On this day Bell turns right, then onto the narrow, crowded Avenue Mauricio Baez, and steers past small storefronts and shacks, beeping his horn and waving to friends. He pulls up in front of a tavern marked by a Bermudez Rum sign that reads COLONADO CHURITO. Here, in a two-room apartment in the back, lives his youngest brother, Juan—or Tito, as the 21-year-old Baltimore Oriole infielder prefers to be called—with his wife and their two children. George honks twice and Tito, a couple inches shorter than George and much narrower, appears in his Oriole uniform pants and cap and gets in the car. Another block down Avenue Mauricio Baez, George points to a two-story Georgian house. "My mother's probably cooking, as usual." he says. George bought the house for his parents five years ago; the elder Bells live there when they're not helping run the avocado and banana farm George owns, two hours from San Pedro.
"People in America think all Dominicans are uneducated and have nothing to eat," he says. "But we always had mucho food. My parents made sure we never wanted for anything. They made sure every one of the kids [four boys, one girl] graduated from high school." This, he knows, is an improbable feat in a country where roughly one in 15 is a high school grad. "In a lot of families here, there are arguments and people don't talk to one another for years. Never us. We've all been close. We're honest with one another, and we communicate, and it's because of my parents."
Bell drives out onto a road that cuts through sugarcane fields. Up ahead several teenagers walk along the road and move to the side as the car approaches. One kid, however, dawdles in the road, daring the Mercedes to run over him. George floors the accelerator, and then, at the last moment, slams on the brakes, screeching to a halt as the kid dives for the roadside. "That guy stood there like he was saying. 'I don't have to get out of the way for nobody,' " says Bell, giving a glimpse of the emotionality that plagues him in Toronto. "Nobody pulls that stuff on me."
Then just as suddenly, as if nothing had happened, he is merrily on his way again, explaining to the visitor, "This is where we grew up." He drives through dirt streets populated by pigs and dogs and lined with wooden shacks. He circles past the Santa Fe sugar factory and parks at the ball field behind it. Two horses graze in the grass near the fence behind home plate. On the third base side are piles of sugarcane, stacked and ready for the refinery. Seated in the stands behind home plate are maybe 30 people, some young kids, some mature men. In the outfield, nearly 30 young players in Astro uniforms are running wind sprints.
The Houston organization works out its Dominican minor leaguers at this park, beginning the first of January. George and Tito Bell join in, and before long Alfredo Griffin, the Dodger shortstop, and Rafael Ramirez, the Astro shortstop, drive up.
When batting practice begins, George situates himself near the plate and several times stops the kids at bat to offer tips. When the Astro kids leave, George, Ramirez and Griffin take Tito to shortstop to work with him on his throwing position after fielding ground balls. "Too many people have worked with my brother and messed him up," George says. "He needs to get straightened out by big leaguers who know what they"re doing."
George starts working out here every year in early January. "This year, I'm running and working a little harder than I ever have," he says. "But 30 isn't really old. And I think I'm coming off a pretty good year. I think I should have been the MVP—Robin Yount was the MVP of the losing teams. In fact. I think I've had six pretty good years." In Bell's last six years with the Blue Jays, his average season is .292, 29 HRs, 104 RBIs. No American Leaguer has hit more homers in that time (only Darryl Strawberry and Dale Murphy top him in the National League), and the only player in either league with more RBIs is Don Mat-tingly. And in those six years, Bell has missed only 32 games.
"But I don't know what my future is in Toronto," Bell says. "I always hear I might be traded. This is the last year of my contract [at $2 million per year], and I've heard that they won't sign me again. Who knows? I am what I am. I'm not going to change now. I have a lot of fun playing this game. I love it. Sure, I have a malo temper sometimes, but I will do anything to win for my team. If that's not enough for Toronto, fine. I've overcome a lot in my life. I'm not going to be scared now."
George Antonio Bell grew up in a five-room house near the sugar factory; his father. George Vinicio Bell, worked at various jobs, including engineer for the railroad. The name is George, not Jorge, as George A. explains, "because we're English." (A great-grandmother on the paternal side, George says, was from London.)
In his younger days. George V. was a baseball talent—"a better player than any of my boys," he says—and helped build the park near the sugar factory when he was playing for and managing the Santa Fe semipro team. His wife, Juana. raised the kids. "And cooked," says George the younger. "Boy, did she ever cook. Back then, everyone's lives revolved around the sugar factory. For eight months, everyone was happy because it was open. But for four months, it was shut down. People didn't have money for food. We always had enough, so in those four months my mom would cook and give food to people who needed it. She's an amazing lady."