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Bell's father lured with friendly competition

Countless hours in backyard led to future as Bucs first baseman
MLB.com

Josh Bell and his father shared a daily routine. Almost every afternoon, Josh and his father, Earnest Bell, played baseball together in their backyard in Coppell, Texas. During these sessions, Josh tried to hit as many home runs as possible, with homers being balls that landed over the backyard fence. If he hit five or six home runs that day, his father rewarded him by taking him out to eat.

"When I think back about it, a lot of people were like, 'Oh my gosh, you spent so many hours. That must have been hard work,' " Josh said. "For me, it was always like, No. 1, I get to hang out with my pops … It was always in good spirits."

Josh Bell and his father shared a daily routine. Almost every afternoon, Josh and his father, Earnest Bell, played baseball together in their backyard in Coppell, Texas. During these sessions, Josh tried to hit as many home runs as possible, with homers being balls that landed over the backyard fence. If he hit five or six home runs that day, his father rewarded him by taking him out to eat.

"When I think back about it, a lot of people were like, 'Oh my gosh, you spent so many hours. That must have been hard work,' " Josh said. "For me, it was always like, No. 1, I get to hang out with my pops … It was always in good spirits."

All those hours in the backyard paid off. Years later, Josh is still hitting home runs. He's just doing it in a different setting. Entering Friday. the Pirates' starting first baseman is tied with Andrew McCutchen for the team lead in home runs with 11. He trails only McCutchen in RBIs with 27.

Bell traces his development as a baseball player back to all those hours spent playing in the backyard, and more specifically, to his father.

"I mean especially in regards to baseball, he is my first connection with the game, which is pretty cool," Josh said. "All the time that he devoted is pretty cool and I am really thankful for."

Earnest Bell did everything in his power to help his son succeed. He and Josh spent hours in the car driving across the country for baseball tournaments. He trained to Josh to switch-hit at age 5 so he could be a more dangerous hitter. And he bought Josh a Wiffle ball pitching machine when Josh was about 10 or 12 to help him perfect his swing.

Earnest also didn't allow his son to play football because he thought there was too great a risk of injury, so Josh only played baseball and basketball as a kid.

But Josh made sure to emphasize that his father was never demanding. While Earnest wanted to see Josh succeed, he never pressured him to be a great baseball player.

"It was never forced or anything like that, because there are some parents out there who go about it the wrong way," Josh said. "It was never, 'You are going to have to!' It was always like, 'You get to go in the backyard and do what you got to do get better.' "

Earnest still remains involved with Josh's career. The two talk on the phone every other day about baseball and other things going on in Josh's life, with Earnest offering support.

"He knows what I need to do to get to the next level," Bell said. "He also knows in certain areas where I can get better to. It's cool to have like a coach there, but also a father figure who can still lead me."

Earnest and his own father traveled with the the Pirates to Atlanta on their annual dads road trip to watch their four-game series against the Braves. Earnest watched his son smash an RBI double off right-hander R.A. Dickey on May 23. It was a moment that Josh won't forget.

"That was a cool scenario," Josh said. "Getting an RBI in front of my pops there and my grandfather. You can't ask for much more."

It was like Josh had to returned to his backyard, when he was trying to send balls over the fence.

Jonathan Toye is a reporter for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Pirates