KANSAS CITY – Kids dream about these moments in their backyards and on the ballfields all the time. So few ever get to see them played out. But the Panik brothers are getting the chance this week.
Joe Panik is the starting second baseman for the San Francisco Giants, playing in his first World Series a scant four months after getting called up for good from Triple-A. His older brother and former high school teammate, Paul Panik, is an assistant baseball coach at Canisius College and will be heading to San Francisco for Games 3-5 this weekend against the Kansas City Royals.
“It’s really been unbelievable,” Paul Panik said this week by phone from Buffalo. “The mode is continue to support Joe. We were there from the beginning with him and he’s put in all the work. I don’t play a coaching role in his career. He’s way above my level, even though I know what he does well or wrong at times, but I’m in a support role.”
Joe Panik belted a two-run homer in the Giants’ Game Five clincher over St. Louis in the National League Championship Series. He went 1 for 5 with an RBI triple in Game One of the World Series here as the Giants cruised to a 7-1 victory Tuesday night in Kauffman Stadium. Panik was again batting second and playing second in Game Two on Wednesday. He went 1 for 4 in San Francisco’s 7-2 loss.
Strangely enough, this is the second straight year a Big 4 assistant coach has had a sibling in the World Series. University at Buffalo softball aide Lacey Middlebrooks watched her brother, Will, play third base for the Boston Red Sox last year against St. Louis.
The Paniks are from Hopewell Junction, about 50 miles from Yankee Stadium, and played at John Jay High School in Dutchess County near Poughkeepsie. Joe Panik first made the John Jay varsity as an eighth grader, so young that an upperclassman was dispatched to the middle school to pick him up for practice.
The Paniks have gotten a good deal of press in the New York media the last few days. Joe Panik was a star at St. John’s University and was the Giants’ No. 1 draft pick in 2011. Joe and Paul even famously belted back-to-back home runs during a high school game for John Jay against archrival R.C. Ketcham High.
“I was a freshman and he was a junior,” Joe Panik recalled here this week. “That Ketcham team was our rival and ended up winning the state title. It was special.”
“He did his job and it was my turn to do my job,” Paul Panik said. “I know he wasn’t trying to hit a grand slam and I wasn’t trying to hit a home run right after him. Just went that way.”
Panik, 23, began the season with Triple-A Fresno, batting .321 with five homers and 45 RBIs in 74 games. The Giants were dealing with Marco Scutaro’s back injury and flirted with veteran Dan Uggla for a few days.
Panik got a one-day, one at-bat call-up on May 22 in Colorado before finally getting the job turned over to him on June 22. His family was with him in Arizona as he went 2 for 4 and doubled home the final run of a three-run ninth that produced a 4-1 Giants win.
“It was surreal to see,” Paul Panik said. “You remember playing with him in the backyard or the park and now you’re there in the first row behind the dugout watching him play in the big leagues. We took a red-eye home that night to the East Coast and we’re sitting in the airport watching the highlights on ESPN. That’s the moment you said to yourself, ‘Wow. He made it.’
Panik hit .215 in his first 70 at-bats for the Giants and things really took off when he batted .379 in August and .301 in September. He ended the season at .305 with one home run and 18 RBIs, and manager Bruce Bochy said last week during the NLCS that Panik had been “a savior” during the Giants’ late-season push.
“This is a surreal moment if you take a step back and think about it,” Joe Panik said. “You still have another week of the season to go but it’s a dream come true given where I started the year and how it’s gone.”
Joe Panik said his brother, a former catcher at Canisius from 2007-10 who returned to coach at his alma mater this year, has always been a major influence on his career.
“I’ve talked to him a lot and he’s given me a lot of encouragement and advice,” Joe Panik said. “He’s got such a baseball mind, it’s what he’s meant to do. He’s great at teaching ever since we were younger. He’d always pick up on things with my swing. He just knew the game so well.
“I tell my guys at Canisius that sometimes it takes a couple months for our freshmen to get it,” Paul Panik said. “Some click right away, some it takes time and some guys never get it. They’re gone at the end of the year. That can happen in the big leagues too. It took Joe a couple weeks to figure things out. Once he settled down, he got into a routine, got used to the level and it’s been great to see.”