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Finding his balance

Howard Tanksley, third row second from right, takes a photo with his high school baseball team in 1936. Tanksley is the grandfather of Staff Sgt. Patrick Bell, 33rd Operation Support Squadron aircrew flight equipment technician. From an early age he instilled love for the sport of baseball and love for his country, both of which he still values to this day. (Courtesy Photo)

Howard Tanksley, third row second from right, takes a photo with his high school baseball team in 1936. Tanksley is the grandfather of Staff Sgt. Patrick Bell, 33rd Operation Support Squadron aircrew flight equipment technician. From an early age he instilled love for the sport of baseball and love for his country, both of which he still values to this day. (Courtesy Photo)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Patrick Bell, 33rd Operation Support Squadron aircrew flight equipment technician, second row third from left, poses with his travel team, June 2016. Bell was selected as the 2016 Coach of the Year for the Shalimar Little League he is a part of. Because of his skills in coaching, he was selected to coach the Shalimar All-Star team during the regional championship tournament.  (Courtesy Photo)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Patrick Bell, 33rd Operation Support Squadron aircrew flight equipment technician, second row third from left, poses with his travel team, June 2016. Bell was selected as the 2016 Coach of the Year for the Shalimar Little League he is a part of. Because of his skills in coaching, he was selected to coach the Shalimar All-Star team during the regional championship tournament. (Courtesy Photo)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Patrick Bell, 33rd Operation Support Squadron aircrew flight equipment technician, speaks with players on a baseball team he coached, April 2016. Bell used his love of baseball to find balance between his life during and after duty hours. Because of his love of the sport of baseball, he has accepted a new coaching position for a Destin travel baseball team. (Courtesy Photo)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Patrick Bell, 33rd Operation Support Squadron aircrew flight equipment technician, speaks with players on a baseball team he coached, April 2016. Bell used his love of baseball to find balance between his life during and after duty hours. Because of his love of the sport of baseball, he has accepted a new coaching position for a Destin travel baseball team. (Courtesy Photo)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Three men stand near the white bases, inching further away. With a cumulative gasp that was felt throughout the stadium and by the millions watching at home, the pitcher winds up and releases. As the 96 mile per hour fastball thuds into the pitcher’s glove relief reverberates through the room and his grandfather relaxes.

Patrick Bell looks across the kitchen table at his grandfather. The color was leaving his face after his momentary outburst of excitement.

Dinner from just moments ago still lingered in the air. His grandfather threw in a large pocket of tobacco chew as the two settled in to the game. They often spent the next few hours like these watching the tube as the evening light would dance across the walls, seldom breaking concentration less they miss a game changing moment.

For the majority of Staff Sgt. Patrick Bells’ life, baseball has been his cornerstone. As an Aircrew Flight Equipment Technician assigned to the 33rd Fighter Wing, Bell has found his balance between service to his country and community, and it is all because of baseball.

The sport spans as far as he can remember. Some of his earliest memories go back to sitting with his grandfather at the age of four, watching favorites like David Justice play for the Atlanta Braves.

His grandfather, Howard Tanksley, is partly responsible for both Bell’s love of the sport and his Air Force career.

“My grandfather had a lot to do with it,” Bell said. “I would watch baseball with him every night.”

Tanksley played baseball in college and had dreams of trying out for the majors, but life had other plans for him. After completing school, Tanksley was drafted, but not by a baseball team. He was drafted by the U.S. Army to fight in WWII.

He did not lose his love for the sport during his time in the army or after. It remained an important part of his life. He would go so far as picking jobs because of baseball.

“One time he had job offers from a bank and the local phone company,” Bell said starting to chuckle. “He chose the phone company…because they had the better softball team.”

Similarly, the sport would follow Bell throughout his life. He went on to play baseball in grade school, into high school and eventually at the collegiate level for Tennessee Wesleyan University. It was at Wesleyan where he decided to enlist in the Air Force.

After joining the Air Force, Bell fell into a momentum that many Airmen do. His life revolved around his job and little else.

“I realized I had become one of those people,” Bell said in reflection. “I used to be the one who went to work, went home, then rinse and repeat.”

In 2015, he found a new opportunity that would allow him to engage with his community and reintroduce him to the sport he loves so much, little league.

This was where Bell found his balance. Through careful planning and cooperation with his leadership, he was able to create a schedule that allows him to work and be a mentor to his team.

“Having great leadership behind me made it possible,” Bell said. “We made some small changes to my schedule so I could still get everything done that I needed while being able to make it to practices and games.”

His time in his Air Force career helped him as he ventured into a new corner of the sport.

“Everything has been made easier because of the skills I’ve learned during my career,” Bell said. “Time management being the biggest. The Air Force has helped me to be able to coordinate between practices, games, lineups and substitutions.”

Simultaneously, working with his players taught him a valuable lesson, which he says he can apply every day at work.

“Patience,” Bell said laughing. “At this age, the kids can be a lot to handle so I’ve had to learn how to be patient with them as a coach, mentor and friend. They are easily influenced by my emotions so I have to remain aware of my actions.”

Bell realizes while on the surface he is coaching baseball, his influence has the possibility of being rooted much deeper in his player’s lives.

“My goal is to make them better however I can,” Bell said. “Hopefully they leave me as better baseball players. But I try to be someone they can look up to and confide in.”

This mindset and his dedication to advancing his children both as players and in their daily lives led to his recognition as 2016 Coach of the Year and selection to coach Shalimar’s All-Star travel team, comprised of the best players from the league.

His first trip to the district tournament was not the success story he hoped it would be, but it taught him and his students valuable lessons.

“I told them to pick up where they left off,” Bell said. “Some of these players are starting their career so losing is an important milestone. Getting there is what was important, so I wanted them to know they can learn from our loss.”

Just as his player’s careers are oriented to take off, so is his. He was selected to coach the Destin Black Sox travel baseball team, the next stage in his baseball career. The transition from a local community team to a sponsored travel team means Bell will be coaching higher caliber players who are preparing to play at the high school level.

As his career in the Air Force continues to grow, Bell plans to continue his extracurricular coaching with the hope of one day taking baseball full circle.

“My dream is to coach on the college level,” Bell said grinning slightly, then more confident. “Baseball is my passion.”