UNIVERSITY PARK — The number 21 holds a revered place in sports.
Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Roberto Clemente wore it during his illustrious 18-year career before it was cut short in a 1972 plane crash. Hockey great Stan Mikita donned the number for 22 years as a Chicago Blackhawk. Roger Clemens, Deion Sanders and Warren Spahn wore it as well.
Although she’s not a household name like Clemente and company, record-setting Penn State center fielder Cassidy Bell also wears number 21.
“I kind of picked it because when I was 18 my dad and I went gambling, and I got really lucky at the game 21, and I won a couple of hundred dollars,” Bell said. “So I kept a poker chip, and I always have a poker chip on me when I play. And that’s how I got the number 21.”
Bell’s lucky poker chip must be working. Picking up where she left off last season, the senior is playing hot-hitting softball for the Nittany Lions, despite their 7-16 record thus far.
In 23 games, Bell is hitting .471, with 13 home runs, 31 RBIs, and a slugging percentage of 1.114, second-best in the country.
Her 13 home runs ties her for second in the country in that category as well, and she is 16th nationally in batting average.
She attributes her early-season success to her summer and fall workout routines.
“During the summer I worked with one of my hitting coaches, Steve Langenfeld. He’s really helped out a lot,” Bell said of her California coach. “In the fall I just kept working at it, and the coaches have been helpful with batting. We hit a lot over the fall, so I feel like that has helped.”
The Bakersfield, Calif., native is on pace to smash her own single-season school record for batting average of .423. She set it last year, breaking the mark of .413 owned by Nan Sichler since 1988. Bell is also on pace to break Sichler’s single-season record for on-base percentage of .533, also set in 1988. Bell currently has an on-base percentage of .543.
Bell is second all-time in Penn State slugging percentage through three years at .534, just .004 off Shannon Salsburg’s mark set in 1995-98. Last year, Bell finished the season on an 11-game hitting streak, reaching base in 26 of the final 27 games.
She tallied 11 multi-hit games, posting a hit in 27 of 32 games played. She hit .469 in the final 27 games, with a slugging percentage of .889.
She was the only field player to earn unanimous All-Big Ten First Team honors, even though she missed 18 games because of an emergency appendectomy.
Head coach Robin Petrini has nothing but high praise for her center fielder.
“Cassidy is one of the top 50 players in the country to watch, and she is on that list for a reason,” Petrini said.
Petrini noted that Bell’s senior leadership and experience is crucial to a team that has eight freshmen and four sophomores.
“One of the other things about her is that Cassidy is not happy if she doesn’t produce for us,” Petrini said. “I think that is a valuable lesson for everyone to take, is that you have an opportunity to produce every time you get on the field. If she doesn’t produce, she’s not happy with herself.”
Tom Zulewski is a Penn State journalism student.