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Bell gives the signs during the Trash Pandas' first homestand. (Rocket City Trash Pandas)

Bell brings championship mindset to Trash Pandas

Four hundred and eighty four days.

That’s how long Jay Bell has waited to lead the Rocket City Trash Pandas in their first game. Named the first manager in club history on January 7, 2020, Bell and the Trash Pandas had their inaugural season canceled in 2020 and then delayed a month in 2021. But on May 5, 2021, the Trash Pandas took the field in Chattanooga for the first time, and it was a moment to savor for the big league veteran.

“It was awesome to get out there with the guys,” Bell said after that first game on May 5. “They were extremely excited to get started and get spikes in dirt in a setting that counts. It was a very special moment, and I know we are going to remember this for a long time.”

During his 17-year playing career that included over 2,000 Major League games, Bell was defined by succeeding during the special moments in the clutch when the game was on the line.

With the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1993, Bell took home the National League Gold Glove Award, snapping a streak of 13 straight NL Gold Gloves at shortstop won by Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith. In 2001 for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Bell scored one of the most iconic runs in baseball history, crossing home plate on Luis Gonzalez’s single off Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 to win the World Series for Arizona.

Winning a Gold Glove Award and earning a World Series Championship are the goals for all of the players currently on the Trash Pandas roster, and the memories from their manager can serve as inspiration during the long grind of a minor league season.

“He knows what he’s talking about,” said Trash Pandas outfielder Torii Hunter Jr. “To have someone like him as our manager is a great resource. He’s always open to sharing stories about his playing days and things that he’s learned.”

While winning awards in the big leagues are admirable goals, they can’t be attained while playing for the Trash Pandas. For Bell, his job is to keep players focused on what they can do today. If they do just that, success will follow.

“Be in the present, be in the moment, make sure that you worry about taking care of what you have to and do your best to try and win us a championship here in Rocket City,” Bell said. “I’m trying to let them worry about themselves and what they need to do to get a ring of their own.”

But a ring can’t be won without a season. For most of the players on the 2021 Trash Pandas, the 2020 season mainly featured zoom calls, individual workouts at home, and occasional scrimmages with other local pros.

Now that the anticipation is in the past, Bell has officially taken the helm for minor league baseball’s newest team, and they are ready to put on a show for the fans of North Alabama

“There is nobody that’s more excited than the players,” he said. “They’ve bought into what’s happening here. We’re excited about bring baseball back to North Alabama and we should have a very nice product on the field for Rocket City. ”

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