ORONO – After the game, Joel Barrett collects his baseball gear and heads toward Mahaney Clubhouse. As he reaches the gate, the University of Maine senior is surrounded by adoring young fans.
Win or lose, good day or bad, he enthusiastically greets the children with his broad smile and encouraging words while signing autographs.
“That’s what it’s all about,” said Barrett, who fondly recalls growing up in Brewer and revering UMaine hockey stars such as Jean-Yves Roy and Scott Pellerin.
“It’s unbelievable to step off the baseball field and see those kids smiling. You’re their idol,” said Barrett, who leads the Black Bears into today’s 5 p.m. opener of a four-game America East series with Binghamton.
This likely will be Barrett’s last weekend at Mahaney Diamond, where he has established himself among the most prolific hitters in school history. He has proven himself consistent, productive and durable.
The cleanup hitter leads UMaine this season with a .375 batting average and sits atop the conference in hits (66), home runs (6) and total bases (101). Barrett (37 RBIs) ranks in the top seven in every America East batting category.
The rugged first baseman, an all-league choice last season, also is among the best defensive players in the conference.
“I’m a good baseball player, but to think that I’m going to be a great baseball player without hard work is inconceivable,” Barrett said. “Staying consistent is the name of the game.”
Barrett’s annual batting averages reflect his commitment. He hit .359 as a freshman, .340 in 2005 and .368 last year.
At 276 hits and counting, he will finish second all-time at UMaine behind major leaguer Mark Sweeney (328). Barrett is much closer to the doubles mark with 61, five shy of Sweeney’s career mark.
Barrett also checks in fifth in career runs batted in with 165 and could get as high as third on that list. His 19 doubles this season put him in position to challenge the single-season record of 22, also held by Sweeney.
“You’re talking about a guy who’s coming up on a bunch of records, as one of the best players ever at UMaine,” said Bears coach Steve Trimper. “He’s an overachiever.”
The 6-foot-1 Barrett wasn’t a can’t-miss prospect when he arrived at UMaine in the fall of 2002 – weighing 255 pounds.
“I think the most memorable experience of my college career was having coach Kosty say, ‘Joel, you’re going to be a good baseball player here, but you need to lose 30 pounds,'” said Barrett, who was redshirted. “That was kind of the eye-opening experience that really motivated me.”
Barrett credits Brewer High coach David Morris with helping him develop the confidence necessary to excel and take his game to the college level.
“I had an extremely wonderful experience with coach Morris,” Barrett said. “He was the guy who always knew what I could do, even when I guess I didn’t, and that was huge.”
Barrett loves the challenge of competition. It’s a characteristic he developed playing one-on-one basketball with his dad, David, and playing sports with his neighborhood friends.
He frequently invents little side games to keep his edge.
“I have this ulterior motive that I want to beat you, but I’ll make it a game so it’s not as threatening,” chuckled Barrett, who also hits plenty of long drives on the golf course.
Barrett enjoys playing golf during the offseason with Mike Lachance, whose daughter Katie has dated Barrett for eight years.
Barrett’s immediate goal is to lead the Bears to a third straight America East title. He relishes his role as a vocal senior tri-captain.
“He’s a community leader, a team leader, a baseball leader,” Trimper said. “He gets this team going with all those things. He’s a local product who really knows what UMaine is all about and really took advantage of his situation.”
Barrett graduated from UMaine last week month with a degree education. Once baseball is over, he plans to surround himself with kids – as an elementary school teacher.
He said his frequent contact with children at his mom Nancy’s daycare helped him develop an affection for working with kids.
“I like how kids get excited about the littlest things,” Barrett said. “I like their passion, their energy. I want to build off that.”
Barrett feels a similar enthusiasm for having the chance to play college ball close to home.
“It’s definitely an honor to be a University of Maine Black Bear,” Barrett said. “It’s nice to know your hard work pays off.”