It was late Sunday night after a long travel day – a flight home from Jacksonville to be exact.
Upon returning to his apartment, located a shallow fly ball away from Polar Park, Thomas Pannone discovered the refrigerator had been filled to the brim with good eats courtesy of his parents, Tom Sr. and Cindy. It was home cooking at its delectable finest – calzones, pizzas, meatballs and ricotta cookies.
“It’s all about the food,” said Cindy.
It happened to be the second straight Sunday that the Pannone parental unit made the roughly hour-long trip from Narragansett to Worcester. The previous Sunday, Tom Sr. and Cindy traveled to Polar Park to see Thomas work out alongside his fellow WooSox teammates and throw a bullpen session under the watchful eyes of pitching coach Paul Abbott.
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“This is the part we’re pinching ourselves over,” said Cindy about the ability to rekindle the memories from a joyful time in the family’s life when all they had to do was get in the car and drive to wherever Thomas happened to be taking the mound that particular day.
Specifically, we’re talking about a period in Thomas Pannone’s life when he was a two-way standout for the Bishop Hendricken baseball program. A Cranston native, Pannone graduated from the Catholic school in 2012. When you’re a tight-knit family and happen to be relatively close by, every game is treated with appreciation.
“It’s a feeling that we haven’t felt since high school,” said Cindy.
That brings us to this past Tuesday afternoon, a Chamber of Commerce Day from a weather standpoint as the WooSox ushered in the home portion of the 2022 season. Pannone took the ball before an estimated 100 family members and friends – a strong show of support that spoke volumes of just how tight the bond is between the player and a seemingly endless drove of well-wishers and supporters.
Some members of the Pannone fan club sat in a roped-off area located behind the first-base dugout. Watching the lefthander who turns 28 later this month in-person is not a new phenomenon for Tom Sr. and Cindy. It’s just that it’s been a while – specifically 2020 spring training when their son was a member of the Toronto Blue Jays.
“Just breath and stay calm,” said Cindy about the role that this particular mother plays when watching her offspring attempt to hold the opposition at bay. “As much as you’re excited to be there, I can’t wait for it to be over. The anxiety … your heart is just pounding. It’s a lot.
“A pitcher never knows if they have it until they go out there,” Mama Pannone added. “Afterwards, he said, ‘Ma, everything was working.’ I said that it clearly was.”
Pannone’s final line from Tuesday featured five shutout innings with zero walks and seven strikeouts. He allowed just three hits while throwing an eye-popping 50 of 63 pitches for strikes.
“I felt I was in control of what I was doing,” said Thomas Pannone, a feeling that ran perpendicular to the emotions channeled by his mother.
“I was very happy when they didn’t put him back out there for the sixth. He turned around from the dugout to let us know he was done,” said Cindy about the stress that washed away the moment the WooSox signaled to the bullpen. “My two favorite things are when his first pitch is a strike and he finishes his outing when he walks off the mound and the ball is not taken from him.”
If there was a defining moment of Pannone’s outing against Lehigh Valley, it came in the second inning. With two runners in scoring position and two down, Pannone recorded a swinging strikeout to wiggle out of the tight spot.
“I could hear them. Their voices are pretty distinctive and come through louder than everyone else in the stands,” said Thomas Pannone, noting his father along with his sister Lauren and one of his cousins tend to be more distinctive regarding their reactions.
“The best part of this game is being able to pitch in front of those who you love and have shown me the most support. It was special to do this in front of everyone. Knowing that my family is right down the road is a good feeling for me.”
Another Pannone Day at Polar Park is on tap this coming Sunday. Originally, Tom Sr. and Cindy were scheduled to partake in an Easter brunch with relatives in Massachusetts. Instead of spiraled ham, the Pannones will be enjoying hot dogs and other ballpark delicacies from the same first-base perch where they watched their son hang five goose eggs at the expense of Lehigh Valley.
“Not for the world would we trade it,” said Cindy Pannone. “It’s all good.”
It certainly is when the opportunity to see your son on the bump is a short car ride away.