When Jerry Bell wrapped up a seven-year professional baseball career in 1976, he didn’t leave the sport entirely.
For the next 35 years he offered private pitching lessons, working with local high school and college standouts. He doled out advice on technique and helped develop pitchers but he also enlightened his pupils on what to expect from the next level.
But without a college degree, the Old Hickory native had never been a coach for a team — in any capacity.
Then the Nashville Outlaws came calling last summer. They needed a pitching coach for their first year of existence in the summer collegiate wooden-bat Prospect League.
Bell gladly accepted.
“I’m content to kind of come in the side door and help these guys out,” Bell said. “Because the college coach asks the guys, ‘What kind of work you have been doing? Who you have been working with?’ So that makes me feel good.”
While Bell became the first Belmont player to make his Major League debut (Sept. 6, 1971 with the Milwaukee Brewers), he never graduated. After two years, he transferred to Southwestern College (now Rhodes) in Memphis and was drafted by the Army at the height of the Vietnam War. He failed his physical, however, due to a degenerative disc disease in his back. Two months later, he was drafted by the Brewers in the second round of the MLB draft in 1969.
The right-handed pitcher enjoyed a successful stint, which included four years in the big leagues. He was named the Brewers’ rookie pitcher of the year in 1972. He finished with a 3.28 ERA in 69 games and 28 starts for the Brewers.
Shortly thereafter he began a family and decided the traveling that came with baseball — especially in the minor leagues — was too much. So he retired and began a career in sales.
While his experience and skill set would have been ideal for a college or high school coach, the opportunities were slim.
“They are going to take the guy who has the degree and maybe who played there, before [they select] me,” Bell, who was inducted into Belmont’s Hall of Fame in 1992, said. “I guess there is a lot of water under the bridge, too, with my age  and everything.”
Now in his second season with the Outlaws, Bell’s teaching and knowledge have been reflected in the pitching staff’s performances. Prior to Tuesday’s doubleheader against Danville (Ill.) at Lipscomb’s Dugan Field, the Outlaws ranked sixth in team ERA (.364) in the 14-team league.
Plus, he has left his imprint on current and former Outlaws. P.J. Francescon (Trevecca Nazarene), Craig Stem (Trevecca), Clint Wright (Columbia State), Will Locante (Cumberland) and Navery Moore (Vanderbilt) were all drafted in June.
Bell, of course, has spent as little as three months with some of the players so he won’t say he directly increased their chances of being drafted.
But Outlaws manager Brian Ryman sees his influence.
“He has been great for us,” Ryman said. “I think it gives him a lot of credibility when he speaks to the pitchers or tells them to do something because he has pitched at the Major League level. Not only is he a good coach, he is an even better person. I think his strength is the one-on-one time in the bullpen. That is a big strength of his — to teach the game.”
Bell is still teaching, continuing to give private lessons. The coaching opportunities, however, have started to arise.
Bell, who is retired, coached a middle school team at Mt. Juliet Christian Academy last year and might help coach at Lebanon High School next year.
With six grandchildren, his time with the Outlaws might be short. He did say he would like to come back next season — if the team can find an owner to keep it in existence.
While the pace has been hectic at times, Bell is appreciative of the opportunity the Outlaws gave him — his first coaching job.
“It has been fun,” he said. “It has been some grueling road trips. It is kind of bringing back memories of when I was in the minor leagues with some of the long bus rides. But it is good for me to be back over here working with some higher level guys, guys that have a chance to get drafted. I feel like I kind of let them know what to expect.”