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Tuesday, February 11
Updated: March 14, 4:48 PM ET
 
Bell takes a pay cut to join the Mets

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Jay Bell was so certain his baseball career was finished that he'd already found something else fun to try.

"I was taking flying lessons," he said Wednesday. "I've had a great time doing it."

But after three trips around the Phoenix area in a Cessna 172 prop plane, Bell's back on the ground. For a while, maybe.

Bell and the New York Mets agreed on a minor league contract Tuesday, giving the 17-year major league veteran an invitation to spring training and a chance to become the starting third baseman.

The 37-year-old Bell hit .163 last season for Arizona, with two home runs and 11 RBI in only 49 at-bats. The two-time All-Star shortstop tore a calf muscle during spring training and didn't return until July 19.

As this winter wore on and spring training approached, no clubs came calling for Bell. He figured he would have to retire.

"I was at the point where I didn't expect a phone call," he said. "At that point, I was pretty resigned to the fact that I wouldn't play anymore."

Being in his late 30s and coming off his first stint on the disabled list, "you don't know how exactly clubs are going to perceive it," he said.

The Mets, though, thought Bell might be able to help them.

After losing Edgardo Alfonzo to San Francisco as a free agent and seeing Japanese slugger Norihiro Nakamura back out of deal, the Mets were left without a regular third baseman.

Ty Wigginton, who made his major league debut last year, was the leading candidate to start at the position. He batted .302 with six homers and 18 RBI in 116 at-bats while playing third base, second base and first, along with the outfield.

Bell has played 53 lifetime games at third base, 46 of them in the last two seasons.

"His versatility can create some interesting possibilities and options," Mets general manager Steve Phillips said. "I think it's a low-risk proposition for us."

Mets position players report to camp Feb. 18 in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and Bell is aiming to win a starting job and get 400-to-450 at-bats.

Bell is more than fine with the prospect of playing third base. But if he's faced with merely being a backup, he could decide he's done.

"I don't believe I am suited for that role," he said. "It was not a lot of fun learning how to sit on the bench."

Bell would get a $550,000, one-year contract if he's added to the major league roster and would have the chance to earn $200,000 in performance bonuses.

Bell finished up a $34 million, five-year contract he signed with the Diamondbacks before their 1998 expansion season. He became a free agent after last season.

Overall, he is a .267 lifetime hitter with 195 homers and 857 RBI with Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Arizona. He was an All-Star in 1993 and 1999, and won a Gold Glove in 1993.

After playing most of his career for small-market clubs, Bell said he was excited about the possibility of joining the Mets.

"I think every player wants the chance to play in New York or Chicago or L.A.," he said.

"In Arizona, we tried to educate the fans, teach them about the game," he said. "The fans in New York are extremely knowledgeable. They know when to clap and when to boo."

Many Mets fans already liked Bell -- he scored the winning run to beat their dreaded rivals, the Yankees, in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series.

Bell said that even if he makes the Mets, this will probably be his last year of playing ball. When New York called this week, he talked to his wife about whether he should try to continue his career.

After speaking with new manager Art Howe, Bell figured it was worth it. So he put his flying days on hold -- it had been a "lifelong dream" since his father, Ron, spent 21 years in the Air Force.

"At that point, if I wanted to pursue one more year of baseball, I had to stop doing it," he said.






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