PAWTUCKET, R.I. – Bubba Bell stepped in to bat in the first inning. He worked the count before stroking an opposite-field line drive to left.
Bubba can hit.
In his next at-bat, Bell’s eyes widened on the fastball coming inside. He turned on it and crushed it well beyond the right-field wall.
Bubba can still bash.
Bell, 27, may have seemed like the forgotten outfielder in April, but no longer. Bell went from a player fighting for a job in the spring to being named to the Triple-A All-Star Game.
As of Sunday, Bell was batting .304 for Pawtucket, with five home runs and 37 RBI.
The formula for success is simple: Be thyself.
“With every level I’ve gone to, it took me a little bit to settle in and realize that you’re at this level for a reason,” Bell said. “You don’t have to try and do anything more.
“You have to keep playing your style of baseball and not try to impress anybody, and know that if you play the way you know how to play, everything else will take care of itself.”
That is easy for Bell to say now. He is currently on a high in this roller coaster of a pro career.
Bell was drafted out of Nicolls State University in Louisiana in 2005 — in the less-than-glamorous round of 39.
Then in 2007, Bell batted .370 with 22 home runs in advanced Class A, receiving the California League MVP award.
He was promoted to Portland near the end of 2007 and was hitting .285 in 2008 when he was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his leg in July.
In 2009, Bell began the year in Portland, earning his promotion to Pawtucket in June.
But in Triple-A, Bell found himself in the bittersweet land of being so close, yet so far away from the major leagues.
“They watch their teammates get snatched up in a moment’s notice,” first-year Pawtucket Manager Torey Lovullo said. “That’s the beauty of this level. It can be a double-edged sword because at times, young players put too much pressure on themselves.”
Bell batted .208 with one home run in 71 games. He was playing in McCoy Stadium, but had his mind on Fenway.
“It can drive you crazy,” Bell said. “The quicker you can learn to avoid looking at it that way, and focus more on concentrating on your day-to-day at-bats, and your approach at the plate, the easier it makes it — and you stay sane.
“That’s the thing I didn’t learn last year.”
This year, Bell came in focused. But he was not alone. Back in Pawtucket was Josh Reddick, who made his major league debut the year before; journeyman Darnell McDonald, who had major league experience; and the recently promoted Daniel Nava from Portland.
Bell figured he would be starting in right or center, but was surprised when the team arrived in Pawtucket from Florida.
“I just assumed I would be playing,” Bell said. “As soon as we got here, Torey let me know that I was going to have to fight for my at-bats.
“I looked at it as a challenge to get back into that starting role.”
Promotions helped. With injuries in Boston, Reddick bounced back and forth between the majors and Pawtucket. McDonald and Nava are currently with Boston.
But Pawtucket has new outfielders, with Aaron Bates in left (moving from first base when Lars Anderson was promoted in April) and the promoted Ryan Kalish.
Bell learned not to look around, but concentrate on his own game. The result has been a .409 average (25 for 61) and four home runs in his last 20 games, and an invitation to the Triple-A All-Star Game.
“Bubba has improved every day,” Lovullo said.
Bell knows more changes are coming to the roster, especially when players come off the disabled list and, possibly, outfielders returning to Pawtucket.
“When guys start coming back, who knows where that will take me,” he said. “Right now, I’m just focused on right now, and keep on putting together good at-bats.”
The Red Sox may have to make a decision on Bell in the off-season. If not put on the 40-man roster, Bell will be eligible for the Rule V draft — meaning another team can draft Bell and keep him if he stays on the major league roster.
Bell knows his situation, but stops himself.
“I want to stay in the present,” he said.
Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: [email protected]