When New Britain Bees outfielder Joel Lara was in the third grade, the South Boston native began running track. The early speed training paid off as the Bees’ blazing speedster now leads the Futures Collegiate Baseball League of New England with 24 stolen bases, 10 more than the next closest player.
Lara added two stolen bases during the Bees loss to the Nashua Silver Knights last Friday. During the ninth inning and with the scored tied 1-1, Bees manager Donnie McKillop subbed Lara in for Keegan O’Connor at first base. With ease, Lara stole second and third base and was in prime position to bring home the win. However, two quick outs led to the game going into extra innings.
Lara said in those moments his objective was to just put more pressure on the pitcher and force him to throw more fastballs, a strategy that would help the batter.
McKillop said Lara is an automatic two stolen bases if he’s on first.
“You put him in when you need to win a baseball game,” McKillop said. “Everyone knew he was going. They threw it over to him three times in a row and he still went on the next pitch. Everyone knew he was going to take third too and he still took third.”
McKillop said Lara is just an “incredible” player with a high motor and someone that you just want to see succeed.
In 19 games this season, Lara leads the team in runs with 19 and home runs with two. He is second on the team with 10 RBI and a batting average of .338.
He said baseball is a sport that he has been playing since he was 7 years old and one that he naturally fell in love with. Prior to baseball, he played basketball but after one baseball practice he said he knew he wanted to play America’s favorite pastime.
By the time of his second little league baseball game, he had quit basketball to focus solely on baseball.
“Honestly it might have been my second game ever in little league and I started to fall in love with it,” Lara said. “It was just the constant action of being out there and having fun with all my close friends.”
These days Lara just tries to play his hardest and hopes that he can lead by an example.
He said hard work, time management, accountability and consistency are some of the values that he has learned from playing baseball, however, it was the intensity of growing and up playing baseball in Boston that developed his work ethic.
“Playing baseball in Boston was amazing,” Lara said. “I played with guys from all around the country. It was a huge diverse group of guys that all just loved the game. A lot of the guys are from families that live in poverty so baseball was their way out. It was a different type of hunger on the field.”
That hunger drove Lara to realizing that he had the talent to play in the majors and that it could be possible to turn a childhood dream into a reality.
During his sophomore year of high school, he looked around and realized that he was playing with other players that were getting Division I offers as well as starting to sign to professional leagues. He said from that moment he believed he could work as hard as it takes to get to the majors.
Later on while Lara was attending a showcase, he met the coaches at Franklin Pierce University, who invited him to the campus. He said he toured the school, spoke with some of the players and instantly became sold on the university.
“I knew it was a good environment that I wanted to be in,” he said. “They have a good history of success in the program and I knew that was the kind of program I wanted to be a part of.”
He said hopefully the dream of playing in the majors comes true, but until then he is just going to keep working and do all that he can.