Padres, Bell officially part ways
All-Star closer thanks San Diego fans, organization
DALLAS -- It was a new hat and a new uniform that Heath Bell donned Monday during the press conference to announce his three-year deal worth $27 million with the Marlins.
"I like it," Bell said, smiling.
That said, the now former Padres closer said this will take some getting used to, as the guy who replaced Trevor Hoffman with three All-Star seasons officially became the property of another team.
The Padres' fans probably feel the same way.
Bell was introduced as the newest member of the Marlins on the first day of the Winter Meetings at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas. Watching from the side of the stage were wife Nicole and his parents, Jim and Edwina.
"Now let's go play," Bell said, sounding as if he's ready for Spring Training to begin.
Bell acknowledged the Padres briefly during his press conference, citing the fans, his coaches and teammates for helping him reach this point.
"San Diego was great for me," Bell said. "I have got to say thank you to San Diego for giving me the opportunity they did to show my talents."
Bell, who dating back to last Spring Training figured the 2011 season would be his last with the Padres, was hoping to return to San Diego. He's lived there the last two years, and his wife and four children are now firmly rooted in the community.
But the Padres weren't willing to go beyond two years and Bell found better offers. He said Monday that he turned down "a little more money" to sign with the Marlins, a deal worth $27 million over three seasons, with a vesting option for a fourth season.
On numerous occasions, both during the season and after, Bell expressed his hope that he could remain in San Diego. Not just because he makes his home there, but because he felt as though the Padres and their fans were home.
"I'm never going to forget the fans," Bell said during the season. "I'll always take time to sign things, talk to kids, talk to parents and help in the community. That's why I play. ... I wanted the fans to love me.
"I've always felt that if I was doing things right, the fans would love me."
Fans in San Diego embraced Bell after he took over for Hoffman as closer in 2009. They liked how he sprinted from the bullpen to the mound for the ninth inning. He stayed after games and signed autographs and, generally, had an everyman appeal to him.
Bell, despite his success, never considered himself better than his teammates. He took it upon himself to buy rookie reliever Josh Spence a suit when he joined the team during a road trip with nothing but the clothes on his back. Bell was a sounding board to rookies in the bullpen. Over time, he became a leader inside the clubhouse.
Yet Bell, outspoken on any number of topics, was as playful as they came. His wife even described him as a "big kid."
"I don't drive a real fancy car around. I don't have a real fancy house. If you think about it ... there's nothing really fancy about me," Bell said. "Oh, I have an iPhone, but that's about it.
"I finally bought my first tailor-made suit this year. I've been wearing the same suit from Nordstrom since '02. David Wells gave me a few suits of his. My wife said it's time that I get a suit that fits me."
He'll certainly have that opportunity now with the Marlins.
San Diego manager Bud Black said it was "very comforting" having Bell close games for the Padres the last three seasons.
"It's a very important position ... that feeling when that guy comes in the last inning, how a majority of the time, you're going to come out there with a win," Black said.
"That's how you want it. ... That's how you want a game to end, and when you have a guy like that, it's a great feeling."