How much do the Giants love and appreciate Joe Panik? Team CEO Larry Baer traveled with the team’s newest World Series trophy to Madison Square Garden for an on-court celebration of the St. John’s alum’s accomplishments — many of which were packed into the months of August, September and October. I don’t know if that necessarily means he’s untouchable in trade talks, but let’s just say I’d be shocked if they let him go at any point before the 2010s are over.
Sure, Baer was bringing the trophy across the country** anyway, as the Giants have done each time they’ve won a championship, but Baer was clearly impressed by the mark that Panik made on his school. While Panik was doing an interview, Baer told me about how emotional St. John’s baseball coach Ed Blankmeyer (pictured below between Baer and Panik) looked. Panik noticed, too.
“When I saw him on the court and saw the look on his face, I could tell how proud he was. When I was at St. John’s, that’s where I kind of grew from a high school kid into a professional ballplayer,” said the second baseman who hit .305 in his first big league season.
“I have so much to be thankful for and I can’t thank him enough. Just seeing him the way he was today, we have a special bond. It’s great to see.”
It appeared that more fans attended this colorful matchup between the Red Storm and the Golden Eagles of Marquette to see Panik than the game itself. A kid screamed his name while he was holding the trophy, waiting to head out to midcourt. Panik turned around and waved, and the kid did a fist pump and bounced around in his seat with an enormous grin.
“It’s special because growing up as a New York kid, I always came to Madison Square Garden to watch basketball games, hockey games, St. John’s games. I had a lot of special moments at St. John’s, so coming back here after the year that I had and the year that the Giants, that we had as a team, it’s something special, because in life you don’t get too many of these moments. So when you do get them, you’ve got to be very humbled by it and thankful for it, which I am,” said Panik, who went from a first round pick some analysts questioned to the clear starter at second base for the defending champs.
So while he isn’t jaded by all this recognition, he’s ready to use last year as a starting point for what could be a long career.
“During the parade I kind of took it all in. Once I got back here, it’s back to work. I’m looking forward to next year right now. I’m just excited and ready to go.”
He mentioned how he’d prefer to look forward rather than dwell on past achievements, which I’m sure Bruce Bochy, Brian Sabean and the rest appreciate. But I had to ask about a certain double play that would probably go down as the franchise’s best defensive play in a World Series … if not for a certain catch by Willie Mays.
“Yeah, when I watch, I’m like … that’s something I’ve never done before,” Panik said. “I probably won’t do it many other times because I normally don’t go with the glove, but instinct just told me that. That’s the kind of ballplayer I am, just instinctual.”
And that’s why the Giants stuck with him instead of acquiring a veteran middle infielder at the deadline, which may signify the best non-move they made throughout that championship season.
** Virgin America was nice enough to invite me along for the trip and allow me to sit and chat with Baer for a while in first class. The trophy was sitting between us on the arm rest, which was kind of surreal. I’ll post that interview tomorrow, in which we discussed several offseason-related topics.