FORT MYERS, Fla. – The Twins canceled batting practice and their late-afternoon workout on Friday, and informed the Atlanta Braves that they were considering calling off their scheduled game, too.
But "the Bell family asked us not to," Derek Falvey said. "They said Mike would want us to play."
They did so, albeit after a tearful team meeting, an emotional news conference by manager Rocco Baldelli, and a moment of silence just before first pitch.
"It was a very difficult day. It still is," Baldelli said shortly after speaking to Reds manager David Bell. "That's not a feeling that's ever going to really go away."
Not after he received word Friday afternoon that Mike Bell, Baldelli's bench coach in 2020 and a member of one of baseball's most historic baseball families, had died in Arizona because of kidney cancer. Bell was 46.
Bell was the brother of Reds manager David Bell, and the son of Buddy Bell, a longtime major league third baseman who managed the Tigers, Rockies and Royals. He was also the grandson of Gus Bell, who played 15 years as an outfielder for the Pirates, Reds, Mets and Braves.
As the son and brother of MLB managers, Bell was on what he hoped would be a similar career path, having spent 13 years in the Arizona Diamondbacks' organization as a minor league manager and head of player development before accepting the Twins' job in late 2019.
"He was an amazing bench coach because he was amazing with people. He emotionally connected with so many of us here," Baldelli said. "His impact will last for many, many years. He'll affect all of us forever."
Bell fell ill in January, and an examination revealed a tumor in his kidney that was removed, along with part of his liver, during surgery in early February. Bell remained at his home in the Phoenix area while the Twins gathered for spring training, and Baldelli said he and other members of his staff kept in touch with their missing coach, who offered input on the makeup of the team.
But the cancer had spread quickly, and when Baldelli called an unscheduled team meeting in short left field Friday, the sense of dread was readily apparent. Shoulders hunched, some players had tears, and Baldelli hugged more than a dozen.
"He went out there and delivered one of the best speeches I've ever heard to a team, about how much Mike cared about every single one of you sitting here, how much we're going to miss him, how much we're going to be there for his family and how much we're going to support each other and lean on each other," said Falvey, the team's president of baseball operations. "The beauty of baseball is, it becomes a family. Mike's been a huge member of our family in the short time he was with us."
As the team's chief organizer and planner, and the manager's direct liaison to the players, the bench coach has more regular contact than most with both staff and roster, and Bell's eagerness "to aid and help people reach their dreams and reach their goals" made him particularly suited to the job, Baldelli said. He didn't know Bell when the Twins considered him for the coaching staff, Baldelli said, but was immediately impressed, and their relationship was cemented when Bell flew to Rhode Island shortly before training camp opened in 2020 to map out the spring.
"To think he created the bonds in our organization that he did in such a short time, it's just incredible," Falvey added. "Many of our staff members are taking on a lot of the responsibilities that Mike had, in terms of baseball. But we're never going to replace the person."
Tributes and memorials poured in from around the sport, a reflection of Bell and his family's longstanding ties to baseball.
"The Minnesota Twins are devastated by the loss of Mike Bell. In his short time with our club, Mike had an indelibly positive impact — not only on the quality of our team on the field, but most importantly upon everyone whom he met," the team said in a statement. "Widely respected in our game, all who knew Mike, on and off the field, are better for the experience."
Mike Bell played professionally for 13 seasons after being drafted in the first round by Texas in 1993, but only reached the majors in 2000, appearing at third base in 19 games for his hometown Reds. He retired in 2005 and was immediately hired by Arizona's team president, Tony LaRussa, to work with minor leaguers.
Bell is survived by his wife, Kelly, and children Luke, Mikayla and Madeline.