FLUSHING — It’s fitting that the newest member of the New York Mets actually played a game at Citi Field before the Mets themselves.
On March 29, 2009, the St. John’s University, Jamaica, baseball team took on Georgetown University in what was the first-ever game played at the Mets’ new home in Flushing.
Batting sixth and playing shortstop for the Red Storm that day was Yonkers, N.Y., native Joe Panik, who recorded two hits and two RBIs as the Johnnies fell to the Hoyas, 6-4.
Fast forward 10 years, and Panik is now on the Mets after spending parts of his first six professional seasons with the San Francisco Giants.
The 28-year-old Panik attended John Jay H.S., Hopewell Junction, N.Y., before heading to St. John’s. He played three seasons in Queens and consistently improved his offensive game. As a junior, he batted .398 with 19 doubles, 10 home runs and 57 RBIs.
For his efforts, Panik was named an All-American and was a finalist for the Brooks Wallace Award, given each year to the nation’s top collegiate shortstop. He also was selected First Team All-Big East and the Red Storm’s MVP.
In the first round of the 2011 MLB draft, the Giants chose Panik with the 29th overall selection. He shifted from shortstop to second base in the minor leagues and made his pro debut on June 21, 2014.
He batted .305 that year, and the Giants eventually won the World Series — not a bad way to start one’s professional baseball career! Panik was named an MLB All-Star in 2015 and won a Gold Glove Award in 2016.
He remained a regular as the Giants’ second baseman through 2017, but injuries caused him to miss time during the 2018 season. He struggled to regain his All-Star form to start the 2019 season, hitting just .235 through 103 games.
After the Giants traded with the Cincinnati Reds for All-Star second baseman Scooter Gennett, the team designated Panik for assignment in early August. As soon as that happened, rumors began to swirl that the Mets were interested in bringing him home to New York.
Just days earlier, Mets second baseman Robinson Canó landed on the injured list with a torn left hamstring. That’s a tough injury for anyone, let alone a 36-year-old aging player who’s looked every bit his age this season.
With Canó sidelined, the Mets rolled out a combination of Luis Guillorme and Adeiny Hechavarria at second base, and yet the potential that Panik supplies made him a target for the Amazins’.
Not too long ago, it seemed the Mets would simply go through the motions in the second half to close out another lost season. They were 11 games under .500 on July 12 and showing no signs they’d be able to overcome their woes — especially a hapless bullpen.
However, over the past few weeks, the Metsies have been the hottest team in the game and have brought exciting baseball back to Flushing. With that in mind, general manager Brodie Van Wagenen capitalized on a chance to improve his club by bringing in Panik.
Mets fans need to realize upfront that the Panik signing is nothing like the acquisition of Yoenis Céspedes in 2015. Céspedes was an unstoppable offensive force who led the Mets on a late-season surge that carried them all the way to the World Series.
The Panik move is instead a means to provide some much-needed infield depth and a left-handed presence at the bottom of the batting order. If he does his job right, he’ll be a good role player for this team down the stretch — not the type of guy who will carry the Mets on his back like Céspedes did.
A change of scenery — and a homecoming — may rejuvenate Panik over the last month and a half of the season. He’s found himself in a great situation on a team that’s clicking at just the right moment.
The hamstring issue will likely keep Canó out for a significant amount of time and so the position is Panik’s to lose.
As long as he plays relaxed and doesn’t “Panik,” he could be the underrated key piece the Mets need to keep the momentum going.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at email@example.com.