Clint Hurdle and Neal Huntington were talking over the winter, batting around ideas about the 2019 Pirates and one of their most important players: Josh Bell.
Bell was coming off a disappointing season. He hit .261 with 12 home runs and 62 RBIs in 148 games. He was bumped out of the cleanup spot and, at one point in early September, benched for three straight days. He finished the year strong, hitting for average and power while showing patience at the plate in his final 21 games.
That was enough for Hurdle. In a conversation with Huntington, Pittsburgh’s manager said he “put all my chips in” and fully committed to Bell. The switch-hitting first baseman was going to be the Pirates’ cleanup hitter from Day 1, no questions asked.
“I remember loving the belief in Josh and knowing how important that is to a young player, to feel that belief from a manager, from a coach, from an organization,” Huntington said. “I believed that was going to pay huge dividends for Josh and for us.”
Meanwhile, in Southern California, Bell was working. His excellent three-week stretch to finish the season did not wash out the bad taste in his mouth. He took only three weeks off from hitting, headed west and put in full workdays of training in the offseason.
“I was just ticked off with last year. I was really hungry,” Bell said. “Especially now, I’m kind of seeing that we’ve got a chance at this thing if we all pay our dues and play our part.”
This is what it took to make Bell an All-Star, the starting designated hitter for the National League. It took talent and discipline, of course, and no one has ever doubted Bell’s ability or work ethic. It also took unwavering faith from the Pirates, from the day they drafted him in 2011 through his struggles last season, that he was capable of exactly this.