Bell's Mark Still Stands

So you know MSU baseball, huh? You know Burke Masters, Will Clark and Mike Kelley. You may know that MSU was undefeated in their grey uniforms in 1985 until....well you know the rest. Did you know that back in 1966 a Diamond Dawg named Don Bell went on an offensive tear that etched his name into the Mississippi State and Southeastern Conference record books?

The year was 1966. The Diamond Dawgs were looking to repeat as overall Southeastern Conference baseball champions. A crucial stretch of games would determine the conference champions and define the Bulldogs' season.

With Coach Paul Gregory asking all of his youngsters to dig down deep for one final push, a light-hitting shortstop by the name of Don Bell stepped forward to be counted.

When the Bulldogs needed hits, Bell came through. In fact, in a game against the Razorbacks of Arkansas Don came through an SEC record six times. And 40+ years later no SEC hitter has had a better day at the plate.

"I think it's amazing that the record still stands today with so many people getting hits with aluminum bats," said Bell. "I never thought it would stand this long."

For Bell his good fortune was not limited to just one game. His record-day came in the midst of a career-best hot streak for the Bulldog infielder.

"The record came on a Tuesday night game against Arkansas," said Don. "On Monday night in my first at bat I struck out, I sacrificed bunted the second time and I got two hits in my last two at bats."

After the previous night's success, Don came into Tuesday night's game riding high in confidence.

"The next night I had six hits," said Bell. "They were all line drives to center. I had real good timing going that night for some reason. I really wasn't that good of a hitter. I had a career average of around .290, but that night they all fell in."

Despite being on the happy side of a laugher and the comments from a few naysayers, the suddenly automatic Bell made the record tying hit one to remember.

"The last time up I already had five hits," said Don. "It was the bottom of the 8th in a blowout win. I think we won the game 18-0. I came up and the guys in the dugout were all kind of jeering me and telling me I couldn't get another hit. The pitcher threw me a change-up and I got out in front of it and hit it between the first and second baseman. He dove for it and got it, but I beat it out."

Even in the sixties there were Bulldog fans who could find a grey cloud in an otherwise blue sky.

"I will never forget some wise guy in the crowd said 'Well, Bell at least you have an average now.' I remember that, but it was a great experience. It's something I am real proud of and something I will never forget."

No worse for wear from the wisecracks, Don and the Bullies got ready to travel to Tulane for the SEC Western Divison title.

"We went down to play Tulane that weekend," said Don. "Tulane was still in the SEC at that time and this was a very crucial series for us in the SEC Western Division. Of course it had been in the paper that I had eight straight hits and all of that. I lead off the game with a hit which made nine straight hits in nine straight at bats."

Apparently the Green Wave players and coaches were not fans of Bell's new found hitting prowess.

"The next time I came up there were two outs and nobody on," said Bell. "As I was getting ready I saw the pitcher looking over into the dugout. He nodded to his coach after he got some kind of sign. I was wondering what kind of sign could they be giving with two outs and nobody on."

It did not take Don long to find out what the Tulane coach was signaling for.

"The next pitch was right at me and he hit me," said Don. "What I was most proud of was the next time up I got another hit before I got an out. I ended up going three-for-four that game and three-for-four the next game. I had a good week. I was 14-for-17 on the week with 11 consecutive at bats without getting out. We won all of those ball games."

Like all good things, Bell's impressive hot streak came to an end.

"Obviously I didn't hit like that the rest of the year because I would have had a better average," said Bell. "It was just one of those situations where everything was going right. Of all of them though, I was probably the proudest of getting that hit after they hit me."

With the Green Wave now safely behind them, the Bulldogs prepared to do battle with Auburn for the SEC overall title.

"Back in those days the winners of the Eastern and Western division played a best two-out-of-three for the SEC championship," explained Don. "Auburn was in the east back then and they won the east and we won the west. We beat Auburn in Columbus the first game and then they beat us in game-two. We beat them 2-1 to win the conference championship in game-three."

After the season was over the talented Bell picked up some SEC hardware as he was named All-SEC third baseman.

"I played shortstop, but they selected the best four infielders," said Don. "They ended up picking all shortstops for the four positions and they listed me as a third baseman."

With back-to-back SEC titles and an All-SEC selection to his credit, Bell drew the attention of some major league scouts.

"I had the chance to go play some pro ball or go to graduate school on a fellowship offer," said Bell. "I got a pretty honest evaluation of my abilities by some scouts. They told me that I had major league speed and hands, but I had an average arm and was lacking in power. They told me it was going to be tough to make the big leagues and that AAA was probably as high as I could go. I decided then that graduate school was my best route, so I decided to do that."

During Bell's post-graduate days he was taken under the wing of a gentleman with a name most Bulldogs would know.

"I ended up working while I was at State with Roy Ruby who was as that time the assistant Dean of Men," said Don. "He went on to be a Vice President. Ruby Hall is named after him. I really appreciate him. He took a liking to me because his dad played shortstop a long time ago at State."

Like all athletes, Bell sometimes wonders what might have been, but it is certainly not something he dwells on.

"Sometimes I wish I had taken a chance and tried to play some pro ball, but I wouldn't trade my girls, my granddaughter and my wife in any situation for anything," said Don. "That was the best decision for me and they made a great life for me."

Don still follows the program very closely. He got the chance to take the guided tour of the Bulldog baseball facilities recently.

"It's a world of difference now in terms of facilities," said Don. "We played over in Redbird Park. We didn't have a nice stadium like Dudy Noble to play in. When Coach Polk had all of us old-timers in for the alumni weekend we got to tour the locker room and it was a real eye opener for us. When we played the biggest deal was the seniors had two nails and the underclassmen had one."

Don also believes the players of today have some athletic advantages as well.

"The guys playing ball now are so much better than we were," said Bell. "A lot of old-timers talk about how things were way back then, but I marvel at some of the plays the guys today make. A routine play for them was a super play for us back then."

As a Diamond Dawg alumnus, Bell took great pride in the 2007 Bulldogs run to Omaha.

"It was really great," said Don. "I didn't know they could make it that far, but they put it together late in the season. That's always rewarding. State has a great reputation for baseball and people know that, but I try to spread that around some myself."

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