent in Spanish to understand what some players are saying to him. He did spend two seasons in the Dominican Republic.

"Usually the way they do it, their motions, their reactions [are enough]," Bell said.

"I know enough to get by. I know the cuss words. If I hear a cuss word, I will most likely eject them."

He does not think a strike or lockout is going to happen this year.

"We are not affiliated with the players union and they aren't affiliated with us," Bell said. "I think they will resolve it. I don't think the owners are that foolish."

He also is not in favor of instant replay in baseball, except, perhaps on a fair/foul ball home run.

sullivan@vindy.com




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