Austintown native’s funeral
set for today at Fitch High
By ryan buck
Wally Bell umpired a World Series, three Major League Baseball All-Star Games and nine more postseason series. The Austintown native and 1983 Fitch graduate worked at the highest levels of baseball and shared exchanges with the likes of legendary Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda and the revered Lou Piniella, who managed for five clubs. He was the first to give the order to play ball in New York City after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
It was in his hometown, however, where Wally Bell’s larger-than-life persona was greatest.
Hundreds of family members and friends paid their respects Saturday at Lane Funeral Home in Austintown in memory of the longtime local sports figure, who passed away at the age of 48 on Monday.
It seemed every visitor had a Wally story.
Bell strolled into the old West Glen Italian Eatery in Boardman more than a decade ago and immediately befriended owners J.T. Gorman and his wife, Maureen.
“From the first day he walked in, Wally and I hit it off,” Gorman said. “We became good friends and saw games all over the place with him. He celebrated a lot of holidays with us.
“Wally had no problem making friends in public. He had a lot of friends in the game — players, coaches and obviously the umpires — and I talked to friends outside of the game from all over the country. It was amazing. Being out on the road, we’d run across people who all knew Wally. Anywhere you went with Wally, you were going to meet people.”
During baseball’s offseason, few knew Bell would officiate local high school basketball.
Longtime official Bill Nicholson, of Warren, worked alongside Bell dating back 25 years.
“I remember one of my first games was up at Ursuline and they said, ‘This guy you’re going to be working with is a minor league baseball umpire and he’s really good’ and I finally met him and he was just so funny and nonchalant. He came in and bounced the ball behind his back to the free-throw shooter,” Nicholson said. “I’m like, ‘What are you doing?’ It was just what Wally did.”
His performance on the field won him admiration from the very top of baseball, who continue to honor the 21-year veteran.
Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement:
“I always enjoyed seeing Wally, who was a terrific umpire and such an impressive young man. On behalf of our 30 clubs, I extend my deepest condolences to Wally’s family, fellow umpires and his many friends throughout the game.”
Joe Torre, who assumed the position of executive vice president of baseball operations after his retirement from managing, said:
“Umpiring was his life, and he touched so many people within the game of baseball. Aside from being an accomplished, All-Star caliber umpire, Wally was a loving dad to his two teenage children. I extend my deepest condolences to them, his girlfriend Renee, the rest of his family and his admirers across Major League Baseball.”
There was not much that could keep away from the job. In 1999, Bell underwent open heart surgery. He said his proudest moment of his career came when he made his return to the game soon thereafter.
Bell died of a heart ailment on Monday at Northside Medical Center. He leaves two children, Lindsey, 13, and Jason, 14, and a fiancee, Renee Rouser of Youngstown.
Today’s calling hours for Bell are scheduled from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Austintown Fitch High School Auditorium, with the funeral service to follow.