It’s a fairytale story to say the least.
Childhood Mets fan and Whitestone, Queens native Mike Baxter wound up suiting up for hometown team last summer. Though his playing time was limited, it still must have been a great thrill for him to be playing right at home.
But this year, Baxter legitimately won a roster spot in spring training as the fifth outfielder/left-handed pinch hitter.
And now, with Jason Bay on the disabled list, expect to see much more of Baxter in a starting role. Of course, Scott Hairston and even Jordany Valdespin will see time in left field, and whenever Andres Torres returns, Kirk Nieuwenhuis is expected to shift to left. But if Baxter gets his chance, he can prove that he belongs in some sort of rotation.
Keith Hernandez brought up a good point in last night’s game. He said that Baxter originally was unsure how to handle the pinch-hitting role. Normally a patient hitter, Baxter “had no clue,” according to Hernandez, about whether to be overly aggressive coming off the bench or stick to his regular style of hitting.
He’s had some good at-bats lately, including an RBI double Monday against the Giants and a clutch pinch-hit, opposite-field two-RBI double last night.
Baxter simply goes about his business with little fanfare and does whatever is asked of him. He’s accepted his role, unlike many younger bench players.
It will be Terry Collins’ job to keep Baxter fresh and feeling like a part of the team. Early in the season, Baxter’s playing time was extremely limited, but as he continues to show he belongs, Collins will feel confident in calling his number.
It’s one thing to suit up for your hometown team, but it must be even more meaningful to actually be a regular contributor to the team’s success.
Even if it’s coming off the bench once a game to pinch-hit or play defense late, Baxter will do anything for this team.
A team of 25 Mike Baxters would be enjoyable to watch.