San Francisco Giants have five-tool person in Joe Panik
By Mark ONeill
In examining the inaugural season of second baseman Joe Panik, the San Francisco Giants find that they have on their team, a player set in the same mold as the undisputed leader on the Orange and Black: Buster Posey. In addition to being an integral component of the 2014 World Champion Giants, Joe Panik is a five-tool human being.
He brings to the clubhouse, credentials that allow him to fit in with his peers, not only in terms of athletic success, but in the way he conducts himself as a person. Joe possesses the qualities of modesty, diligence and integrity and these traits surfaced repeatedly in comments directed at him, recently, when his community turned out to pay tribute to one of its own.
On December 10th, 2014, the city of East Fishkill New York, home of John Jay High School, hosted a celebration for not only Joe and his family, but the entire community. Having watched Joe develop as a ball player over many different venues in their community, fans filled the gymnasium where Joe had attended high school, to listen to a half-dozen local dignitaries speak.
Sep 24, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants second baseman Joe Panik (12) after being forced out at second base during the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
In a day and age when heroes are thought of in terms of capes and special effects, Joe has one of the most potent powers of all: that of being able to inspire and motivate others.
Some super powers are more special than others.
He may not wear a cape but he’s the type of individual who can shift paradigms through his own indomitable actions.
One of Joe’s super-powers is that he single-handedly converted an entire region of New York Yankees and Mets fans to San Francisco Giants fans, merely by putting on a hat with the iconic SF on it. The moderator provided proof of this by handing out said hats to all of the visiting speakers, hollering out, “Tonight we are all San Francisco Giants fans,” while the crowd boisterously bellowed its approval.
Once the applause died down, he went on to talk about how the entire community where Joe grew up and played ball had converted over to being Giants fans, when Joe had been called up June 21st. This conversion was to grow to genuine fanaticism as the Giants advanced through the playoffs.
The resplendent comments themselves described a successful person of impeccable character, and his many accomplishments both on the field of play, and the way he conducts himself in every walk of life. His parents, Paul and Natalie, and his older brother Paul have all been a huge part of Joe’s life, as well as his fiancee, Brittany Pinto. When Joe finally made his way to the podium, after the warmups were over, he made sure to acknowledge this fact.
Included in the warmups was former coach and math teacher Robbie Seipp, who was one of Joe’s favorite instructors. “Lucky me,” he quipped. “I had Joe for three years. In a school of more than two thousand students, that’s pretty hard to do. I already knew what kind of kid he was because I had his brother Paul for two years.”
He went on, “Joe was respectful, diligent and modest; in three years of class, he never missed a single day. He paid attention, was always taking notes, and was mature beyond his years. The other kids in the class looked up to Joe and drew inspiration from him. He was a model student.”
Coach Seipp went on to relate an anecdote about attending a New York Mets game last July against the Giants, when Joe came out onto the playing field to take batting practice. While he was sitting there in the stands, Joe noticed him and came over.
Joe Panik hitting before Pablo Sandoval in San Jose on August 10, 2012. Photo by Denise Walos.
“This kid from East Fishkill who is a major league ballplayer, comes over to his old math teach and says hi. I said to him, ‘Congratulations on making it to the major leagues.’ He stood there talking to me, making me feel comfortable, while signing autographs for kids in the stands. He’s just as nice a kid as his brother Paul, while serving as an inspiration for others around him.”
Echoing those sentiments was Joe’s former varsity baseball coach for five years at John Jay High School, Tom O’Hare. Hold on a second. Five years? Coach O’Hare explained at one point how he had observed Joe playing while in junior high, and used the process of selective classification to allow Joe to play as a thirteen-year-old, after a careful examination of all the factors.
This included a conference in which Joe’s parents and brother Paul were brought into the process, to see whether or not they agreed with a 13-year-old, and a young one at that with his birthday October 30th, working alongside seniors in high school.
It takes a pretty accomplished 13-year-old to hold his own on a baseball diamond, alongside seniors in high school.
When Paul’s opinion was sought about whether Joe could handle the challenge, a succinct nod was all it took. Joe went on to set many career marks at the high school level, including amassing149 hits, 36 doubles 109 runs scored, and 100 RBIs.
After methodically listing several names of coaches who had worked with Joe as a youth, O’Hare emphasized he always felt lucky to have been able to coach a kid as willing to work as hard as Joe was. Not only does it raise the playing level of his teammates, it serves as an intimidating factor for opponents.
