By Greg Gulas
Umpire Wally Bell could never say no to a request to help a charity. That’s why trustees are now saying yes to the re-naming Austintown Township Park’s main field as Wally Bell Field.
Saturday at 10 a.m., a ceremony is set to honor Bell, who died of a heart attack last October, one week after working the National League Division Series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals.
A 21-year veteran, Bell worked one World Series (2006), three All-Star games, seven Division Series and four League Championship Series.
In January, park supervisor Todd Shaffer approached Austintown trustees Ken Carano, Jim Davis and Lisa Oles suggesting the name change. There was no opposition to his request.
“When visiting other fields in the area, there were names attached to those fields,” Shaffer said. “I always felt that to be a great honor for that individual.
“This is just one small way of honoring one of our native sons for all that he has done for his hometown,” Shaffer said.
New dugouts, more bleachers on the visitor’s side and a field upgrade have been completed.
Oles called Bell one of the most caring individuals.
“Wally Bell was a well-respected MLB umpire that a lot of people in our community looked up to and admired for his accomplishments,” Oles said. “Wally never forgot his roots and had a captivating personality that lit up any room when he entered.
Davis said Bell was a friend to everyone.
“Wally helped all and was an icon in the community,” Davis said. “He was a friend, a dedicated family man and also of importance has always been a friend to Austintown,” Davis said.
Carano, a speech and debate teacher at Fitch High School, appreciated Bell’s diatribes.
“When a speaker was needed, Wally agreed to assist because he just loved telling a joke or humorous story to a gathering,” Carano said.
MLB umpire John Hirschbeck of Poland will speak at the ceremony.
“This is a tremendous honor for a great friend,” Hirschbeck said. “Wally was just an super guy who loved his hometown.
“It’s a fitting tribute to an incredible family friend.”
MLB umpire Brian O’Nora, like Bell a Fitch graduate, said he is pleased that Bell’s memory will live on with something baseball-related.
O’Nora, who worked first base during Wednesday’s Cleveland Indians-Minnesota Twins game, said, “Wally and I go back to our childhood days.
He was always that caring guy who just wanted to give back to his community,” O’Nora said. “He was a great friend, proud of his Austintown roots and would give you the shirt off his back in order to help or assist someone in need.”
Former Fitch baseball coach Rich Coppola, and longtime assistant John Rorick recall Bell as a good player who was a student of the game.
“Wally is definitely one person who should be associated with baseball,” Coppola said. “He was someone from a small town who made it big in a career that he so loved.”
For Rorick, spending time with Bell when he traveled was the ultimate.
“My association with Wally goes back to his PONY League days and I must say that he truly was a friend,” Rorick said. “Not just baseball, but we went to other professional sports and he just knew so many people.”
John Mang, local umpire assigner, called Bell one of a kind.
“His mother was nanny for my children for 10 years and the entire Bell family was always there for everyone,” Mang said. “One thing about Wally was that he was consistent; both in life and on the field as an umpire.
“He enjoyed people and never changed,” Mang said. “That’s a credit to his upbringing and the values that he learned from his parents.”
Pat Gaia, a retired educator and 25 years Bell’s senior, said he became the pupil and Wally the teacher when it came to umpiring.
“Wally was just a great guy who helped everyone,” Gaia said. “He taught me a better understanding of the rules and mechanics and as a result, it kept me out of any unnecessary pickles for which an umpire can get confronted.”