Coming out of St. Bede in 1987, Joe Perona had a lot of decisions to make.
The four-year varsity shortstop had partial baseball scholarship offers from Wisconsin, Bradley and Northwestern.
As a quarterback and safety for the Bruins, he drew interest from Wisconsin and Army or he could have gone to a smaller school to play basketball as a 6-foot guard.
Four years after his tough decision, Perona had a Bachelors Degree from Northwestern in communications with a concentration in economics and was drafted in the eighth round of the 1991 MLB Draft by the Detroit Tigers as a catcher after he switched positions his senior year in college.
After six years in the minors, Perona is still involved in the sport as he has played in the National Amateur Baseball Federation since leaving the pros in 1996 and has coached his children since they were in tee-ball.
“I’m definitely one of the old guys. There are several formal professional players, but it’s mostly made of former college players,” said the 45-year-old Perona of his Chicago Clout, who won the national championship in 2012. “I’m still on teams where 70 percent of players are in their 20s.
“I have so little time to play since I’m coaching my kids so often, at some point I feel my skills are not going to be good enough. So far, I’m able to play limited games and am still good enough to play where they want me. When they tell me I’m a coach instead of a player, that’s when I’ll know it’s done.”
When he is not playing, he is coaching his 12-year-old son Louis on the 13U team or on his traveling team, Perona helps out his 10-year-old son Joseph and his teammates on the 10U team and is the vice president and treasurer of the Warren Park Youth Baseball League.
Perona and his wife Julie also have a 15-year-old daughter, Anna, and a one and a half year old daughter, Mary Frances, in their Chicago Edgewater community home.
“Sports has been a very big part of my life and has built a good foundation for me,” said Perona, who coached Louis’ 13U team to the Little League Intermediate State championship Thursday in Alsip. “There are a number of things that translate into everyday life that I’ve learned through sports. Resilience, effort and loyalty are three important ones that I teach to my own kids and kids I coach.”
Since he has coached his children since the beginning, they know most of his baseball stories and have seen him play.
Perona was a three-sport star as he won the St. Bede MVP award in football, basketball and baseball his senior year. Since baseball was his favorite, that was the one he kept playing.
St. Bede athletic director Tom McGunnigal, who was a junior on the 1987 team during Perona’s senior season, said the 1988 state championship team emulated a lot of what Perona did in terms of work ethic as they came to practice early and stayed late.
“The funny thing about it, it’s taken me a couple years to get to know Joe on a more personal level. He is now someone I consider a friend,” McGunnigal said. “I taught with him quite regularly and played softball with him a couple of times. For everything that I’ve witnessed, Joe is an excellent person, father, husband and he’s a tremendous representative for St. Bede and what a St. Bede student-athlete can become.”
Former St. Bede baseball coach John Bellino, who stepped down in May after 35 years, agreed with McGunnigal and said Perona was a great kid and athlete.
During last fall’s football season, Bellino saw Perona play and didn’t think his old star lost much since 1987.
“In fact, when I watched him play in the old-timer’s game, he looked like he didn’t belong,” Bellino said. “Everybody else kind of struggled and Joe was playing almost like how he was in high school. He loves the game and I think he will stick with it for a long time.”
In the minors, Perona was a Tigers’ top 10 prospect his first two seasons as he played for the Bristol Tigers in Rookie League and the Fayetteville Generals in A ball during 1991. He then moved to High A with the Lakeland Tigers in 1992 and made it as far as Double A with the Jacksonville Suns in 1995.
During his five seasons, he recorded 288 hits, 123 RBI, 129 runs scored, 60 doubles and 21 home runs in 367 games.
“It was pretty cool,” said Jim Perona, who is a year younger than his older brother, played all three sports with Joe and was on the 1988 championship team. “His first assignment was in Bristol. I actually drove down there with him to help him move in down there and figure things out. It was his rookie league team in Bristol and Joe is 6-foot tall and I’m about 6’2”. We walked into the facility there and there was players walking in and out and a pitching coach asked me if I was one of the pitchers because he was looking at me and said ‘Oh we have a big guy.’
“I told him I was just helping move, but Joe said I could have stuck around for a day and got in the team photo. It was an exciting time for our family.”
However, a small tear in his rotator cuff that needed surgery to repair set him back. Perona was released from the Tigers in 1995 and was hoping to make training camp in 1996 to find another team.
The healing process that was first evaluated to take six to eight months ended up taking a year and a half.
“When you’re 25 or 26 years old still trying to prove yourself as a minor league player, you don’t have that kind of time,” Perona said. “As the strength in my arm did not come back, it became clear it was time to move on.”
And move on he did — immediately.
After retiring from the pros, Perona put his degree and his college summers interning for a stock option trading company to use.
Perona became interested in the profession and in 1996 after he retired from the pros, went back to the company — he also traded during baseball’s winter offseason — and has been a trader in Chicago ever since, which includes starting a trading company with three other partners in 2005.
As Perona put it, his experiences in sports seemed to make sence in the world of trading and only seemed like a perfect fit.
“I felt through sports I learned a lot about keeping my composure and making good decisions,” Perona said. “It translated well into trading, especially on the Chicago trading floors where it seemed physical presence, standing shoulder to shoulder, was more important. There were many, many former football, basketball and baseball players with physical size and sport learned instincts that were on the floor.”
Brandon LaChance can be reached at 220-6995, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_LaChance.