Despite playing nearly 3,000 miles away from home, San Francisco Giants second baseman Joe Panik has never lost touch with his roots.
The former St. John’s baseball star has achieved great success in only two plus MLB seasons, winning a World Series in 2014 and being named an All-Star reserve in 2015. Even with all his accomplishments out west, Panik, 25, gets the most joy out of coming home to play in front of his family, friends and former teammates in Queens.A half decade after his departure from St. John’s those connections still hold firm to this day.
“I keep in contact with [Ed] Blankmeyer, the head coach, Mike Hampton, the hitting coach, and a lot of guys that I played with,” Panik said in an interview with The Torch in April. “A lot of guys from my graduating class and years around me that I played with, we had a pretty tight relationship and a special bond.”
Panik, a native of Hopewell Junction, NY, spent three years at St. John’s under the tutelage of Blankmeyer and Hampton. During his junior season in 2011, he earned numerous All-American honors, was a finalist for the Brooks Wallace Award (given to the nation’s top shortstop), and was named First Team All-Big East.
After leading the Johnnies to the 2011 NCAA Tournament, Panik was selected 29th overall in the 2011 MLB Draft by San Francisco. After being drafted, the second baseman spent nearly four years in San Francisco’s minor league system. His travels continued as he progressed through the minors, playing in Salem, OR , San Jose, CA, Richmond, VA and finally, Fresno, CA before his call up to the big leagues in 2014.
The experience he received playing high school baseball in upstate New York and at the NCAA’s Division I level helped prepare Panik for his three plus year grind through the development leagues.
“It [St. John’s baseball program] helped me turn into a man and be mentally tough”, Panik said, “Playing baseball in the northeast, you kind of get overlooked and people doubt you. I kind of learned at St. John’s to use that as fire and fuel to play hungry and play with some passion.”
“So, that’s probably the biggest thing that I learned from them. Because when you’re in the minor leagues there’s a lot of talented kids, so you kind of have to have that mental edge and a little fire and competitive nature. If you talk to any of the St. John’s boys, being competitive and that competitive nature and that fire, that’s something that all of those guys have.”
As one of the few St. John’s products currently playing the MLB, Panik holds a significant voice for present-day Johnnies and those that are just beginning their professional careers.
Thomas Hackimer (Minnesota Twins), Ty Blankmeyer (Cincinnati Reds), Joey Graziano (Tampa Bay Rays) and Joe Napolitano (New York Mets) all signed minor league contracts this summer, while Matt Carasiti began his big league career in mid-August with the Colorado Rockies.
Panik had no shortage of advice for these aspiring former Red Storm.
“It doesn’t matter where you get drafted, what round, just keep working and put in the work every day,” Panik said. “There’s so much up and down, teams and organizations want to see guys that can handle failure and bounce back and put in the work to get better.”
Following his own words of wisdom, Panik’s career has reached levels that are dreamlike even by his standards.
“These past couple years to be a World Series champion and then to be an All-Star last year; it’s surreal when I think about how quickly everything has taken off. Honestly it just keeps me hungry and keeps the drive in me to keep getting better and better.”
Even though his Giants dropped two of three in that April series against the Mets, the team may have history on its side. San Francisco has won three World Series in the past six years, with each of them coming in an even year.
That keeps the hopes alive for another possible postseason run in 2016. And with the Mets still in the playoff hunt, Panik’s forecast of the two teams back in April could hold true in October.
“Hopefully this can be an NLDS or NLCS,” he said. “You just look at the two teams and what they’ve got, and it seems like we’ll be battling it out.”