Panik Steady Amid Flash and Sizzle
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- He’s been on the grandest stage, been blinded by flashbulbs, stood in the bright lights of the World Series and made a game-saving play, but Joe Panik is still just that kid from Yonkers, who looks like he should still be playing pepper with himself against the back wall of the local supermarket.
“I’m not the flashiest of people,” Panik says. “I don’t listen to that stuff. I’ve always believed in myself. A lot of people have believed in me. Nothing’s changed. I’m a solid ballplayer. That’s what I am. I do things to help the team win. I’m a two-hitter. I get on base for the guys behind me. I play solid defense. That’s what I do. I’m not out there trying to wow somebody.”
Like the San Francisco Giants, Panik was born in New York. Unlike the Giants, he won a World Series in his first year in San Francsico, and, not only that, he was a key component of the 2014 Giants roster, hitting .305 during 73 regular season games, driving in 18 runs, slugging 10 doubles and one home run, but it wasn’t his bat that played the biggest; it was his glove.
Panik hit just .222 in the World Series, but a diving stop and backhanded glove flip to shortstop Brandon Crawford in Game Seven of the Fall Classic – a flip that started a pivotal double play was the gem of Panik’s Fall Classic performance, as it erased leadoff man Lorenzo Cain -- the potential go-ahead run after a two-run second-inning rally – and cleanup hitter Eric Hosmer.
Manager Bruce Bochy challenged the safe call at first, and, 2 minutes and 57 seconds later, the call was reversed. The Kansas City Royals got just two more hits the rest of the game – largely thanks to super reliever Madison Bumgarner.
Panik has rapidly become quite an underground success in San Francisco, and the fans have let him know it.
“The fans in San Francisco are fantastic, and being a New Yorker, and coming to San Francisco, the people on the street – they love the Giants,” says Panik. “You can’t go anywhere without people recognizing you, and it’s great, because they’re so passionate. Coming from the East Coast, where I grew up, nobody really realized it, because there was an East Coast bias, but seeing how great the fans are, it’s pretty impressive.”
When he goes back to his home state though – Panik was born in Yonkers, N.Y. – Panik has been able to be fairly anonymous, at least, he was until this past offseason.
“I would say the past year has been a lot different, but all for good reasons, after doing what we did in the postseason, last year,” Panik says. “It’s been great. I did a lot of things in the offseason with the Giants, St. John’s honored me, the hometown honored me, it was a great offseason, I’ll be honest with you.”
The highlight? Getting engaged to girlfriend Brittany Pinto on Dec. 17.
“It’s the day before her birthday, so that’s easy for me to remember,” Panik smiles. “I tricked her, so it wasn’t on her birthday; it was the day before, so she wasn’t expecting it.”
The location of the proposal? Pure storybook.
“I’m from New York, so we went to Central Park, and I told her, for her birthday, the day before, I would take her into the city, because it’s a lighter training day for me,” says Panik. “I told her we’d go to Manhattan, and I’d plan a day for her. The first place was Central Park, and that’s where I did it.”
The two will wed this offseason in northern New Jersey, but before then, diamonds of another kind are Panik’s preoccupation, as he enters spring training this year as the unquestioned starting second baseman.
“Preparation for me has always been the same; I’ve always prepared as hard as I could, I never take a day off, mentally I’m always into it, and coming into camp now, I kind of know my role on the team,” Panik says. “Spring training for me now is getting myself prepared for April 6 – putting together at-bats, trying to work on things, doing field work, working on things with the bat instead of just trying to impress people. They know what I can do over the course of the postseason and 100 days in the Majors. They know what I can do over an extended period of time, so now, it’s just a matter of getting yourself prepared and working on some things.”
Last season is just that – last season. Yes, it’s allowed Panik to be a bit more relaxed this spring, and it’s afforded him the luxury of going into camp as the starter, but there’s no ego to speak of for the 24-year old.
“I did what I did last year, and they know what I can do,” says Panik. “When I came up, I did what I had to do to help this team win. I’m not taking anything for granted. I’m one of 30 Major League second basemen. I’m not taking that for granted at all. You need to know your role, and take a hold of it.”
While he’s always expected himself to have a successful Major League career, and is grateful for the notoriety, he’d just as soon still be that anonymous kid from Yonkers.
“I’m not the flashiest of people,” Panik says. “I don’t listen to that stuff. I’ve always believed in myself. A lot of people have believed in me … I think I’m a very good ballplayer, but I’m not going to wow scouts in a day. You have to watch me to appreciate.”
After 100 days in the big leagues, the world outside of Yonkers is certainly taking notice.
“I hope they know what I’m all about,” says Panik. “They’ve seen me go through some times, so I hope they know what I’m about.”
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