Joe Firneno has been playing sixteen-inch softball for more than fifty-five years (and he just recently turned sixty-five). Some players say he still plays with the enthusiasm and passion of a twenty-five year old. Joe began playing softball in the alleys and streets around 80th and Peoria on the South Side of Chicago. In 1964, he started playing with the Rebels, older guys from the neighborhood who recognized his talent. He helped them win leagues titles in 1964 and 1965. In 1966, he played with IRA and helped them win the Ridge Park championship.
Joe’s playing days were interrupted when he served in the Marine Corps for several years, Besides the usual “grunt” duties associated with the Marine Corps in Vietnam, Joe played on their twelve-inch softball travelling team, a team made up of talented athletes. When he returned to civilian life, he played for the Marauders in Bridgeview’s Major League against some of the top teams in softball. In 1975, they took second at Kelly Park. They followed with a third place finish in 1976 and won the title in 1977.
He subsequently played with the Frogs at numerous parks on Chicago’s South Side. They won the league championship at Cornell Park four years out of five from 1975 to 1979, the Donovan Park title in 1976, the Gage Park Tournament in 1974, 1975, and 1976, the Davis Square championship from 1974 to 1978, the McKinley Park Tournament championship in 1975 and 1977, and were Strohacker Park champions in 1995.
He also played in the 14th Ward Alderman Burke Tournaments for several years. His team beat the Banjo Bruins and then lost to the Bobcats in 1977. He played for the Saxon Lodge in 1979 when they finished fifth at the ASA Nationals in Harvey. Joe was selected as a 2nd Tem All American that year. He also played with them in 1983 when they won the Illinois state title. He then played with the J’s in the USSSA Nationals in Joliet and was again selected as a 2nd Team All American.
In 1985, he played with the Stompers at the USSSA Nationals. They beat the Whips twice to win the title, and Joe was selected as a 1st Team All American and was named tournament MVP. Joe then played with the Normandy Crush and People’s Choice. They dominated in leagues and tournaments all over the South Side of Chicago. They also played in Mt. Prospect, Arlington Heights, Bensenville, Itasca, Roselle, Schaumburg, and Wood Dale where they won numerous championships.
In his later years, Joe played with Out of Touch in the 39-and-Over League in LaGrange. There they lost only two games in three years. He then joined Doctors in the 50-and-Over Leagues at LaGrange and Cicero. He helped them dominate those leagues for several years. He then played with Takers at Clyde Park where they won championships in 2012 and 2013. When Takers folded, Joe reunited with Mickey Ballestri and Crush. They won the league title in 2014. He also played on Monday and Wednesday nights with the Rebels and in Sunday doubleheaders in Orland Hills where he joined Hall of Famers Jack Kelly and Mike Clifford.
Throughout his career, Joe was well know for delivering the clutch hit, great catch, or accurate throw to help and inspire his teammates.