Former Baseball Factory Player Leads JMU
The staff here at the Baseball Factory would like to congratulate Joe Lake on his outstanding career at James Madison University. Joe, who is in his final season for the Dukes, is team captain and the starting second basemen. Joe started out with the Baseball Factory when he was just nine years old and continued through high school. While in high school Joe was named as a Baseball Factory All-American. Joe also worked with our Exclusive staff which helped him find James Madison University. The Baseball Factory wishes Joe success with the rest of the season and all of his future endeavors.
Lake Not So Superior?
JMU Captain Says He’s ?Average.’ Don’t Believe Him.
By Dustin Dopirak
HARRISONBURG – A few times during the James Madison baseball team’s resurgent season, discussion arose about just how good of a sendoff this could be for senior second baseman Joe Lake.
But that discussion never went very far.
“The thing with that is, anytime we get into conversation about, ?Hey, this is a heck of a way for you to go out,'” junior outfielder Brett Sellers said, “he always brings you back and says, ?You know, guys, it’s not about me.’ It’s never about Joe.”
It’s certainly not that he doesn’t appreciate it – “It means a lot to me,” he said, “…it’s cool to have people that care about you like that” – and it’s definitely not that he disagrees that this could be, in fact, a heck of a way to go out.
Lake is hitting a brilliant .365, second on a team that at 30-11 overall, 18-5 in the Colonial Athletic Association, stands in second place in the league with two CAA series to go before the conference tournament. The Dukes’ No. 2 hole hitter is also second on the team in on-base percentage (.459), third in slugging (.494), fourth in runs scored (33) and tied for fourth in RBIs (24).
But standing by and listening to others gush praise at him just isn’t Lake’s style. The two-time captain from Elkridge, Md., is much more likely to be self-deprecating than self-satisfied, and basking in any sort of glory would be a drain on his everyman ethos.
“He’s a good servant leader,” associate head coach Jay Sullenger said. “He’s interested in the team and making it better, and if he asks someone to do something, he only asks because its something that he’s already done, or that he’s willing to do right along side of him.”
That’s exactly why they’re talking about sending him out with a bang. It’s why players who appear to have been genetically engineered for this game look up to a guy who at 5-foot-10, 180 pounds couldn’t possibly look any more average.
“He’s not a guy that’s going to put the ball out of the ballpark all the time,” Sellers said. “He’s not flashy. … But he’s always getting the job done. He’s always executing. He’s always putting together a good at-bat. And everybody seems to like Joe. He’s in with every different kind of group there is. That goes back to his character. He’s never too big for anybody.”
But he also earned his team’s respect by never believing that the game was too big for him.
Although Lake hit .468 as a junior at Long Reach High School in suburban Baltimore and was named his team’s MVP twice, James Madison was the only Division I school to recruit him. Before JMU came calling, he was looking to play at Division II Shippensburg.
“To be honest, we didn’t know where he was going to play,” JMU coach Spanky McFarland said. “We knew we could use him to fill in in a lot of different places. We thought he would be a good depth guy, but we didn’t know if he would ever turn into this kind of player.”
He did, in part, because of a work ethic learned from his father, Joe, who served in the Marines in Vietnam and now works as an anesthesiologist.
“That’s just how my parents brought me up,” Lake said. “Nothing is ever going to be handed to you, so you gotta be there taking extra practice, getting extra hacks. You have to have that work ethic. … I just expected to compete for a job. Knew I’d have to work hard. I don’t have any outstanding talents; I’m basically an average baseball player. I knew that when I got here, I had an opportunity to work my butt off.”
He also knew he’d have to approach games knowing his limitations. Swinging for the fences wasn’t an option. Laying down bunts and moving runners would be the key to his game.
“He doesn’t have the same amount of ability some guys do,” Sullenger said. “But he has a much better ability to use what he has to his advantage. He’s very willing to use the other side of the field and find the holes out there. He’s a results-oriented guy. It doesn’t matter what it looks like to him.”
With that mentality, Lake broke the starting lineup in 21 games in his redshirt freshman season, then hit .327 as a sophomore in 2006 when the Dukes won the CAA regular-season title.
For his junior season, with most of the team graduating, he was named one of the co-captains, which seemed a logical choice considering his outgoing personality.
“You can’t not like Joe,” junior first baseman Lee Bujakowski said. “He’s a give-you-the-shirt-off-his-back type guy. … He’s there for every single one of us.”
But Lake’s first year in the position was a struggle. Early in the season he collided with a runner at third and hurt his back – an injury that cost him 12 games and helped drag his average down to .241. As a junior, he also struggled with knowing when he needed to speak up in the dugout and took some of the blame for team discord that helped lead to the Dukes’ 22-31 season.
“The hardest thing for myself was having some guys a little older than me still on the team,” he said. “I was not as bold with what I was saying.”
This season, he entered practice knowing he would be the undisputed leader as one of just two seniors on the team and the only everyday player in the class. He’s relished his role as the clubhouse big brother, and it’s been even more enjoyable considering his and the team’s success on the field.
“With this mix of guys, everyone is listening,” Lake said. “They open their ears to everything. It’s great to have younger guys that are willing to listen to the older guys.”
And it’s made this year a heck of a way for Lake to go out.