The Battle for Bell

I learned of Larry Hasenfus while researching stories for America at the Seams. At the age of 58, Larry went back to college to earn his degree. While in college, Larry decided to try out for the baseball team. A commuter, he left home in the wee hours of the morning for the pre-class, off-season workouts and stayed after class for afternoon workouts. Come spring, Larry made the cut and was a member of the JV team. Playing D-III baseball for Springfield College, Larry served as an inspiration for teammates who were roughly one-third his age. The handlebar-mustache-sporting left-handed pitcher ended his collegiate baseball career pitching a clean inning in the last game of the season. His story was a perfect story to represent the state of Massachusetts.

It would be fun to try and follow in Larry’s footsteps and go back to school, not for the pursuit of any degree, but to play baseball. The absurdly naïve part of me thinks that, if I spent a couple months with Driveline Baseball in Washington and diligently followed the year-round throwing program of Jaegar Sports, if I “eat-breathe-lived” baseball, if I sacrificed my donuts and Dr Peppers and petitioned the NCAA, I might be able to find some way to beg or barter my way as an official BP-thrower or fly-ball catcher on one of the two local teams.

(At this point, Coach Guttin and Coach Nasby are laughing. I am perfectly fine with that.)

My motivation for going to such extremes would not fame or fortune. It’s not to try and be the oldest player in either program. And I couldn’t grow a handlebar mustache if my life depended on it.

I’d just want to play in The Battle for Bell.

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There are reminders of Coach Howard Bell all over Springfield.

A plaque in the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.

A baseball scholarship and the naming of the baseball and softball sports complex at Glendale High School.

The red chair at the baseball field at Kickapoo High School.

An annual Strike Out ALS Poker Challenge at Twin Oaks Country Club.

The championship trophy of the Grip ‘N’ Rip Baseball League.

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Last year, I played catch with Kim, his wife, on Howard’s birthday. Since his passing, Kim courageously created a wedding venue on the north side of Springfield — Belamour. She told me baseball stories and Belamour stories and stories of all the neighborhood kids who came by to ask if Howard could play.

“Howard encouraged each of us to concentrate on living fully today,” she said.  

After his induction in to the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, I played catch with Howard’s brother, Darrin, and nephew, Jake. We told stories of basketball, baseball, and junior high which seemed to keep Jake mildly entertained.

On the date of last year’s game, I played catch with his daughter Kameron.

“I love remembering dad, hearing stories about him and how he’s still making a difference. This exhibition game started because of him, and now it’s so much bigger than just him,” she said.

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On Saturday, September 21, Missouri State University will play Drury University in the fourth iteration of The Battle for Bell. The gates of US Baseball Park will open at 4:00 for batting practice and pre-game fun for all ages, including a silent auction. The game starts at 6:30 and tickets are $5, or $10 which includes a meal and commemorative Battle for Bell cup. Money raised will benefit the ALS Clinic at CoxHealth South Hospital.

Baseball is a game of hope, a game of bringing people together, a game full of stories of perseverance, dreamers, and whimsy. The Battle for Bell is a game where all these are celebrated. We remember a local baseball legend — complete with a game-winning grand slam over Mizzou — and devoted coach, honoring his legacy by giving hope to those who are diagnosed with ALS.

“What I have learned living with ALS is the importance of taking each day as it comes, being happy and enjoying the moments you have, because you never know what the next day will bring. Each day in and of itself is truly a gift,” Coach Bell said.