Panas selected by Jays in ninth round
By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
Two weeks before the draft, Connor Panas was taking in a game at Rogers Centre – the Toronto Blue Jays hosting the Chicago White Sox – between practices at Demske Sports Complex with his Canisius College squad before the Golden Griffins headed to the regional round on the road to Omaha.
The 22-year-old had been to plenty of games before, growing up just down the road in Etobicoke, Ont., and this one was no different. After he and Griffs teammate Brett Siddall shared a post-game visit with Blue Jays radio broadcasters Joe Siddall – Brett’s father – and Jerry Howarth – Panas’ high school basketball coach at Etobicoke Collegiate – it wasn’t long before they were on their way.
Two Springfield Mo. Regional games and 15 days later, Panas had a new perspective on the team he’s been a fan of his entire life, and an entirely new goal with the organization in mind. After being selected by his hometown team in the ninth round of the draft, the lefty-hitting utility player set his sights on getting back to Rogers Centre, and not in the stands.
“I’ve grown up watching the Blue Jays and idolizing all the players who have gone through that organization, and now that I’m a part of that organization it’s just so surreal,” Panas said. “I’m very excited. This is an amazing opportunity; I just can’t wait to get started.”
Panas was at home with his family and friends when the pick was made on Tuesday, expecting that he might be selected on the second day of the draft and making plans to share the celebration with them. The 6-foot, 214-pound hitter even managed to hide his excitement after learning when he would be taken, and captured the moment on his phone.
“I had an idea I was going Day 2, just because of what [my agent] Mike Bonanno said to me, so I actually did have a little draft party,” Panas said. “I had a bunch of friends and family going, and I didn’t know what team [would select me] because I had about 20 to 23 teams talk to me over the year and a lot of them were really interested.
“I thought at first it was going to be the Yankees. The Blue Jays were up there. Then around the eighth round Mike called me and said, ‘You’re going to want to film the Blue Jays pick in the ninth,’ so it was pretty cool. I didn’t tell anyone at my little draft party, so I was the only one who knew … It’s cool watching all the videos because I had so many friends there and they filmed.”
While the process of sitting back and waiting to hear his name called was a little bit nerve-wracking for Panas, there was nothing better than when it finally happened.
“During the draft it’s such a bad idea watching it because a name goes, a name goes, and you’re sitting there and you’re anxious and you never know,” he said. “It was a bit stressful but I’m glad I got the call … I tried to keep my mind off it [between picks] but it was a very long day. In the end it was worth it – it was probably the best day of my life.”
Among his supporters Panas said there were a lot of great reactions to the pick, but his grandmother June Burke probably took the cake.
“I had about 10 of my best friends over who I’ve known since middle school, so they were pretty pumped,” he said. “Seeing one of their best friends play at the highest level, going especially to their hometown team.
“My dad [Rich] kept it quiet but I know inside he was very proud of me with how hard we worked over the years, going for extra hitting and stuff. I just want to thank him for how much he’s helped me to get to where I am today. And probably my grandma – right away she jumped up and gave me a hug and was happy. All around it was a room full of excitement.”
The draft followed a senior year for Panas in which he hit .372/.472/.632 with 11 home runs, 17 doubles, seven triples, 19 stolen bases, 67 runs scored and 68 runs driven in over 64 games. In his best season at Canisius and the end of a college era, the squad also won their second Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship in three years. Panas was named MVP of the final.
“Looking at me as a high school player to me now, it’s developed me mentally and physically to prepare for the next level, pro ball, which I’ve reached,” Panas said. “It’s been very beneficial, I met some amazing teammates – Brett Siddall (Windsor, Ont.), Devon Stewart (Maple Ridge, BC), Mike Krische (Langley, BC), Anthony Massicci (Ithaca, NY) – who became my roommates and they’re lifelong friends that I’ll always treasure.
“It was a great experience and now I have an opportunity for even more, so I’m excited.”
This year’s selection process set unprecedented standards for Canisius. Just two picks after Panas was chosen, the Cleveland Indians took senior right-hander Stewart. On Wednesday in the 13th round, the Oakland Athletics picked junior outfielder Siddall.
“Actually we were all celebrating and someone said, ‘Wow Devon too,’ so it was amazing,” Panas said. “Just one pick we were separated by. It’s great. Right after all of us were done celebrating I called him and we talked for 20 minutes about just how happy we were and we congratulated each other, so it was pretty cool …
“I’m pumped [for Siddall], we all went really early too. I actually called him [Wednesday] too and talked for 20 minutes about how excited he is. It’s a great feeling knowing two of my roommates that I’ve spent the past four years with are going to the highest level of baseball.”
Panas was also exceptionally excited for another Blue Jays pick in particular, the organization’s 22nd-round selection in Nick Sinay out of the University of Buffalo. The junior outfielder led his team with a .326 average and a .470 on-base percentage this year while setting a new single-season record with 39 stolen bases in 51 games, also making a new mark with 72 career swiped bags. Both players were signed by Jamie Lehman.
“Nick Sinay who plays for UB got drafted by the Blue Jays too and I’m so pumped about that,” Panas said. “He and I know each other and we’re probably going to be patrolling the outfield at the Vancouver Canadians together. We’ll probably be roommates so I’m just really excited about that because I know him and I’ll have someone I know for the early part of the journey, so that’s pretty cool.”
Hoping to make it to the Northwest League this season to suit up for the short-season Canadians in his home and native land, Panas is looking forward to reuniting with one of his not-so-long-lost roommates on the west coast.
“It’s actually sort of funny because Krische and I would always joke and he would say, ‘What if you get drafted to the Blue Jays – you could live with me,’” Panas said. “He’s from Vancouver, so that actually might happen.
“So instead of college ending and you’re all depressed because you spent four years together and now you’re only going to see each other when we get our ring next year or I’m sure all of us are going to plan a little going away vacation together, but now I might see him more than I expected.”
Panas is proud to both play for his hometown organization and to represent Canada as one of the few players selected from north of the border in the draft.
One of 30 Canadians chosen, he was also one of 10 chosen in the first 10 rounds – matching an all-time high for the country set in 2007.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “It just shows how baseball in Canada has increased and how good the talent is here. I’m excited for baseball in Canada in total.”