SAPAKOFF COLUMN: No nickname necessary for Gamecocks' Joey Pankake
COLUMBIA -- He has heard it all.
"People remember my name. I never have to say it twice," said South Carolina baseball player Joey Pankake.
He is a starting shortstop with a last name pronounced like a syrupy short stack.
"I guess the most common thing is people calling me 'Waffle,' " said Pankake.
The student newspaper staff at the Daily Gamecock is trying on Twitter and elsewhere to attach a fresh nickname to the freshman from Easley -- IHOP.
"Ummm … Well, that sounds fine," said Joe Pankake, Joey's father and a Goose Creek High School graduate. "That or Pancake House."
These are big cleats to fill for the 6-foot, 195-pounder. The Gamecocks' shortstop lineage under head coach Ray Tanner includes longtime big leaguers Adam Everett and Brian Roberts, former Bishop England High School elite draft picks Drew Meyer and Reese Havens, and the starters on South Carolina's back-to-back national championship teams, Bobby Haney in 2010 and Peter Mooney in 2011.
"I knew it would be a bunch of hard work, definitely," Pankake said. "It's so challenging. I didn't come in expecting to have the kind of season I had in high school."
College Baseball 101 was a three-game sweep of VMI last weekend in which Pankake went 2 for 9 before sellout crowds of 8,000-plus at Carolina Stadium.
"It was unreal," Pankake said of opening day. "I've never played in front of that many people. It was a great atmosphere. The fans here were great."
Already, Gamecock Nation loves Pankake, whether his official nickname has gone International or not.
"Joey is very comfortable," Joe Pankake said. "Part of that is because he has already played with some of these guys on his Diamond Devils (summer travel) team. He just loves what he's doing."
It's no secret that -- along with hitting and infield defense -- Pankake has a rocket arm on the mound. It's radar gun stuff found at the front end of major league pitching rotations.
"The fastest I remember his senior year in high school was 95 (mph)," Joe Pankake said.
Maybe a little faster in fall ball at South Carolina, where Pankake was unscored upon in three innings with three strikeouts.
"I heard them say 95," Pankake said. "Once, I heard 97."
Oh, he also throws a cut slider, curve and changeup.
Very possibly. But Pankake wants to play every day, and that's what he told the pitching-minded Texas Rangers when they selected him in the 42nd round of the 2011 draft.
"Joey has a lot of experience at catcher, too," his father said. "But, of course, he'll do anything Coach Tanner wants him to do."
Joe Pankake saw it coming. He knew the kid was special when he began making good contact with a fat plastic bat at 18 months old.
"I think he slept with a baseball when he was a little kid," Joe Pankake said.
Look out for Joe and Jan Pankake's youngest son, Jordan. A sophomore at Easley High School, he will follow his brother as a top prep prospect.
Of course, Jordan will get the same kind of razzing Joey gets from opposing fans when he comes up to bat.
"But Joey can take it," Joe Pankake said, "and Joey can dish it out, too."