Outfielder Connor Panas is a Canadian kid. He was born in Toronto, Ontario, and attended Etobicoke Collegiate Institute, roughly a 20 minute drive from Nathan Phillips Square.
He also had Jerry Howarth as his high school basketball coach.
Howarth was known by most as the voice of the Toronto Blue Jays on the radio for 36 years, along with Tom Cheek. When he unexpectedly retired last week, an outpouring of memories of Howarth followed, and the announcement held extra meaning for Panas.
Panas, who played basketball, hockey, football and track in addition to baseball in high school, was coached by Howarth in grade nine and ten, not quite grasping how crazy the situation was.
“I didn’t think about it much,” Panas told Bluebird Banter in a recent phone call. “But now I look back at it [and] it was pretty unique that you have someone iconic like that coaching you.”
Panas listened to Howarth on the radio constantly while growing up and hoped that one day he would be able to have Howarth call him while playing with the Blue Jays. The two still keep in touch today, catching up after the long minor-league season.
“We have a good rapport together,” Panas said.
Panas’ most recent minor-league season was spent with the Dunedin Blue Jays, where he played in 114 games, hitting .276 with an on-base percentage of .364. Panas is predominantly a right fielder, but also spends time at other outfield positions along with first base.
Part of Panas’ success, including being drafted in the ninth round of the 2015 draft, comes from his experience with Howarth in high school, when, in ninth grade, his team went 0-19. The struggles of that season helped teach Panas a strong work ethic, which he still carries with him today.
“[Howarth] always likes to talk about that team and say it was one of his favourite teams,” said Panas, “not because we were necessarily good . . . I think winning is one thing, but I think that was a stepping stone in just development as a person.
“He was just so down-to-earth and so friendly,” Panas continued. “He was just so approachable . . . [It’s] just his nature as a person.
“I think that’s what made him a great broadcaster and it just shows how great of a person he was.”
Other players and personnel shared Panas’ sentiment. Jon Berti, who has yet to make his major-league debut but met Howarth during spring training, said that he’s “very knowledgeable and always has a smile on his face.”
“It was a treat when I would get the chance to chat with him during batting practice,” Berti told Bluebird Banter over text. “I always enjoyed talking with Jerry . . . I wish him nothing but the best in his future!”
Even for those who didn’t have the honour of meeting Howarth, like 22-year-old Blue Jay prospect Joshua Palacios, he held a special place in their Toronto fandom.
“I don’t think I had the pleasure of meeting him, unfortunately,” Palacios said over text. “I do have a very vivid memory of the call he made on Jose Bautista’s bat flip home run and his famous, ‘Yes sir, there she goes.’”
The Blue Jays’ major league chef, Nigel Batson, had similar memories of Howarth.
“[He] always had a smile on his face with a microphone and his notebook,” Batson said over text. “He was a great guy.”
Whether it be direct, as in Panas’ case, or indirect, Howarth holds a refreshing importance in the lives of Blue Jay players, personnel and fans that is seldom approached.
“We were close,” Panas said. “I saw the little thing Sportsnet did for him [and] it almost made me tear up.”
Find Mark on Twitter @MarkColley. He can be contacted at email@example.com.