By Greg Gulas
With pitchers and catchers due to report as early as this Saturday and full-fledged spring training set to get under way, local Major League Baseball umpire Wally Bell is finalizing his plans for his Feb. 24 arrival in Florida.
Set to begin his 21st season of calling balls and strikes in the majors, Bell is one of four local MLB umpires. Poland’s John Hirschbeck, Austintown’s Brian O’Nora and Salem’s Jerry Meals are the others.
Addressing the Curbstone Coaches Monday, Bell said that the biggest change for fans for the upcoming season will involve pitchers and their fake move to third base before trying to pick-off the first-base runner.
“We’ll now look at the bluff throw to third base just as we would if it were a lone runner on first,” Bell said. “The pitcher must throw to the occupied base or umpires will call it a balk.”
Bell said that when a rule change has been presented, the MLB Players Association has up to a year to either accept or veto the proposal, opting to accept this particular rule change.
“There are some other rules that involve just umpires for the upcoming season, but those are more technical and the average fan won’t notice anything earth shattering,” Bell said.
Recently back from Phoenix where all umpires met with their supervisors and took part in their annual physical, Bell said the four days of meetings is an Alpha to Omega reporting of everything we’ll need to know in regards to the upcoming season.
Bell’s crew this year consists of Tim McClelland (crew chief), Marvin Hudson and Brian Runge. The four have a combined 75 years of service at the major league level.
Bell will be based out of Sarasota and work mainly three spring training sites: Bradenton (Pittsburgh Pirates), Sarasota (Baltimore Orioles) and Port Charlotte (Tampa Bay Rays).
He’ll take a brief respite from spring training on March 17-19 when he heads to San Francisco’s AT&T Park to work the World Baseball Classic.
In addition to Bell, the other Americans selected to work the game are Ted Barrett and Bill Miller. The names of the three international umpires have not yet been released.
“It’s really an honor to be selected to work the World Baseball Classic,” Bell said. “They play the games every three years and this is the third one so I am humbled to have been chosen.”
In regards to replay, Bell said the Players’ Association in their last contract agreed with some replay changes; however, it is now up to the umpires union, Major League Baseball and the players’ union to agree on all aspects.
When asked why no player was selected this year for Hall of Fame induction, Bell said he’s not sure.
“I’m shocked as to why at least Craig Biggio wasn’t selected,” Bell said. “People ask me and I’d like to know.
“Here’s a guy who played the game hard, like it was supposed to be played, spent 20 years with only one team, the Houston Astros and had over 3,000 hits,” Bell said.