The summer may be over or on its last legs, but the Illinois Valley still has sports to pay attention to while it waits for high school athletes to compete.
Joe Perona, a 1987 St. Bede graduate, has coached his Warren Park Junior League team to the World Series for the first time in his 15 years of coaching.
“It’s very exciting for this group of kids and our community. We’ve had several shots at this. This was a third time for us in the Central Region Tournament. We’ve won the Illinois state tournament in 2015, 2017 and this year.
“We broke through the central tournament in Fort Wayne, Ind. and we’re looking forward to this special week in Taylor, Mich.”
Warren Park’s first game in the World Series was Sunday, which resulted in a 7-6 loss to the Southwest representative Lufkin, Texas.
The next game for the Warriors in the double-elimination tournament is at 1 p.m. Tuesday.
A close loss may have been suffered in Warren Park’s first outing, but Perona is confident in his team and its abilities.
“This is a great group of boys,” Perona said. “They’re very good ball players and they enjoy the team. Seven out of the 11 boys I’ve coached since they were 8-years old, two of them since they were 11 and we added two new players this year. The core of this team I’ve known since they were little guys.
“A big strength of ours in the regional tournament was speed. We have six out of the nine guys in the lineup who can really run. On any given ground ball or if an infielder hesitates, we’re safe on first. Speed is a big part of our game. We have guys that can hit. We have guys that can pitch. We can field. We’re a well-rounded team, but speed dominated in Fort Wayne.”
Perona graduated a year before the SBA baseball team won a state title in 1988, but his brother Jim Perona was on the team. Joe Perona was still part of it and was able to watch his brother and friends have success.
The Peronas played in Little League throughout their childhood. When Joe Perona moved to Edgewater, a suburb of Chicago 18 years ago, he wanted to get involved as a coach.
What was a new system and something his new environment wasn’t used to, Perona has now coached multiple state championship teams and keeps the kids coming back every summer.
“The travel baseball side of baseball development is here to stay,” Joe Perona said. “There seems to be some people who appear to be in denial that travel ball is evil or that Little League shouldn’t exist anymore.
“The reality is, the good, strong players need to be motivated and trained to play baseball. They need to be given a platform to get better. Many Little League organizations don’t do that. You simply sign up, play for dad and get ice cream.
“To get to the level of state championships and World Series trips, players are seeking games and training outside of just their Little League teams. It’s a lovely narrative to believe these kids showed up out of nowhere with only playing a little ball in the summer. But, honestly, they play on multiple teams and find opportunities to improve whether it’s Little League or elsewhere. That’s what has enabled our community to still maintain these kids connected to Little League and have the opportunity to advance in these tournaments."
Brandon LaChance can be reached at 220-6995, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_LaChance.