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Bell lives a dream with All-Star stint

Bell lives a dream with All-Star stint

ANAHEIM -- Angel Stadium was a destination point for Padres closer Heath Bell, who grew up in the area and watched Reggie Jackson, Brian Downing and Bob Boone. But when he joined the baseball team at nearby Rancho Santiago College, now known as Santa Ana College, it was the starting point for a sweaty ritual.

"The last day of fall ball before the season would start, they dropped everybody off and you had to run back to Santa Ana," Bell said. "It was about 3 miles. We'd run back and they'd hand you your uniform.

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"It was only a two-year school. You found out that all the sophomores had jumped in a guy's car a couple blocks down while all the freshmen would run."

Bell did some running of his own, and brought some laughs from the National League dugout, when taking the mound in the fifth inning. Bell broke into a sprint from the bullpen to the edge of the infield. He usually runs, but regular observers have never seen such wheels from Bell.

"Was it 4.2? 4.3?" Bell joked.

After catching his breath, he forced a fly ball from the only batter he faced, the Angels' Torii Hunter, to end the inning with a runner on base and play a part in the NL's 3-1 victory, its first All-Star Game victory since 1996.

Bell and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez represented the Padres, and manager Bud Black was a part of the NL coaching staff. Bell and Gonzalez, who went 0-for-2 after replacing Albert Pujols at first base, also participated in last year's Midsummer Classic in St. Louis.

The prize of homefield advantage for the winning league in the 2010 World Series carried added significance for the Padres, who have surprised outside observers by grabbing the lead in the NL West at the break. The Rockies and the Dodgers trail them by two games. Last year, the Padres were 13 games down at the recess.

"Hopefully, it's going to be us [representing the NL in the World Series], but at the end of the day somebody's going to enjoy it and somebody's going to be thankful for it," Gonzalez said.

Even before the game, the occasion was special for the Padres players.

"The parade was pretty good -- there were a lot of San Diego people there," Gonzalez said. "There are a lot of people driving up from San Diego and a lot of people rooting for us."

Bell recalled sitting with his family and friends in far-away seats -- the product of a renovation when the Los Angeles Rams played at the park. He laughed about his mom asking, "Why are they booing that guy?" when the fans went into their "Booooone" tribute. And he happily lived a dream, pitching in his favorite park.

"I told my dad, 'I'm going to play here,'" Bell said. "It's funny. I only played here once and it was Interleague Play. We were getting our butts kicked and they just put me in because they knew I was from here. And I had, like, 20 or 30 people here.

"I never thought I was going to be an All-Star, and now I'm a two-timer. It's still like a dream."

The contest was more than sprints and giggles for Bell.

His father, Jim Bell, has battled lung cancer since January. Before the game, his dad handed him his dog tags from his career in the U.S. Marine Corps. It was a special gesture to Bell, who said it was his father who talked him out of joining the Marines rather than pursuing his baseball career.

"I went and got one of those chains in the store and threw them on," Bell said. "I'm probably going to wear them from here on out."

Bell said his father has undergone chemotherapy, but has a difficult battle ahead. So Bell made sure his dad spent All-Star weekend with him. Jim Bell even granted some interviews during Monday's media availability.

"He was like a kid in a candy store, Christmas morning, a red bike or new wagon," Bell said.

The Padres exit the All-Star break with a three-game set at home against the D-backs, then a road trip to Atlanta and Pittsburgh. But Gonzalez said the day-to-day approach that brought the Padres to their current standing -- unexpected, given their modest lineup outside of Gonzalez -- will continue in the second half.

"We can't look at it as games, just win the game at hand, and that's all we can think about," Gonzalez said.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"content":["all-star_game" ] }