SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — That first moment lacing up the spikes again meant so much to Joe Panik, simple as the task might seem.
With his troublesome back healthy and pain-free at last, Panik feels “normal,” ready to go with the San Francisco Giants.
San Francisco’s second baseman was limited to 100 games last season because of a lingering back issue. He batted .312 with eight home runs, 37 RBIs and 119 hits, and might have been on pace for 200 hits if he hadn’t gotten hurt after his All-Star first half.
“Whenever you have an injury that sidelines you for a while, you don’t know how your body’s going to bounce back,” he said. “Just being able to get out there, I’ve been out on the field doing all baseball activity, and not having anything, there’s no second thought about it. It feels so good. It just gives you a sense a comfort again, it’s like, OK, that you’re normal.”
That means manager Bruce Bochy will have his infield intact as Giants position players report to Scottsdale Stadium on Monday ahead of their first full-squad workout the following day.
Bochy could see how much the injury weighed on Panik. The club was in a pennant race before he got hurt, then missed the playoffs a year after winning the World Series.
“Just to see his smile, how excited he is that he can play, get back on the field, it’s a good feeling when you see your players (happy),” Bochy said. “For a while I didn’t think he had teeth. He was really struggling with the fact he couldn’t get out there and help us last year, that bothered him.”
Doctors assured Panik the back wouldn’t be anything chronic. He was medically cleared in mid-December then once he resumed baseball activity, it took all of about a week to get in sync. He arrived in Arizona for good Feb. 1, pulled out the spikes and got started on the field. Panik worked out at the Giants’ minor league complex under the direction of athletic trainer Dave Groeschner and the strength and medical staff.
“It was like second nature, it was like I wasn’t even thinking about it again.”
Panik played Aug. 1, not again until Sept. 7-9 before being shut down for good to heal.
“Personally, I’ve had to miss time so I know how hard that is and how exciting and a little bit nerve-wracking it can be getting back on the field, anxiousness,” catcher Buster Posey said. “I’m excited for him. This is a great opportunity for all of us with the amount of talent that we have.”
Bochy plans to keep “a watchful eye on” Panik as spring training progresses and not have him wear spikes all the time or do anything else that could cause a flare up in the back.
Panik was able to comfortably work out and throw outdoors back home in Hopewell Junction, New York, this winter.
Now, when Panik pulls on his spikes it’s a bit symbolic.
“It’s a sense of relief that ‘OK, I’m ready to go,’ that there’s no holding back in spring,” Panik said. “You really do feel like a new man. It’s great to feel normal, just the way I felt every other year.”
NOTES: RHP reliever Sergio Romo, yet to throw as the Giants are cautious with him, will likely pitch off a mound for the first time Thursday or Friday, Bochy said. … Dominican Republic countrymen Johnny Cueto and closer Santiago Casilla have struck a nice bond. Even if Casilla called his new teammate “feo,” or ugly on Sunday morning. How about Cueto’s dreadlocks? Casilla said his wife wouldn’t approve if he had them.