Branching out from the Family TreeJuly 21, 2011
Joey Paciorek admits he really doesn’t know any better. Baseball has been in his blood and a topic of dinner table conversation not to mention family get-togethers, thanks to a father and a pair of uncles who all made a name for the Paciorek family name in the major leagues.
“Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been around it,” said Paciorek, a 15th round draft pick of the Milwaukee Brewers in 2007. “I actually lived in Japan for a couple of years while my Dad was playing over there. I’ve just always been around it and really don’t know any better…it’s always been baseball since I can remember.”
Check the branches on the top tier of the Paciorek family tree and you’ll see not only Joey’s father Jim, but Jim’s brothers and Joey’s uncles, John and Tom. John had the briefest career of the three, notching just three at-bats in 1963 with the Houston Colt .45s, but making the most of his last day of the season September call-up to record three hits, draw a pair of walks, score four runs and drive in three.
Uncle Tom was drafted by the Dodgers in 1968 and garnered notable footnotes during his career. Tom was named The Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year in 1972, was traded to Atlanta in 1976 for Dusty Baker, then posted a .326 average with Seattle in 1981 for the second best hitting mark in the American League that season.
“Never saw him play, it was before my time, but I asked him recently what is the best advice he can give to a guy like me coming up in the minor leagues,” said Joey. “He said confidence is the biggest thing…every time you step on the field; go out there like you’re going to be the best player that day. It might not always be the case but go out there like you’re going to be the best one on the field. That is something that really stuck with me.”
But it was the daily dose of Dad that kept Joey intrigued to pursue baseball and follow the lead set by his elders. Jim, drafted by the Brewers seven rounds higher (8th) than his son 25 years later, spent most of his career in the minor leagues. His call-up to the show came in 1987, and 48 major league games later, it was over. But the game grabbed Jim’s attention and taught him lessons on the diamond and in life he would one day dispense to his son.
“When I signed, he told me about how to carry myself on and off the field, being a professional,” said Paciorek. “Not a whole lot of technical stuff. Every once and awhile he gives me some little tidbits, but as far as carrying myself on and off the field, how to handle clubbies, coaches and teammates and how to be a good teammate.”
Old school Brewers fans may recall Jim Paciorek’s shining moment highlight in 1987. During Juan Nieves’ no-hitter against Baltimore on April 15th, Paciorek made a skid mark, full extension lunge in leftfield. At the time, it was an exclamation point play, but still only the second inning. Only seven innings later, when the Nieves no-no was complete, did the game rewind show Paciorek’s catch as a bonus clutch performance to help preserve history. Quiz the son about it now, and Joey will laugh and tell you he’s in the dark and possesses faint knowledge of his father’s lasting legacy with “Team Streak.”
“He’s not a big glory day’s guy,” said Joey. “He’s pretty quiet, but he’s got a lot of knowledge about the game. Mostly, it will be to me to go out and play your game the way you know how to play it.”
Jim now enjoys retirement and golf in Tucson, his Arizona destination of choice after coaching his son at Blaine High School in Washington. Joey blossomed as an all-league selection all four years of prep baseball, hitting .516 as a senior. Like his father Jim, who played football as well as baseball at the University of Michigan, the son showed off his athletic side.
“I played three sports in high school…football, baseball and basketball, but baseball has always been my number one sport,” said Paciorek. “I might have been able to go somewhere and play football, but it’s always been baseball.”
Jim had versatility back in the day, able to play first base, third base and the outfield. Joey was a carbon copy of his old man, getting his name on lineup cards all over the diamond as his minor league climb began in the Brewers system. Paciorek even provided pitching relief in a 10-1 loss against Ogden during his days with Helena of the Pioneer Rookie League. But there was still a vacant spot where Paciorek might be able to catch the attention of the Brewers brass.
“I came down early in January for spring training for a winter program, and a few days in to that, I was a utility guy who could play around the infield, so they thought learning how to catch might help me in the long run,” said Paciorek. “The more positions you can play, the better, so just to have that under my belt helps.”
Eager to heed the advice bestowed upon him from John, Tom and Jim, Joey discovered that the open invitation was worthy of an immediate RSVP.
“It started off as just a situation that I could catch in an emergency situation,” said Paciorek. “Spring training came around, and I was playing mostly infield, and then on the last day they called me in and said they wanted me to work on my catching a little more and start doing it full time.”
Paciorek got his feet wet back in Helena, setting up shop behind the plate for seven games before getting a return ticket trip back to Appleton. Unlike a season ago with the Timber Rattlers, Paciorek has a new set of responsibilities, not to mention, his in-game vantage point.
“Handling your pitchers is the biggest thing, taking care of the pitching staff and calling the game, you’ve got a lot on your shoulders,” said Paciorek. “Everything is in front of you and you control the game, kind of like the quarterback out there. I’m getting more comfortable in that roll and being a leader out there on the field.
“There are still a bunch of technical things as far as receiving, blocking, throwing and all that stuff, but I feel it’s coming along pretty well. I’m just trying to get comfortable controlling my pitchers and calling a good game out there.”
One lesson learned has Paciorek playing part-time psychiatrist to the young guns who hurl the ball in his direction. The former infielder used to make an occasional trip for a pep talk at the mound. Now, his words are more than just idle chatter.
“Everybody’s different, and you’ve got to know how to handle them,” said Paciorek. “If they start struggling you’ve got to know when to have a mound visit and know what to say to them. You have to know what their best pitches are if they start getting behind in counts.
“There’s a lot to it and I’ve got a lot of learning to do but I’m up to the task.”
Rather than grumble and grouse about having to haul on the harness, shin guards and catcher’s mask, Paciorek has jumped into his new assignment with genuine enthusiasm and a willingness to follow the blueprint process. He picks the brain of any catcher who has strapped on the “tools of ignorance,” including Brewers roving instructor Charlie Greene.
“I’m just taking it day by day, trying to learn,” said Paciorek. “All I can do is keep a good work ethic, keep a good attitude about it and see what happens down the road.”
Paciorek was even pleasantly surprised to find out a full plate of catching duties on defense does nothing to tarnish or impede any progress at the plate.
“It hasn’t taken away from my hitting,” said Paciorek. “If anything, I’ve almost matured a little bit as a hitter because as a catcher, you start learning pitchers tendencies and what they’re trying to accomplish on the mound, so when I step into the box I feel like I have a little better idea what the pitcher is trying to do.”
James Joseph Paciorek prefers “Joey” over “Jim” to avoid comparisons or expectations associated with his father. The son isn’t hiding behind the Paciorek family tree. In fact, he’s hoping to be the next branch that extends from the roots of three former major leaguers.
“I don’t feel any extra pressure because of the name,” said Paciorek. “I’ve got my own expectations and the expectations that the coaches have for me. I don’t feel any added pressure having the last name.
“I think it’s a pretty cool thing, actually. I talk to some managers who say ‘Hey, are you related to Jim or Tom or John?’ I think it’s a cool thing; I don’t look at it as a curse at all.”
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