“3-1 coming to Molina… and a flyball to deep left… back goes Baxter onto the track and he MAKES THE CATCH! What a play!” ~ Gary Cohen, SNY
A boy from Whitestone, a childhood Mets fan, growing up in the shadows of Shea Stadium, has not only found himself playing for his beloved team, but also playing a significant role in preserving one of the most long-awaited and mesmerizing moments in the history of the franchise. At the expense of his own body, Baxter made an incredible grab in left field to keep the magic alive for Johan Santana’s history-chasing feat.
Last time I went to Citi Field, I asked Terry Collins what the general mindset of guys in the clubhouse was with players like Jason Bay and Mike Pelfrey on the DL. Collins replied with:
“They know they’ll have to deal with injuries, but the likes of Mike Baxter and Scott Hairston have to step up and pick it up for Jason. … That’s how you succeed in this game is you pick each other up when one of your players is down, we did it last year and I will continue to salute our players from last year who kept us in the hunt as they did. And you know what, we’ve got to find the right guys to rise up and do it again.”
Not only has Baxter stepped up, but he has surpassed anyone’s expectations of him when he broke camp to start the 2012 season. Batting only .214 prior to the injury to Bay, Baxter has since put it into overdrive, batting a .375/.426/.625 clip since Bay was placed on the disabled list in late April.
After a long road to the majors, Baxter has seemingly made himself at home with the Mets. The most intriguing part of Baxter’s tale, –as most of you know– is the fact that he grew up just a short ten minute drive from the ballpark; his childhood fantasy realized.
Baxter was drafted in the fourth round in 2005 by the Padres. After some success and several years in the Padres organization, Baxter had a breakout year in 2010 that eventually led him to an eight at-bat September stint in the majors in which he had a lone single.
Following some struggles in his next season however, the Padres put the then-26 year old on waivers, and on July 22nd, 2011, Mike Baxter came home and signed a minor league deal with the Mets. The Mets assigned him to Buffalo and only two week later, Mike Baxter was back in Queens. Except this time, he wasn’t in the stands, Baxter was in the dugout, as a New York Met.
Come bottom of the eighth, the Mets are trying to muster a rally when Terry Collins gives Baxter the call to pinch-hit. With his family on hand, Baxter launched an RBI double to start a rally that eventually led to a walk-off victory in the following inning.
“It was a moment I’ll never forget definitely.” Said Baxter when I asked him about that first hit. “It was exciting just to get it out of the way on a silly level, but ultimately it was nice and a good situation in the game. Your goal when coming off the bench is to come in and give good at-bats, and if you have a chance to drive somebody in then you’ve got to try to pick them up.”
Since then, Baxter broke camp with the Mets this season and here we are, the Amazin’s with a no-hitter for the first time in their 50-year, 8,020 game history; and Whitestone Mike played a critical role in accomplishing that feat without any consideration for his own well being. He has immortalized himself in the hearts of fans for years to come, fans that can only dream of what Mike Baxter is doing right now.
“Its a blessing to play in my hometown and to play for the team I grew up rooting for. Bottom line is it’s a very rare opportunity and I feel very lucky and honored to have it. I want to try to make the most of it and help the team win.”
He once cheered in the grandstands of Shea Stadium, he now continues to be a factor in resurrecting the New York Mets as a team to be reckoned with in the National League East.