Tommy La Stella
Born: January 31, 1989
Thomas La Stella was born January 31, 1989 in Westwood and grew up in Closter. His father, a doctor, set up a pitching machine in the family basement and taught his son the value of hard work and perseverance.
Tommy attended St. Joseph Regional High in Montvale, where his schoolmates included a trio of future NFL players—Junior Galette and the McCourty brothers, Jason and Devin. The school had already produced one baseball celebrity, John Flaherty, the longtime major-league catcher. Although Tommy was one of the top players in Northern New Jersey, a baseball career didn’t appear to be in his stars. Tommy did not enjoy the game and actually quit playing following his junior season.
After Tommy told his parents he planned to stop playing, they made him get a summer job at a local farm stand. While toting hay bales and feeding the company donkey, he realized what he was giving up and rejoined the team as a senior. Although he batted over .500 and made All-State, college recruiters were uninterested—if he quit once he might quit again.
A bright student, Tommy was able to secure a partial academic scholarship to St. John’s in Queens and joined the baseball team. He batted .320 in 20 games.. The financial aid was withdrawn after his freshman year, but he had shown enough to get a baseball scholarship at Coastal Carolina University. Coach Gary Gilmore had been tipped off by Bob Frassa, a North Jersey hitting coach who knew the La Stellas.
Because he was switching schools, Tommy had to sit out the 2009 campaign, but in 2010 and 2011, he blossomed into a first-rate hitter. The Atlanta Braves took him in the eighth round of the 2011 draft.
Tommy hit everywhere he played in the minors, and although he battled assorted injuries, he improved his range at second base and developed into a quality fielder. He batted .328 in 2011, .299 in 2012 and .356 in 2013. With the Braves unable to revive Dan Uggla’s batting stroke, it was only a matter of time before Tommy got the call.
The promotion came at the end of May in 2014. Tommy rapped out a pair of singles against the Red Sox in his first game and recorded nine multi-hit games in his first 16 games as the team’s newly anointed starter. He finished the season at .251 with 1 home run (off Stephen Straburg). That November, Tommy was traded to the Cubs. In 2015, Tommy played second and third for the Cubs, and spent some time in the minors, as well. His versatility and smooth swing cemented his role in Chicago as a valuable utily man during the 2016 and 2017 seasons, and in 2018 he appeared in a career-high 123 games—breaking the team record for pinch hits. Tommy earned a World Series ring with the Cubs in 2016.
During the 2018–19 off-season, the Cubs traded Tommy to the Angels. Los Angeles installed him as the everyday second baseman and leadoff man. Tommy had worked over the winter toimprove his launch angle and drive the ball with more authority. The result was a surge in home runs and selection to the All-Star Game. When his selection was announced, his average sat just a tick above .300 and he was third on the team in homers and second in RBIs.