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Bellingers make baseball family affair

Bellingers make baseball family affair

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Clay Bellinger always felt he could someday make a good coach in the big leagues.

"And as your career winds down," Bellinger said, "that's a big thought."

Yet after retiring in 2004, the former Yankees utility man knew that a new career would mean a return to the transient and unglamorous Minor League lifestyle he once knew so well.

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"Then you're back to the 12-to-14 hour bus rides, and I just wasn't into that, you know," Bellinger said. "The kids are in school and I'd be away from them again. It would be like playing all over again."

So he settled in Chandler, Ariz., became a full-time firefighter and started helping coach his 12-year-old son Cody's Little League team.

Good choice, dad, because today that everyman life finds him coaching Cody at the Little League World Series in a dream week for both father and son.

For Clay, it just might be the only thing that could top winning a World Series title with the Yankees in 2000.

"I mean, this is awesome," he said, standing at the gates of the teams' dormitory-style housing complex.

And even more so for Cody, though he doesn't yet share his father's selfless stance. Asked if watching his father play in the World Series or representing the West in this year's Little League World Series was more exciting, Cody wasted little time responding.

"Me playing," he said with a smile, though perhaps he can be forgiven if the ride's been in tribute to his father.

"He went to the World Series," Cody said. "So I thought it would be really cool if I could go to the Little League World Series."

Thankfully for dad, it's Cody's playing that's emerged as the bigger story this week.

One of Chandler's best hitters, Cody drove in four runs in the West Regional final game that brought his team here, and is 5-for-8 with a two-run opposite field homer in Arizona's first two games this week.

So while at 5-foot-1, 87 pounds, Cody may stand as the second-smallest player in this year's U.S. bracket, he's a big part of why Chandler stands just a win Wednesday away from advancing to the U.S. semifinals.

"I don't why teams keep overlooking him," Arizona manager Jeff Parrish said "He might be small, but he doesn't play that way."

Cody's also versatile, playing center field and first base while doing a little pitching, too.

Kind of like dad. Clay played every position but pitcher and catcher during parts of four seasons in the big leagues with New York and Anaheim. He hit just .199 in 311 career at-bats, but was a valuable utility man on the Yankees' 2000 and 2001 clubs that advanced to the Fall Classic.

After retiring, he made an interesting career move.

For years, a couple of his old Minor League friends had been telling him how much they loved their new jobs as firefighters. They said the camaraderie and physical bond firemen shared was similar to the qualities of a baseball clubhouse.

"The boys said it was awesome," Clay said.

So what the heck? He wanted a job that would allow him to be close to his family, and fireman it was.

"I took my classes, went through the interview process and got lucky enough to be hired," Clay said, going on to thank the boys back home for picking up his shifts while he's away.

Wait. Lucky? How many former big leaguers are you going to hear that from?

"That's Clay," Parrish said. "So humble. He'll never toot his own horn."

It's also what's made him such a good coach. He's patient, communicates well with the kids and, of course, his past commands a little attention.

"Kids know that they have a coach who's played the game, so they kind of know where I'm coming from," Clay said. "Respect, hopefully that's the word."

This week, however, Clay is content simply being a proud dad. And after slapping his son's hand as he rounded first base after hitting a homer in Arizona's series-opening win Friday, Clay knew it rarely gets any better than this.

"But," he said, "I'm proud of Cody whether he goes 0-for-4 or if he goes 4-for-4."

David Briggs is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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