By Simon Thomas
For the first time in over five years, the Bellingham Bells will have a fully veteran coaching staff, lead by head coach Bob Miller and Adam Geaslen, returning for their second seasons.
“I am excited to return to Bellingham next summer,” Miller stated in a press release on Sept. 17. “The Bells are a special organization and I appreciate the opportunity.”
Last season stood out for the Bells as the team played in both the first and second half of the playoff rounds, ending the season with a 35-19 record, the third best in the West Coast League.
Several Bells players were recognized by the league, with four featured in the WCL All-Star game, three named in the All-WCL First Team, another three named in All-WCL Second Team and 11 honorably mentioned. Bells shortstop Matt Mclain was also given the Top Prospect Award for his successful rookie season in collegiate baseball.
The team also boasted an ERA of 2.48, the lowest in the league since 2011 and the second best fielding percentage in the league at .972 percent, according to the WCL official site.
The WCL is a collegiate-level league designed to develop both coaches and players alike for potential futures in both minor and major league competition. With many coaches taking positions at college or minor league teams, coaching staffs experience high turnover rates in the WCL. This season, the Bells’ coaching staff has the opportunity to take advantage of having already worked together.
Last season the Bells also played under new ownership. Glenn Kirkpatrick spent his first season as an owner of a WCL team and won Executive of the Year at the end of the season, according to WCL’s official site. Also leading the team is the general manager, Stephanie Morrell who has been a part of the club for five seasons. When she was first hired, she said she was the only full-time employee, and has since seen the club’s staff and attendance grow significantly.
“Glenn [Kirkpatrick] and Stephanie [Morrell] are great leaders and the assistant coaches are very passionate about the game,” Miller said in a press release. “We will strive to provide the best possible environment for the players.”
Morrell explained that most coaches at this level are younger and try to reach for D1 or professional ball. She said having Miller as a coach is an advantage because being a community college level coach makes him both eligible and experienced which is different from other coaches.
Miller has coached at four other colleges, multiple collegiate-level teams and is currently the head coach of the Cuesta College baseball program, according to the team’s website. Miller will be partnering with Jim Clem, pitching coach and recruiting coordinator of the Bells for the past eight seasons, as well as assistant coaches Jake Whisler and Adam Geaslen.
Clem said that early stages of recruitment for 2019 begin after their postseason in August. Since Miller stepped in, his additional connections and experience have been useful when recruiting players, he added.
“[Miller’s] connections and his experience have brought us a new set of places to check to get players from, it actually helped us last year, even though he was hired late,” Clem said. “What you put on the roster in the fall may not be the same guys you have in the spring, and when we were filling out last year’s roster he was able to help fill in some holes, and this year is the same way.”
According to Clem, Miller has brought more than just his experience and connections to the Bells. He has also implemented a thorough practice plan that has benefited the team.
“The evaluation of what we are good at and what we need to continue to work on is done on a daily basis and the practice plan is built around that,” Clem said. “He really utilizes his assistant coaches, and I feel that has helped too.”
Clem and Morrell both agree that the standards the Bells set last season will be hard to match going forward, with the team earning the highest fielding percentage the Bells have had in seven seasons, and pitching one of the lowest ERA’s in any collegiate league in the nation.
“You know, we all do our best and you hope that it leads to good things,” Clem said. “Sometimes it does and last year was a year to remember.”
Although the coaches will remain the same, next season will be a predominately new team full of fresh faces. Even though the roster was finalized soon after last season, Morrell explained spots turn vacant over the offseason while the players are competing for their respective colleges.
“You see what you end up with, there will be injuries that happen to guys in their college season or guys will throw too many innings and their college coaches will shut them down and not send them,” Morrell said. “It’s about keeping an eye on that roster so that we can continue to recruit and compete.”