By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. March 20 -- One of the first people Rob Bell called after he signed a minor league contract with the Baltimore Orioles was good friend and former teammate Jeremy Guthrie. Last season in Buffalo, home of the Cleveland Indians' Class AAA affiliate, Guthrie was trying to reclaim his status as a top prospect, while Bell simply was trying to reclaim his life.
Bell's career had been threatened in May 2005 when anxiety attacks forced him onto the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' disabled list. He has not pitched in the majors since. Bell was grateful the Indians took a chance on him last winter. Guthrie was in a much different position. He was once a highly regarded prospect, one who never made a successful transition to the majors.
The two bonded in Buffalo, talking not just about baseball, but about life. Guthrie discussed the year he spent in Spain on a religious mission. Bell spoke candidly about his anxiety. When Bell signed with the Orioles, he called his close friend.
One week later, Guthrie returned Bell's phone call and had his own big news.
"You're not going to be believe where I ended up," said Guthrie, who had been put on waivers by the Indians and was claimed by the Orioles. "I'll see you there."
Each time Guthrie and Bell pitch, it could determine whether they will have a job in the majors. Each time one of them pitches well, it could result in a best friend being sent to the minors. Bell and Guthrie likely are fighting for the same bullpen job.
"I think he can help this club," Bell said of Guthrie. "I think I can help this club. I can't help but pull for another human being, especially a guy that is as close to first class as you can get like Jeremy."
Orioles Manager Sam Perlozzo said he is considering starting the season with 13 pitchers, leaving a slim possibility that Bell, who has yet to allow a run this spring in eight innings, and Guthrie, who had a 1.80 ERA entering Tuesday night's game, both could start the year with Baltimore.
"I'm not ruling anything out right now," Perlozzo said. "I think there's some spots in the pen open. There's a bunch of ways we can go. We're not set on doing one thing."
For Bell, a job in the majors would be a major step in his rehabilitation from severe anxiety attacks, which made it difficult to breathe, much less pitch. After that lost 2005 season, Bell spent the entire winter trying to recover.
"I honestly just tried to get my feet underneath me because it was so foreign for me to go through anxiety issues," Bell said. "It was a time for me to say, 'God bless for giving me the ability to play baseball.' I've been given so many things as a byproduct of being an athlete: money, comfortable life, I've gotten to meet wonderful people, I've gotten to travel places. I just had to take a step back and look at all these great things I had and get back to enjoying every day of my life, and baseball. At the time I was going through it, I thought I was an emotional abyss. But the truth was that I wasn't that far off. I was just torturing myself emotionally."
Bell said the season spent in Buffalo saved his career.
"Every time I got the ball, it was a time to redevelop and get my feet more firmly planted on the ground," he said. "It was an opportunity they gave me to compete and allowed me to do so many things. I started, I relieved, I closed, I did long relief, short relief. Everything I could have done there, they gave me an opportunity to do and I capitalized on it."