* INF Conor Panas (Etobicoke, Ont.) has earned Metro Atlantic Player of the Year honors. Now, as the former Toronto Met enters his senior season he hopes Mike McRae`(Niagara Falls, Ont.) and his Canisius Griffs can proceed all the way to Omaha and the College World Series. ....
By Alexis Brudnicki Connor Panas is looking to bring it home this year.
Personally, his junior season at Canisius College was stellar. The 21-year-old third baseman racked up an incredible number of accolades after hitting .362/.443/.574 with six home runs, three triples, 16 doubles, 26 walks to just 36 strikeouts, adding 38 runs and driving in 51 over 53 games last year.
“It was very honouring to receive all those awards,” Panas said. “All of them came after the season when I was in the Northwoods League [playing summer ball]. It was very humbling to hear those awards and get congratulated by my teammates and coaches. I guess hard work pays off, and it motivates you to keep on working harder. You don’t know what will happen in the future.”
Just the latest on his list of achievements, the Etobicoke native was named the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference pre-season Player of the Year, with a Golden Griffins squad that was named the team to beat for the conference title. In his final year, Panas is hoping to help make that a reality, and take the squad further than they’ve ever gone before.
“There are different kinds of leaders, and I feel like I lead on the field,” he said. “I feel like the guys would follow me in that way and be behind me as well. This year my goal is just to try and keep a positive attitude, motivate the guys, and to go and do something that we’ve never done before. Just like Stony Brook [University, unheralded 2012 College World Series finalists], we can shock the world.”
In his three years with the Griffs, Canisius has made it to the conference championship every year. In his freshman season, they lost a heartbreaker to close it out. As a sophomore, Panas and the team won their first MAAC title in program history and put up a fight against the top-seeded Tar Heels at the University of North Carolina. Last year, they took another incredibly tough loss right at the end.
“On the good side, it looks like a pattern,” Panas said. “So hopefully there’s a MAAC championship in our future. Obviously the past three years there have been a lot of emotions in that tournament – freshman year losing it, then following it up with winning, and then the next year sort of losing the same way. So it’s been a roller coaster; you have your highs and you have your lows.”
The 6-foot, 214-pound corner infielder has seen consistency within the squad fellow Canadian and head coach Mike McRae has fielded over the years, and is looking forward to seeing what they can do this season.
“Throughout the four years, our team has had great chemistry on and off the field,” Panas said. “We have our other things and we always support each other. Throughout the four years we’ve been consistent with that [and] I can see a lot of similarities in the teams we’ve had…
“I’m pretty confident in this squad. Obviously a big downfall was our starting catcher going down with an injury, but we all have confidence that the younger guys and the older guys are going to step up and fill that role. Our starting lineup, one through nine, we’ll give it our all. We always have great starting pitchers and relievers and they’ll get the job done.”
The Golden Griffins will also have the continued consistency they’ve seen from Panas, who is heading into this college season at his best.
“Baseball-wise, I’m a lot stronger,” he said. “That’s basically the physical aspect. Then mentally I feel like I’ve become a lot more confident and relaxed playing the game. I’m not so uptight. There’s a huge key for that as well, just being able to stay positive when things don’t go your way, because you always have a next game in baseball … the more positive you are, the better things will be in the future.
“I feel like being in my junior year after my freshman year and sophomore year, I had a lot more confidence at the plate and on the field and it showed. I felt so relaxed. It felt good to be up there and it felt like it came naturally.”
With all of his successes, it came as a surprise to many that Panas went undrafted in his junior year. While he certainly thought about it at the time – how could you not? – he feels as though he is better off now and is looking forward to what this year might bring.
“There are positives to not getting drafted,” he said. “I finished my degree; I feel happy about it. Basically I have all my classes for it done and I’m just taking some prerequisites now, but it feels good to be done that.
“Obviously it’s everyone’s dream to get drafted and go to the next level, and having a good year I thought there was a chance. But I didn’t think not getting drafted was a negative because there’s always my senior year.”
Panas has already been putting his degree in Physical Education and Health to work, and was a student teacher at a couple of schools last semester. He enjoyed the experience, and was happy to pass along what he’s learned to the next generation of young athletes.
“Always keep on working hard, and you never know what you can achieve,” Panas said. “Just looking back at how I’ve developed from high school to now, I feel like I’m a way different player, because of my work ethic and how hard the school and my coaches have pushed me to get better as a baseball player. Never give up on your dream and good things will happen.”