From HS to the Majors, Bell used to big hits at Texas ballparks

First baseman ends night homer short of the cycle, leads Nats to win vs. Rangers

June 25th, 2022

ARLINGTON -- Picture this: It’s 2011 and a young Josh Bell steps up to the plate at the old Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. His high school team -- Dallas Jesuit -- is trailing big and he is hitless heading into his last at-bat.

Was Bell certain he was going to play in a Major League ballpark again? Maybe. Maybe not. But at that moment he thought to himself, “Screw it, I’m going to try to hit this ball as hard as I can.”

Bell homered to the Rangers bullpen that night. Dallas Jesuit lost the game but it felt like they won, he remembered. Rounding those bases is a memory Bell will never forget, and he was able to recall it almost perfectly following the Nationals' 2-1 win over the Rangers on Friday at Globe Life Field.

Friday’s win marked Bell’s first homecoming against his hometown team since 2019 -- and the Nationals’ first time playing the Rangers on the road since 2005. Feeling the local love, with about 30 or 40 friends and family in the stands, Bell finished the night 3-for-4, and he was a home run short of hitting for the cycle.

“Being able to do this in front of [family and friends] makes it all the more special,” Bell said.

The first baseman can now say he’s played in two Rangers ballparks: once in high school and twice in the Majors with the Pirates at what is now known as Choctaw Stadium, and Friday at Globe Life Field. But he can’t say he’s homered in both just yet.

The big difference between then and now is that the Rangers have a roof, so Bell is expecting an even bigger crowd of family and friends on Saturday and Sunday.

“It’s a lot easier to, I guess, get people here when it’s not 115 degrees,” Bell said. “So, kudos to the new stadium.”

In his first at-bat Friday, Bell tripled. For a split second, he stood in the box as if the ball was pulling foul, but then he “turned on the speed,” manager Dave Martinez said, as it bounced off the right-field wall.

“I honestly couldn’t believe it went that far. It was one of those funky swings [where] I get the ball up in the air and good things happen,” Bell said. “I watched it bounce off the wall and figured, I don’t get a lot of chances at these, so might as well take advantage of it.”

The triple was a big hit, but not Bell’s biggest of the night. He doubled in the sixth inning, which put him in a position to score the go-ahead run on Luis García’s double. Then, with the game tied at 1-1 in the eighth, Bell plated Juan Soto as the game-winning run with an RBI single.

“[Bell] had a great night,” Martinez said. “He’s been consistent for us all year long.”

Bell’s night was backed up by a clean performance from Paolo Espino on the mound. Espino pitched a season-high 5 1/3 innings, allowing just one run off six hits. Through three starts now as a new arm in the rotation and 20 games in relief before that, Espino’s ERA is sitting at 2.21.

“Right now, I’m not looking at ERA, I mean, it’s too early,” Espino said. “Hopefully I end up at 2.00 at the end of the season, maybe even 1.00. It’s a long season.”