Western Nebraska Community College’s Paul Panduro has been playing baseball since he was four years old and has been in the Scottsbluff community for all of his 21 years.
Panduro will continue part of that as he begins a new adventure next fall after signing to continue playing baseball at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas, a Division II powerhouse.
Panduro is excited that he gets to continue his baseball playing at the collegiate level. Panduro is the first in his family to go to college, so he just wants to make his family happy.
“Going to Pitt State will do a lot of things for me. It will open new beginnings and new doors, even get a degree in criminal justice,” Panduro said. “Being the first person to go to college in my family is really important and I just want to make my parents happy in going to Pitt State and getting my degree to continue my baseball career. It will be super hard. I am nervous because I never left Scottsbluff, Nebraska, in my life. I am 21 years old and never left. I think it will be good.”
Panduro said the decision was easy to play at Pittsburg State after seeing how the town supports the college.
“At first when coach mentioned Pitt State, I was ‘where is that at?”,” he said. “The, coach Bob Fornelli ended up calling me in December and he said you should make a visit here in January. I said for sure. So, we went there and the first thing I noticed about the town was they were really supportive of the school. Nothing of Kansas or Kansas State University, it was just Pitt State University. Eating at the restaurants, they had the school colors with the logos and everything. Every corner we stopped by had a gorilla. Every corner. There probably are more gorillas than people.”
The Pittsburg State Gorillas is a team that is a power in Division II. Panduro follows in the footsteps to Pittsburg State after former Cougar Alex Achtermann played there in 2019 and finished with a batting average of .356 with four home runs. Achtermann was then drafted by the Colorado Rockies.
However, WNCC has had other players for Pitt State coach Fornelli when he was at Emporia State and Ft. Hays State.
For Panduro, he has grown as a player in his 17 years of playing baseball. But it was at WNCC, though, that he grew a lot as a player and person.
“When I came here as a freshman, I was a Mr. Know-it-all. I was throwing 82 and touching 84 sometimes and I thought I just had baseball by the neck,” he said. “Eventually, I was wrong and I am glad I was wrong. Coach [Mike] Jones knew the potential I had in me. Now, in my third year here, all I have been doing the past two years is grinding it out. I top it out at 94, sitting at 90 or 91; 10 miles an hour in three years all because of Coach Jones and Coach [Ryan] Burgner, keeping me on track in baseball. Even the things I slacked off in baseball, Coach Jones was there to get it together and I really loved that because I know he cares about me and he sees a lot of potential in me. I am glad that I am moving forward.”
Wednesday, February 17, when Panduro signed to continue playing at Pittsburg State, it was a time that many cherished that meant a lot to Panduro that were in attendance from his parents, his teammates, his high school baseball coaches Mark Moran and Jeremiah Luber, and friends he has made at the college.
Panduro said he is excited to continue playing and make everyone proud.
“I am super excited and I am ready,” he said. “I have been playing baseball ever since I was four years old. So, getting the chance to continue my career and getting by academics is a blessing to me.”
He also said his coaches he had, Moran, Luber, and Jones, have meant so much to him.
“These three guys meant everything for my baseball career,” he said. “They have been there since I was eight years old. I have gone to camps. Moran has been there since I was a freshman in high school. Luber has been there since playing with the Zephyrs. They just helped me a lot to be a better man, to be better in baseball, and I am really proud to have them in my life.”
WNCC head coach Mike Jones said Panduro will do well at Pittsburg State because he has grown so much as a player and a human being.
“He gets other people to follow him and he will lead by example,” Jones said. “Paul will be a successful guy on the field, off the field, and academically he will do well.”
Jones said his growth on the field is amazing.
“I have seen a lot of growth out of Paul and it is just not as a baseball player; we are talking as a person, a student and someone that now has goals and aspirations and things he wants to get accomplished,” he said. “It is very impressive to see him become a man and step up and take responsibility for his actions and do something with his life.”
Panduro red-shirted his freshman year at WNCC in 2018-19. Last year, Panduro started three games and threw just 17.1 innings with 12 strikeouts with an ERA of 3.12 before the season was canceled because of the COVID pandemic breakout that shutdown practically all of the sports world in March, April and May.
Panduro did come back and pitch during the summer when he played for the Western Nebraska Pioneers, a collegiate summer wood-bat league for college players, that plays its games at Gering’s Oregon Trail Park Stadium. Panduro appeared in 11 games and tossed 21.1 innings for the Pioneers last summer with 23 strikeouts with an 8.01 ERA.
Panduro said that time with the Pioneers helped him as a player as he got to pitch against Division I players and other top baseball players from four-year institutions.
“Getting to play with the Pioneers was really awesome because I played against guys that played at DI and everywhere,” he said. “That is kind of cool and pitching against these D1 guys and seeing who I could getting them out was nice to see the potential I have in getting D1 players out. I am really excited for this season, too.”
Panduro, after his sophomore season at WNCC, will play once again for the Pioneers this summer at Gering’s Oregon Trail Park. It will be a time for his mom and dad to watch him on the diamond before he takes off to Pittsburgh State in Kansas.
“Hopefully we will be good, too, because it will be the last time I am here that my parents get to see me,” he said. “I am just going to ball out for them.”
Panduro and the rest of the Cougar baseball team will open the spring schedule this weekend when they travel to Great Bend, Kansas, to face Barton Community College. Panduro said he is ready considering it has been nearly a month since they last played a competitive game together.
“You don’t know how long I have been ready for college baseball. It has been almost a year since we have been playing in college,” he said. “I am super excited and I have a great group of guys. We have a great group of guys in the infield, the outfield, good pitchers right by my side, and we are going to give it our all this year. We want to be Region IX champs. I am just not saying that because they are my friends and teammates, I am saying that because I see potential in all of us and together we are going to do good things this year.
Panduro will be majoring in criminal justice and said he wants to be a federal agent if baseball doesn’t work out. That is his Plan B.
“I just want to thank everybody in my life,” Panduro said. “My dad, my mom, my coaches, my whole teammates the past three years. It has been a great ride here.”