By: Wendy Clarke
Dunedin, Fla.-As the son of a former MLB umpire turned high school teacher, Toronto Blue Jays prospect Connor Panas is a real student of the game.
Known for his strong work ethic and diversity as a player, the Etobicoke native says having a father who worked in the big leagues helped him learn the game and play it the right way.
Selected in the ninth round of the 2015 amateur draft, Panas was best friends with the son of former Blue Jays catcher Darrin Fletcher as a kid, giving him the kind of pro ball access most children could only dream of.
“Growing up in High Park Little League Baseball, we would get to go in the clubhouse all the time, or on the field and watch him hit,” said Panas, after his warm-up at the Bobby Mattick Training Center on Monday morning.
“As a kid, I didn’t really understand what that meant compared to now.”
His father, Richard Panas, had the unique opportunity to begin umpiring for the Blue Jays and the Expos in 1979 when professional umpires were on strike. They both describe working in professional ball as some of the greatest moments of their lives.
As far as the 23-year-old’s chances of making it into the big leagues goes, Richard certainly believes his son will get there.
“He’s somewhere in A ball now, but it’s not that far away,” said Richard, last Thursday from his Toronto high school.
“Brett Laurie did it. Joey Votto did it. Not too many people heard about Joey Votto until he made it to Cincinnati,” said Richard. “It was kind of quiet. I knew him. It took him a while, I don’t know, three or four years in the minors.
“I think Conor’s hoping to get there quicker … I think he’s got as good a chance as anybody.”
An outfielder, designated hitter and first-baseman, Conor hit a .270 AVG with five combined home runs in his first year in the minors while playing with the Vancouver Canadians and Gulf Coast League Blue Jays.
Having already earned his teaching degree in physical education with a 3.80 GPA., Conor says he might begin substitute teaching in the off-season, but his hopes are high to fulfill his goal of playing in the big leagues.
“Obviously the dream is to make it and have a lengthy career,” he said. “Who knows, maybe getting into coaching which I have such a big passion for. I wouldn’t mind doing it for the rest of my life.”