Twins honor Mike Bell in moving ceremony

Reds manager David Bell, family members also memorialize late bench coach

June 22nd, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS -- As Derek Falvey stared out at the expanse of Target Field from within the Twins' dugout before Monday's game, he saw a handful of Reds personnel congregating on the field.

That brought one memory rushing back into his mind -- and he couldn't quite shake it in the hours leading into the pregame tribute for late Twins bench coach Mike Bell, who died of kidney cancer on March 26.

The date was Sept. 27, 2020, and the Twins and Reds had finished up their regular seasons with a 5-3 Cincinnati victory that set off celebrations in both clubhouses. Minnesota had won the American League Central, while the Reds, managed by Mike's brother, David Bell, had clinched a National League Wild Card berth with the result.

"I distinctly remember in my mind seeing when we clinched after they had clinched here last year, seeing David and Mike on the field at one point," Falvey said. "I don’t know why that memory had escaped me up until that moment, but it hit me all at once, and seeing David again tonight here with his family being here on the field, it jogs a lot of those memories.

"Good memories of Mike. A lot of really good ones, but also a recognition that he’s just not here. And that’s really hard."

It's only been three months since Bell passed at age 46, but it perhaps feels like longer, because the baseball schedule never stopped for the Twins. During Spring Training, the club still played a game the evening of Bell's death at the request of his family. The merciless grind of the regular season and the challenges of an underperforming team have since consumed everyone's attention as the days flew by.

Monday's ceremony brought those memories rushing back.

"It’s not that you forget that he’s gone, but you try to focus your energies on what you can control that day, and now this brings it back to center again, and you remember that he’s not here again, and it’s hard," Falvey said. "It’s hard again. It’s been hard for everybody, [manager] Rocco [Baldelli] and the staff."

"Internally, as a group, obviously, this has been very hard," Baldelli said. "And we’ve dealt with it together, as a family in our clubhouse. But being able to do it with Mike’s family there with us, and honor him, and talk about him, and everyone in the ballpark thinking about him at the same time while they’re able to be there and be a part of it with us, it will be a very meaningful day. A very special day in a lot of ways."

It's not every year that the Twins face the Reds in Interleague Play, let alone host them at Target Field. When Falvey and team president Dave St. Peter saw that Cincinnati would be in town for a two-game series starting on Monday, they approached the Bell family about potentially taking the opportunity to celebrate Mike's life and contributions to the Twins together.

So, with Minnesota hosting its annual Cancer Awareness Night, the organization invited Mike's wife, Kelly, along with their children, Luke, Madeline and Mikayla. Mike's sister, Kristi, and her husband, Bobby, were also in attendance with their three children, as was his mother, Gloria. Reds manager David Bell was back in the visiting dugout.

Players and coaches alike who had been close to Bell -- Byron Buxton, Nelson Cruz, Tommy Watkins, Tony Diaz, Baldelli, Falvey and general manager Thad Levine among them -- mingled with the Bell family behind home plate before the ceremony. The memorial included photos of Bell with his family and with the Twins interspersed with a video involving Watkins, Baldelli, Levine, Buxton and Falvey talking about Bell's impact on the clubhouse and how much he cared for the people around him.

"He made all us, I think, want to be a little more like Mike," Baldelli said in the video. "I think we all want to be there for the people next to us in the way that he was. He was a wonderful man and he'll always be in my heart."

Following the video, the Twins presented a signed Bell jersey to his family, along with a $10,000 donation to Gigi's Playhouse Twin Cities, an organization close to Bell's heart due to its work on behalf of those who live with Down Syndrome. Mike's wife, Kelly, delivered the ceremonial first pitch to David Bell.

"It’s a special night; it’s something we’ve been looking forward to," David Bell said. "I think it’s part of the process for our family. It will be good to see some of the Twins people, who in a very short time, Mike became really close friends with and I’ve already gotten to see a few people. ... Just like everything the Twins have done, honoring Mike in such a thoughtful way tonight is really incredible. For it to be part of Cancer Awareness Night is really special. I’m sure a lot of good things will come from it. As a family, we’re really looking forward to it. It really means a lot to us.”

That video and those photos were displayed on the same scoreboard that, nearly a year ago, showed security camera footage of Bell crashing through the security barrier last season while attempting to exit the Target Field employee parking lot. They never did let him live that down all year.

"He had barely been here, but that was how much he had connected with everybody right away," Falvey said of Bell, who was hired as the bench coach before the 2020 season following 13 years in player development with the Arizona organization. "You wouldn’t do that with somebody you were uncomfortable with."

In fact, Watkins bought an electric blue skateboarding helmet the following day and presented it to Bell as a gag gift. Even as the Twins wrapped up batting practice and cleared the field, Watkins spent nearly five minutes scrolling through his phone to find that photo -- showing Bell on the concourse, presumably beaming under his dark blue mask while donning that helmet -- and to relive that memory one more time.

They wish he were still here with them, teaching them, making them laugh, bringing the group together. These memories won't soon fade for them.

"He's just somebody that keeps everybody together," Watkins said. "He was loose. He was funny. He was smart. Just good at bringing people together."