Derek Parola would be the first to admit it: He was a little tag-along when he was a kid.
He followed his Dad, Todd, everywhere, especially around the Mundelein baseball field.
Todd Parola became the head baseball coach at Mundelein 20 years ago, two years before Derek was even born. Hanging out at the field, in the dugout or at the batting cages down the right field line was a major part of Derek's childhood.
"When I was 5 years old, I'd be out on the field with my little glove taking grounders and my dad would hit it as hard to me as the high school kids," Derek Parola said. "Some of the best moments of my life came at the field, following my Dad around."
As it turns out, Derek Parola followed in his dad's exact footsteps, all the way through high school.
In the 1980s, Todd Parola was a standout golfer, basketball player and baseball player at Grayslake High School.
Derek Parola played the same sports at Mundelein, a rare three-sport athlete in this era of specialization. As a senior this season, he was named all-conference in all three sports, which gives him just the right credentials to be the Daily Herald's 2014 Lake County male athlete of the year.
"It was a bittersweet feeling to see (Derek's career at Mundelein) come to an end," Todd Parola said just days after he and Derek, Mundelein's shortstop, watched the Mustangs' record-setting, 36-win baseball season come to a heartbreaking end in the Rockford supersectional on Monday. "But it was fun though, too. I got to coach him in two sports and watch him be a part of some pretty special moments and some pretty special accomplishments."
Todd Parola is also the head golf coach at Mundelein. He coached Derek up on the varsity for three years. All three years, Derek earned all-conference honors.
Derek and his dad led Mundelein to two straight North Suburban Conference golf championships, in 2011 and 2012. Prior to that, the Mustangs hadn't won a conference championship in golf in 50 years.
This fall, Derek Parola also won an individual regional title, only the second golfer at Mundelein to do so.
"With Lake Forest in our conference, we weren't expected to ever win the championship in golf and to win it two years was really cool," Derek Parola said. "That's one of my favorite memories."
Parola's favorite memory from the basketball season is a no-brainer.
In a conference game against rival Libertyville, Parola went crazy from 3-point range, hitting 12-of-22 shots from beyond the arc. He finished with 38 points.
"I also got 1 layup," Parola laughed. "It was just one of those games where everything went in."
His 12 3-pointers are not only a Mundelein record, they rank tied for third in the IHSA state record books for most 3-pointers in a single game.
Parola, who transformed himself from a seldom-used reserve as a junior to one of the top scorers in Lake County as a senior, averaged 20.2 points per game and finished with 127 3-pointers on the season, putting him at No. 11 on the IHSA list for most 3-pointers in a season.
"It's not easy to go from just being a guy who runs into the game, stands in the corner and knocks down a few 3s, to a guy who is counted on to score every night, even when teams are doing everything they can to stop you," Mundelein basketball coach Corey Knigge said of Parola. "What he (did) this year (was) remarkable."
By the end of the basketball season, Parola even had small-college basketball coaches courting him.
But baseball, dating way back to his early days of following his dad around the varsity field, is Parola's first love.
"I've always really liked whatever sport I was playing at the time," Parola said. "And I liked playing three sports through high school, even though it's such a big time commitment.
"But I think as it kind of came down to it and I was going through baseball this season, I realized that baseball really is my favorite. Ever since I was little, I've wanted to make my dad proud and be a really good baseball player and play in college like he did."
Parola is once again (kind of) following in his Dad's footsteps. He will be playing baseball at Illinois State next year. Todd Parola was also a Division I baseball player, but at Indiana.
"Near the end of the regular season, the Illinois State coach called my dad and said he wanted to come watch a game, so he came to our last regular season game," Derek Parola said. "He was out there at 8 a.m. for a 10 a.m. game and he videotaped me and watched me warm up.
"I was pretty nervous because I'm not the kind of player who will impress you right away. I'm not big and flashy. You kind of have to see me for a few games to see how I can get the job done. But the coach called the very next day and said I could be a Redbird if I wanted to. I guess he liked my upside."
Parola, a two-time all-North Suburban Conference selection is baseball, is a threat at the plate who is almost mistake-proof on the field. He started every game as a junior and didn't register a single error at shortstop. This season, he had only four errors at shortstop, but combined with second baseman Michael Metz for at least one to two double-plays in every game.
At the plate this season, Parola had a .340 batting average, a .460 on-base percentage and 2 home runs.
"Derek and Michael formed one of the best double-play combinations in the area, if not the state," Todd Parola said. "Derek had a really good season. He's been part of a lot of wins for us, 36 this year and 27 wins last year as a junior."
One of Derek Parola's favorite wins came at Stevenson this spring. It happened to be the 500th win of Todd Parola's coaching career.
Derek Parola was in on securing the final out.
"After that win, we just gave each other a big hug, which is something my dad doesn't really do very much at games," Derek Parola said. "That was pretty cool. We got to go out for steak that night, which is not very common in the Parola household. That was a fun night."
Derek Parola did get another big hug from his dad when he hit a triple to put away Mundelein's sectional championship win against Libertyville.
"I think my dad was more excited than I was after I hit that," Parola said. "I think he forgot where he was for a second and he just became my dad."
Derek Parola says that he wouldn't trade having his dad coach him for five varsity seasons, even though being a coach's kid isn't always easy.
"Some people say, ‘Oh, your dad is the coach, there's favoritism there,'" Derek Parola said. "And I say that it's the other way around. At least in this case, anyway. He was harder on me than anyone.
"But I definitely wouldn't trade it for anything. My dad is the best coach I've ever had, and not just because he's my dad but because of everything he does and everything I've learned from him.
"I'm going to miss having him there and seeing him at everything I do."
Then again, Parola won't be in everything anymore. Being scaled down to a one-sport athlete will be welcomed, but different.
"There were times, especially in the summer when I was going from baskeball camp in the morning to baseball in the afternoon to basketball games at night and then bringing in golf at the end of the summer when I questioned what I was doing," Parola said. "It got crazy. Sometimes I could barely lift myself out of bed because I was so sore and tired.
"But I always liked each sport. I never got sick of any of them. That was the good thing about it."
Parola also appreciates all of the friendships he made and the wide range of skills he developed as a three-sport athlete.
"One of the things the Illinois State coaches liked about Derek is that he is a three-sport athlete. They see an athlete who has a chance to be pretty good when he actually starts to concentrate on baseball," Todd Parola said. "The other thing I liked (about Derek playing three sports) is that he met so many people and made so many friends by playing three different sports.
"I think he would have missed out on some of the friendships had he not stuck with all three sports."
Neither of the Parolas would have wanted to miss out on the extra father-son time either.