Bell waits for his call

MOOSIC, Pa. – With the help of his trusty Rollerblade skates, Heath Bell's spring wound up taking him on a sidewalk tour of Port St. Lucie's pothole-ridden residential areas, through construction zones and over the buzzing traffic of the Florida Turnpike. <P> In the end, it got him right back to Triple-A Norfolk.

The 27-year-old righthander put together one of the strongest springs of any Mets reliever, remaining in competition for an all-important spot on Willie Randolph's roster into the closing days of camp.

However, as the club's days in Florida drew to a close, one of Randolph's toughest cuts wound up being Bell, who had minor league options remaining. He was therefore the logical choice not to go north with the team.

"You're always a little disappointed," Bell said Thursday in Pennsylvania, where the Tides were set to open their season against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons.

"I had a real good spring and I think I showed that I'm a guy who battles hard. I think that made a good impression on a new manager and new coaches."

Though it quickly became one of the more trite stories around Mets camp, Bell's reliance on Rollerblades as an off-season training method seems to have earned its place in his permanent record.

Officially listed at 6-3 and 230 pounds, Bell dropped more than 20 pounds through a regimen that included Rollerblading eight miles to the spring training complex each day – no foreign concept for a California native who had been known to frequent the skater-friendly Santa Monica Pier.

The trimming results of the workout program speaks for itself, although Bell said he never could have forseen that his simple trick to make exercise fun would make headline news back in New York (and draw scorn from Mets coaches, who feared injury).

"You know, I probably would have still done it [if I'd known]," Bell says, "but I would have stopped a week or two before I saw the press or Pedro [Martinez, who arrived early] come into town.

"I didn't think it was that big a deal. I've been Rollerblading a long time and I had wrist guards and protection on. I didn't do anything stupid."

In his quest to drop weight and reduce the chances of injury, Bell also used another training tool you probably aren't apt to find in any Major League clubhouse across America – a Chuck Norris brand home gym.

"My mom loves infomercials," Bell laughs. "She called me one day and said, 'Hey, can you use this?' This was after one of the hurricanes had hit the complex [in Port St. Lucie, where Bell lives year-round], so I said, 'Sure.' And she drove it out there from Texas."

The end result of all that cardio work has left Bell – who has always struggled to keep pounds off – perhaps in the best shape he's been since high school. He hopes that the dividends pay off into a big season, one he feels ready to begin.

"I feel a difference when I'm done pitching; there's still a lot of energy," Bell said. "When we go for conditioning later, I feel really strong - like I haven't done much all day, even though I've done a lot already."

Leaning against the chipped blue railing of the visitors dugout at non-descript Lackawanna County Stadium, Bell tried to pinpoint exactly where his Mets teammates were at the moment – likely already in the air on a cushy charter flight from Cincinnati to Atlanta.

Bell watched the entire series sweep at the hands of the Reds – the Tides utilized a sleeper bus with satellite TV to motor up to Pennsylvania on Wednesday – and he acknowledges that it won't be a risky bet that the Mets will upgrade their bullpen before long.

Naturally, Bell hopes that he's the one to get a call, whether it comes next week or next month.

"Even though I'm not there, I have high hopes for the team," he says. "That bullpen, those are my boys right there. It's going to happen. We just happened to give up a lot of runs the first three days of the season. They're going to settle down and win some games."

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