The Bells' old house, along with the rest of this neighborhood, has deteriorated badly, but George sees this place with childhood eyes, especially the baseball. "We used to play ball games all day out here," he recalls. "For baseballs, we used socks wrapped around twigs that we'd soak, then squeeze. My daddy used to make those balls for us all the time. A lot of the kids in the neighborhood used the cardboard milk cartons for gloves, but because my daddy managed the team, I always had a real glove. My parents made sure we got our food and our education and had the equipment to play sports. That's what I call a good family upbringing."
The idea for the George Bell-Alfredo Griffin Celebrity Golf Classic was hatched back in 1984 when Griffin was still playing with Bell and the Blue Jays. "George used to say, 'When we start making good money, we have to help people back home,' " says Griffin. "He'd get very passionate about it. First the nuns in Consuelo [a section of San Pedro] helped us organize a Christmas fund, and we'd hand out food and presents. Then we were helping an orphanage in La Romana [30 miles from San Pedro], and to raise some funds, we started the golf tournament."
First played in 1987, the Classic is held every November at the plush Casa de Campo resort; proceeds go to the Bell-Griffin Foundation, which plans to build an orphanage in San Pedro that will house and school more than 200 children. The tournament is one of many charity operations in which Bell is involved. He and Griffin sponsor youth baseball, basketball and track teams. Before this past Christmas, Bell bought three steers and bushels of food products, then had his uncle give out 400 tickets to needy families who could redeem them for bags of food. During last season. Bell was told of a man in San Pedro who died because he had had a heart attack and the one ambulance in town was broken down. Bell, Griffin and Ramirez got together and bought a new ambulance in Miami and had it shipped to San Pedro.
But most of Bell's good works are directed toward children. "I love kids, anything to do with kids," he says. Bell buys boxes of baseball equipment to donate to San Pedro children. At the end of each season, he scours the Blue Jay dressing room for donations, this year prompting pitcher Jim Acker to say, "I'm getting out of here before George cleans out my locker and gives everything I own to the kids of San Pedro."
On the second day of the golf tournament in November, Bell and Griffin drove from Casa de Campo—where Bell owns a villa on the golf course—to the Casa del Nino orphanage and children's shelter nearby in La Romana and met with Sister Levanesa, who runs the orphanage. She was having trouble with milk deliveries. "I know who to call," Bell told her. "I'll have it fixed today."
The two men played with the children, checked on the nursery and inspected the nearly completed wing they have helped finance. Everywhere Bell and Griffin walked, a scrawny two-year-old boy followed them. "Angel, you've got your shoes on the wrong feet," Bell said, then got down on one knee and hugged the boy. "You're beautiful," he said.
"I don't have anyone on the Blue Jays I'd call a friend, a close friend anyway," Bell said later. "But a kid like Angel, he's my friend."
The visit to the orphanage was supposed to be for only a half hour, but nearly two hours after arriving, Griffin reminded Bell that they now had less than 30 minutes until tee-off at the Classic. "After all," Griffin told George, "this is our tournament."
As they arrived at the golf course. Bell turned to Griffin and said, "You know, we ought to try to organize all the Latin players and do something for the kids in Nicaragua and El Salvador."
Griffin laughed and waved Bell away. "Let's get this tournament straightened out first," he said.