To say Bubba Bell was unhappy with his performance in the final two months of the 2009 season is an understatement. He was promoted from Portland to Pawtucket for the final 71 games, and it didn’t go as planned.
"It was awful," Bell said. “I didn't play well, my body didn't feel good. It was just kind of a bad start to my Triple-A time."
Bell hit .208 with just one homer and 18 RBIs, and every single day that went by was another day that he questioned himself more and more.
Would he ever start hitting again? When would the coaches lose faith in his abilities? When would he lose faith in his own abilities?
There was not a more perfect time for the season to end. Bell needed time to regroup, to remember what it was that had made him successful in the first place, and what it was that allowed him to steadily climb the ranks of the Red Sox organization since being drafted out of Nicholls State University in 2005.
When he arrived in Pawtucket in 2010, he’d be a new guy — or at least a new version of the old guy.
"I came in last year kind of wanting to do the same thing — I wanted to prove myself, but I was trying way too hard," Bell said. "So this year, I was like, OK, well, prove yourself, but do it on your own terms."
The preparation began long before the PawSox took the field for the first time this year. It started with the Red Sox’ sports psychologist, Bob Tewksbury, who encouraged the 6-foot, 195-pound outfielder to set some goals.
At the top of the list: Make the Triple-A All-Star Game.
Bell was well aware it would not be an easy goal to achieve. He knew Triple-A was overloaded with too many capable outfielders, outfielders who would likely get the starting nod over him on any given day. Darnell McDonald, Daniel Nava, Ryan Kalish, Aaron Bates, Josh Reddick – all of them were in the mix, too.
"I'd have a chance to rest, then play, then rest, and I think body-wise, that helped me a lot," he said. "As far as the mental part, I could really separate games. So I think that's been the biggest difference — still pushing to do as well as I can, but not overloading."
Overloading is exactly what hurt him last year. He struggled, he tried to do too much to compensate, and as is the case with too many players, it showed in his stat line in the worst possible way.
"You can't [change everything] in one at-bat," Bell said. "And when you start looking at it like that, you start trying to do way too much every single at-bat to kind of add things up. [Now], I can kind of just slow the game down and realize, OK, it's over, now this next at-bat is the biggest one coming up. Just one at a time."
Patience is definitely a virtue when you’re a baseball player, particularly when you’re struggling and trying to find a way to turn it all around. It takes patience to wait for the right pitch, to wait while your average climbs, to wait for that call-up from the big leagues.
For Bell, patience has been the key from Day 1 of this season. Rampant injuries in the Red Sox’ outfield meant call-ups from Triple-A. That, in turn, meant more playing time for Bell, and he took advantage. He may have started the year as a bench player who hit ninth when he did get in the starting lineup, but now, he’s a No. 3 hitter whose.307 average is good for second on the team.
The patience officially paid off a couple of weeks ago, when the league announced its All-Star nominations and Bell was one of just two PawSox to earn a bid.
"I think that I'm just kind of trying to alleviate the pressure off myself and not think I have to do too much," he said. "I just kind of let my ability take over, and know that if I just play my game, the numbers will take care of themselves. And that's pretty much what happened."
The patience, however, must endure a little longer. In spite of all the injuries on the Red Sox, Bell still hasn’t gotten the call-up. Sometimes, another guy whose numbers aren’t as good gets the call instead, and sometimes, it’s hard not to take it personally.
"I have gotten into that position before where I get bitter about it, and the only thing that happens from there is my game goes downhill," Bell said. "Having a positive attitude and just believing as best you can — as hard as it sounds, and trust me, it's still hard, even now — the better off you are."
Waiting is just part of the game; it’s Triple-A baseball at its finest.
"You learn pretty early on in professional baseball that it's not always about your timetable," Bell said. "It's about the organization's timetable, and the sooner you figure it out, it keeps you a little more sane."