Joe Renteria learned about work-family balance growing up around baseball; now he applies it to his own Navy career

By SHANNON RYAN | Chicago Tribune | Published: July 1, 2019


CHICAGO (Tribune News Service) — Joe Renteria’s earliest memory places him in a California park as a young boy, learning how to swing a baseball bat from his dad, Rick, who often let his son hit a "home run.”

“That’s really one of the first things I remember,” Joe said. “It wasn’t till I was 10, 11, 12 that I realized I was in a unique situation. To me, baseball, that’s just my dad’s job.”

As Rick Renteria went from major-league player to minor-league coach and manager to major-league coach and manager — now in his third season in charge of the White Sox — family time often also meant baseball time.

When one’s career requires long road trips and seemingly endless days at the ballpark, family bonding must happen at the office.

“He always loved sports,” Rick said of Joe, now 40 and his oldest of four children. “I always thought, ‘He’s a pretty gifted little athlete.’ He could run. I just remember him enjoying being out there. He enjoyed being around the ballpark and around the guys."

Rick credits his wife, Ilene, for managing the children’s activities, helping shuttle them to their games and supporting Rick’s climb up the baseball ladder. He half-jokingly says the family “survived” the challenges of his career.

“That’s the most difficult part of any family nucleus: separation," he said. "It doesn’t come easy or without bumps and bruises along the way. Sometimes as a parent, you feel guilty not being around as much as you’d like. They all supported me these last 38, 39 years.”

Joe Renteria absorbed those lessons of balancing and blending family and work in his own career.

During a decade of life in the Navy, Joe has also been away from family for extended periods, often around the globe. Now a petty officer first class stationed at Naval Station Great Lakes, about 37 miles north of Chicago near Waukegan, Joe has more time to spend with his parents, wife and daughter.

“In our job it’s: ‘I might have to leave for six months. I need to hang out with my daughter today,' " Joe said. "My dad’s schedule was a little more predictable. I really appreciated that when he was home, he was home, and not only was he working hard at baseball, but I would be right there with him, watching him. That’s what taught me work ethic.

"Those are things I remember. I work on my craft even when I’m not on the clock. That’s how he was.”

Joe’s missions have taken him to the Horn of Africa and on a drug-enforcement task around Panama.

Rick, 57, said he doesn’t worry too much about Joe.

“Anybody involved in military life is active duty,” Rick said. “All of them can be put in harm’s way at some time. You pray for them. We’re thankful for all of them.”

Rick was the first person in his family born in the United States after his parents emigrated from Mexico. His son’s military service is a point of pride.

“You look at the spectrum of people who serve, they come from every background and beginning, citizen and non-citizen alike, historically speaking,” Rick said. “From Asian Americans to Mexican Americans to Puerto Ricans, many African Americans serve, any span of people who serve in the United States military come from every background. The demographics in our country are so diverse, it would be foolish to think only one segment.

"Are we proud? Absolutely. Was it anything that made a statement for us? Not necessarily. So many people came before us. My son is just one of many, of which we are very proud.”

Joe played baseball in high school and junior college. He wanted to join the military immediately out of high school, but his father encouraged him to give it time before enlisting, to mature first.

When Rick talks about Joe’s graduation at Naval Station Great Lakes in 2008, he brims with pride.

“I probably cried a little bit,” he said. “When they parade in this huge hangar ... you see the band and you see the pomp and circumstance and all the order for them finally completing their training, it’s pretty impressive.

“The order in everything that they do, the discipline that is exuded in the way they present to the family and military, if you don’t feel a sense of loyalty or allegiance or a sense of pride, something probably isn’t right. It’s pretty inspiring.”

Joe works in training and management of 24 Navy operational support centers in eight states that support 5,600 selective reservists and 385 active duty.

His military career has helped Rick put White Sox wins and losses in perspective.

“This is a sport. That’s life and death,” he said. “I don’t know that you can truly compare one to the other. There are disciplines you can learn from the military way. There’s concentration and focus and true commitment to your fellow soldier, your teammate so to speak. They rely on each other for safety. One wrong move can cost someone their life.

"In sports, one wrong move can cost someone an out, an inning, a game. But you’re still here. They’re not. It’s two different worlds.”

The Renterias’ worlds have been a little closer the last few years with Rick in Chicago and Joe at Great Lakes since 2016.

“I’m able to come by games,” Joe said. “We might go out to dinner, order a pizza, get a hot dog. It gives an opportunity for my daughter and my wife to see (my parents).

"When he was manager of the Cubs (in 2014), I was on deployment. I got news via email. It would have been nice to share that with family. Now I’m 30 miles north. It’s actually really nice.”

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