Joe Panik played in the first game at Citi Field, a preseason exhibition between St. John’s and Georgetown on March 29, 2009.
The St. John’s product has played there intermittently since, having spent parts of the last six seasons with the Giants. Now he’ll have a chance to play second base for the Mets as they look to replace injured Robinson Cano for the foreseeable future.
Panik, signed after he was designated for assignment Tuesday, wears No. 2. The 28-year-old was in Friday night’s lineup, batting eighth and contributing a key single in a four-run ninth inning as the Mets earned a stunning 7-6 win over the Nationals.
“For me to come to a club that’s hot right now in a playoff push, it’s very exciting,” said Panik, who had a slash line of just .235/.310/.317 in 344 at-bats with the Giants this season but called this a “fresh start.”
Although Panik’s stats have never been flashy — he entered Friday as a career .271/.334/.383 hitter — he comes to the Mets with a decorated resume. He had three extra-base hits and three RBIs in the Giants’ 2014 World Series win over the Royals and followed by earning an All-Star nod in 2015 and a Gold Glove in 2016. Because Panik cleared waivers, the Mets will pay him $150,000, a prorated portion of the MLB minimum salary.
“He’s a championship player and he has been in big games and big environments, and we don’t think this stage or any stage will be too big for him,” general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said. “We hope he can bring that daily approach.”
Panik’s fit with the Mets became apparent shortly after Cano tore his hamstring Aug. 4. The 36-year-old slowly had begun to turn around his season, but Cano said Friday — in his first appearance since the diagnosis — that there’s no timetable for his return. He started treatment two days ago and is hopeful, but he said he will heed the advice of the training staff.
“It’s hard right now because I want to be out there playing and keep helping this team win games, but I’m always positive,” Cano said. “I’m going to do everything that’s in my hands to get ready and get back out there this year.”
Addressing the New York media minutes after donning Mets colors for the first time, Panik said he’s excited for the opportunity.
“Unfortunately, Robinson went down,” Panik said. “Honestly, you never want to see another ballplayer go down, but [Van Wagenen] kind of told me about the opportunity here and honestly, he didn’t have to sell me. Seeing this team from afar, hitting against this pitching staff, playing against this team, this is a place I definitely wanted to be.”
Manager Mickey Callaway beamed as he discussed the additions of Panik and righthanded reliever Brad Brach, who was signed during Thursday’s day off. Both players, he said, come having experienced success in the majors.
“So for what happened with Cano, and to have Panik available, that’s unbelievable,” Callaway said. “We kind of lucked out on that one.”
With the Mets climbing higher in the National League pecking order, adding reinforcements after the July 31 trade deadline could prove a difference-maker.
Callaway said Panik won’t necessarily man second base every night. Jeff McNeil could see time there, Callaway said, and Luis Guillorme remains on the roster after the Mets chose to designate Adeiny Hechavarria for assignment. Hechavarria was scheduled to receive a $1-million bonus Saturday for spending 100 days on the MLB roster.
Regardless, Panik is happy to be close to home. He was born in Yonkers but grew up in Hopewell Junction in upstate Dutchess County.
“Man, I was ecstatic because you never know what’s going to happen in these types of situations,” he said. “It couldn’t work out any better for myself, personally. I know a lot of family, a lot of friends in the area.”
The Mets’ St. John’s alumni group:
Larry Bearnarth, RHP 1963-66
Ted Schreiber, INF 1963
Frank Viola, LHP 1989-91
John Franco, LHP 1990-2004
Terry Bross, RHP 1991
C.J. Nitkowski LHP 2001
Joe Panik, 2B 2019