He then interjected some humor into the program by reminiscing about opposing coaches scratching their heads in wonder, after facing first Paul and now Joe-for five years. “Hasn’t this kid graduated yet?” they’d ask. Or on other occasions, when an opposing batter would launch a liner seemingly out-of-reach for Joe, one of the coaches standing there, would mutter, “Basehit up the middle…Good luck, Pal. You thought you had a hit but you didn’t.”
Oct 26, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants second baseman Joe Panik throws to first base against the Kansas City Royals in the first inning during game five of the 2014 World Series at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Turning back to the crowd, after the third-inning defensive play during Game Seven was shown on the big-screen behind him, he bellowed, “Are you surprised? [Raucous reaction] Absolutely not. He’s been doing it on the smaller stage all of his life. When he made that play in the World Series? Not surprised…”
Continuing on, “What was it like to coach Joe? Easy. He is a tremendous leader, he served as captain, a special kind of talent and drive…the way he carries himself…easy.” He spoke of how dominant Joe was on the field of play and how his diligence paid off. “Even when making an error, he was smooth in recovering from it,” he added.
Coach O’Hare paused. “You know? After 2008, no one has worn number thirteen. Nothing official was said or done at first, but coaches have all agreed that number thirteen will not be given out in Wappinger School District again.”
In summing up Joe, O’Hare reflected on a return visit from the major leaguer after he had been gone from the high school for so long, and they were sharing lunch in a restaurant. He asked the wrong question when he queried, “What makes you a great player?” Joe had no response, because he has a hard time putting himself out there as a great player. He does not have a shred of arrogance about him.
O’Hare tried again, “What’s it take it get to that level [MLB]?” And when Joe responded, Coach knew what would be included…working tirelessly at every level, putting forth your best effort, and preparing in all facets to be able to be your best. Glancing over at the grilled chicken on Joe’s plate, and his goblet of water, O’Hare couldn’t help but notice the burger in front of himself, along with the milk-shake. Giants fans do not have to look back very far, to be reminded of another Giants infielder who would have done well to emulate this kind of healthy eating style.
Not only does Joe Panik put his best effort forth, he has that rare quality of leaving his ego checked at the door. For him to be so gracious in his acknowledgement of all those dedicated coaches who helped him get to the top, is a commendable characteristic. To hear him make statements such as, “I want to savor this 2014 World Series victory. It’s hard and there’s no guarantee that I will ever be back,” allows fans to appreciate his maturity.
Finally Joe took the podium on Joe Panik Day, and he thanked all of the presenters who had been profusely thanking him, saying, “I wouldn’t be where I am without everybody. Thank you all for coming out tonight, especially during the Holiday Season. I am truly humbled by your presence.” Joe packed a lot into his minutes at the podium. I will include the highlights and they started with his family.
Aug 29, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants center fielder Angel Pagan (16) greets second baseman Joe Panik (12) at home plate after Giants catcher Buster Posey (not pictured) hit a two RBI triple in the fifth inning of their MLB baseball game with the Milwaukee Brewers at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports
“I wouldn’t be here without all of the support I have been given since I was ten years old and watching Jeter win all of those championships. To my dad who came home from work and went out back to practice, to my mom who would go out and shag flies for me, to my bother Paul. When I played those seasons on the West Coast, and the games wouldn’t even start until 10:30 on the East Coast, you all stayed up and supported me.
Countless hours through good times and bad, you would be there for me after a tough game.
Paul, you are the one who pushed me. I wanted to be as good as you. You were my inspiration. To you, Mom and Dad, you raised me to be a man, not just a ballplayer. To my high school coaches, you taught me how to respect the game and how to respect people. And finally, Brittany, you are my rock.
It’s been quite a year with me starting out hoping that things would go well at the Triple-A level. Then I got that June 21st call-up and my family came out to see me play. I want to thank all of my coaches for their instruction and for being there to help influence me.
I look around here tonight, and I see many of my high school teammates and I want to thank you. Remember your roots. Remember where you are from. I am truly blessed to have so many people be a part of my life.”
As though to bear testimony to what had been said all night, Joe wanted to put it all back on those who made him what he is today, but we’re not buying it. No, I like what Coach O’Hare said, when he turned to Joe and addressed him by saying, “It’s a source of pride, but it’s more than that. You deserve everything that’s coming your way, Joe, and everyone feels happiness for you.”