CLEVELAND -- Josh Bell's first Home Run Derby was over as he walked toward the group of National League players and families gathered near the first-base line, but he was still sporting a smile. He hugged Jonathan Schwind, his pitcher and close friend, and teammate Felipe Vázquez. Then he got a visit from a pair of former Pirates, Austin Meadows and Gerrit Cole, who came to congratulate him.
“It’s something that I’ll never forget,” Bell said afterward.
Bell had a solid round by just about any standard, clubbing 18 home runs at Progressive Field on Monday night. But he was up against the standard of Braves phenom Ronald Acuña Jr., who effortlessly slugged 25 homers to advance past Bell in the first round of the Derby.
Still, Bell held his own and put together the Pirates’ best Home Run Derby showing. (In fact, he outpaced the other five Pirates in Derby history combined, 18-12.) He started slowly but then picked up the pace after a timeout with 2:33 remaining in the four-minute round. He hit five homers in the final minute of regulation before hitting one out in the bonus time.
Three of Bell’s homers traveled more than 450 feet. His longest blast was 459 feet. That was also his hardest-hit homer, according to Statcast, as it came off his bat at 112 mph. The average distance of Bell’s home runs was 415.9 feet, and his average exit velocity was 106.8 mph.
“I just needed to find a roll there. Didn’t catch it as soon as I needed to,” Bell said. “Hopefully, I put on a decent show for everybody. Hopefully, I can put on a better show next year.”
That Bell made it to the Home Run Derby at all, after hitting only 12 homers last season, is a testament to his hard work and the adjustments he has made over the last year. In the season’s first half, five of his 27 home runs flew more than 450 feet, more than anyone else in the Majors. He launched two shots into the Allegheny River and one over the batter’s eye at PNC Park.
The highlight of the night, Bell said, was looking back and seeing his parents, Earnest and Myrtle, smiling and clapping after every single home run he hit.
“You don’t really know the moment until you’re there, and he still did a tremendous job,” Schwind said. “I’m so happy because a lot of people got to see his skill and his talent. I know a lot more people will be watching him in the second half.”
Bell grew up watching the Home Run Derby and repeatedly cited Josh Hamilton's 28-homer first round in the 2008 Derby at Yankee Stadium as his favorite performance. He saw that record broken on Monday night by Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who hit 29 to advance to the second round. He then stood alongside Schwind and watched as Guerrero and Joc Pederson blew by that record in an epic semifinal duel before Pete Alonso topped Guerrero in the final round.
“That was unbelievable. That’s going to go down in history, I think,” Bell said of the Pederson-Guerrero showdown. “That’s one of those Josh Hamilton scenarios where neither of them won, but they put on the show of the night. Then Alonso took the cake. That last round was incredible for both of the guys. Just a fun Derby, for sure.”
The whole day was a blast for Bell, experiencing his first All-Star workout day. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts revealed the starting lineup for tonight's Midsummer Classic on Monday morning, and it included Bell -- a starter, after all -- as the National League’s designated hitter, batting sixth.
Several times, Bell mentioned that he felt like he needed to pinch himself in case it was all a dream.
“I’m sure for other guys it’s just another show-up to the park,” he said, suppressing a smile. “But for me, everything’s new. Part of it, I guess. It’s exciting.”