New park stirs old memories for Bell
Padres closer's bitter feelings for Mets subside over years
NEW YORK -- No trip to New York is complete without a stop by Heath Bell's locker, where the Padres' closer always has something candid and honest to say about his time with the Mets.
More than two years have passed since the Mets traded Bell to San Diego, prior to the start of the 2007 season. The trade was fully embraced by Bell, who spent parts of the 2004-06 seasons in the Mets' bullpen.
It's an old story by now, how Bell was underutilized and underappreciated and how he rode what he and other Mets called the "Heath Bell Express" from Triple-A Norfolk to Shea Stadium, which has now disappeared, replaced by sparkling-new Citi Field.
What hasn't dissipated, however, are Bell's feelings about the Mets and their fans -- the latter of which he still has strong and overwhelmingly positive feelings.
"People always ask me what the most memorable thing about coming back is," Bell said before Monday's game against the Mets. "I say the fans."
Bell is in his first season as closer for the Padres and already has saved three of their five victories of the season, as he's made the move from eighth-inning specialist to replacing a legend in Trevor Hoffman without a hiccup.
"I've got a great opportunity in San Diego to show Major League Baseball what I can do," Bell said. "I'm thankful for [Mets general manager] Omar [Minaya] for getting rid of me, to get out. I'm fortunate the Padres gave me a chance."
Bell's disdain for the way he perceives the Mets handled him over parts of three seasons has subsided every season he's been away from New York. He's grateful the team gave him a chance to make it to the Major Leagues as an undrafted player.
"It's just part of the game," he said. "Unfortunately, I was the only guy in '05 and '06 in the bullpen who had [Minor League] options, so I could go up and down. I remember once, [closer] Billy Wagner noticed I wasn't there one day. When I came back he asked, 'Did you leave or get sick and not show up?'"
So should Bell get an opportunity to pitch in the ninth inning of a game this week, he will not be looking to exact a measure of revenge. Bell knows he's made it.
"I'm happy I've established myself as a Major League ballplayer and that everyone else knows I'm a Major League player," Bell said. "I want to show the [Mets] organization, not the guys there, they knew I could play.
"A piece of me is still here with the old Shea. I was a non-drafted free agent and they gave me a shot. There's so much to be thankful for. On the other hand, I really never felt like I got a chance. I felt wronged in some ways."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.