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Trip home to NY helps clear Panik's head

Giants second baseman revitalized after reuniting with familiar faces

Trip home to NY helps clear Panik's head play video for Trip home to NY helps clear Panik's head

SAN FRANCISCO -- The first six weeks of Joe Panik's Major League career didn't go as dreamt.

On-field success was hard to come by: The second baseman made three errors in his first week in late June, and by August his batting average was hovering just above the Mendoza Line at .203. Major League pitchers were mostly foreign to him, and playing in front of 40,000 people on a nightly basis at AT&T Park was daunting.

Off-field comfort proved more elusive.

Away from the Triple-A Fresno teammates he'd grown close with while scaling the Giants' Minor League rankings, Panik felt isolated and out of place in San Francisco. The hotel the 23-year-old was staying in didn't feel like home, and his family and friends were three time zones and 3,000 miles away back in Yonkers, N.Y.

"Let's say you have a bad game and want to talk to your girlfriend, or your dad, someone you've always talked to after games," Panik explained. "It's 1:30, 2 a.m. back home, so they're sleeping. It's hard to communicate, especially when you're used to certain things like seeing them a lot. You don't have that sense of comfort because you're alone out here."

The finale of the Giants' four-game set in New York against the Mets two weeks ago showed to Panik that he belonged. After being reunited with old faces in familiar places, he went 3-for-4 with a double. Not since the 2000 Subway Series has a trip to Queens felt so fulfilling for someone who grew up a Yankees fan.

"It brought a little extra out in me. Something clicked, and that was something I'd lacked for a month or so," Panik said. "There wasn't one exact moment. I just had a good game that last one against the Mets and I've kept building the momentum.

"Going back home really got the ball rolling."

He's been driving it all over the field since.

Beginning with the finale against the Mets, Panik has hit .419 (18-for-43) in his last 12 games, which has skyrocketed his season average from .203 to .282. The early fielding struggles are a thing of the past, too -- he hasn't committed an error since his first week.

"I've hit my stride here," said Panik, whose only setback in the last two weeks was a dislocated left pinkie that's not believed to be serious on Sunday. "I'm comfortable with where I'm at."

Where he's at -- second base -- has been a troublesome position throughout the season for the Giants. Brandon Hicks couldn't hit. Marco Scutaro can't stay healthy. Dan Uggla … happened. Finally, it appears the Giants -- who have lacked bottom-of-the-order production for months -- have found a reliable option to spark the bottom of the lineup while playing solid defense at second.

After hitting .257 at Double-A Richmond last season, it was fair to wonder if the Giants' 2011 first-round pick had stalled in his progression. Thanks to a .321 average at Triple-A Fresno this season and Hicks' struggles, Panik got his first Major League callup. Now, he's making a strong case to be the Giants' second baseman of the future and orange "PANIK ATTACK" signs can be found inside AT&T Park.

"Panik is showing that he belongs up here," manager Bruce Bochy said after Panik's multi-hit performance last Saturday. "He has a knack of slowing down the game. That goes with confidence, but this kid has the ability to get the good part of the bat on the ball.

"He's earned going out there every day."

That comes as no surprise to Ed Blankmeyer, who was Panik's collegiate head coach at St. John's and has fresh memories of Panik dominating pitchers Jed Bradley and Danny Hultzen, fellow first round picks in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.

"Joe was never one of these flashy guys," Blankmeyer said. "He doesn't run tremendously fast, he doesn't have big-time power; grade out his skills and he'd be very mediocre. What he does, is he performs.

"The guys with the sexy tools get more of an opportunity than the marginal tools guys, but this kid has proved himself to be an excellent player at every level. Right now, I think he's proving himself to be a pretty darn fine guy in the big leagues."

To Blankmeyer, Panik's best attribute has always been his even-keel approach, to life, not just baseball.

"If you can just maintain a steadiness about yourself, you'll come out of your highs and lows a lot quicker," Blankmeyer said. "I wish I could bottle his."

Having Fresno friends Adam Duvall and Andrew Susac to hang out with off the field helped Panik regain that stability. Instead of spending his down time in an empty hotel room, Panik can invite Duval and Susac over to his apartment. Instead of Panik bringing Jeremy Affeldt water during workouts, Affeldt now makes Susac keep Panik hydrated.

"It's funny, because [Duvall and Susac] are older than me," Panik quipped. "It's been good to share some moments with them. It's given me a sense of comfort just being around them."

Despite the initial struggles, Susac always felt it'd only be a matter of time before Panik found his footing in San Francisco.

"I knew he was going to do it," said Susac, who roomed with Panik in the Minors for the last two years. "He's very consistent; it just takes him a little while. He'll start a little slow, make plays under the radar, and then all of a sudden this Panik guy is on fire."

All he needed was a trip home.

Ryan Hood is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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