Though scores of young men love the game of baseball, very few earn the chance to play the sport professionally. Of those lucky enough to make the big leagues, a miniscule percentage play for their hometown team.
However, for Whitestoneâs Mike Baxter, not only did his dreams of playing professional baseball come true, but he received a shot from his favorite team: the New York Mets.
Baxter grew up as any other Mets fan wanting to play for the âAmazins.â Living just 10 minutes from Shea Stadium, he and his father, Ray, visited Flushing quite often.
âWhen I was a kid, Iâd go to the park in the summer,â said Baxter, 26. âAs a little kid, you always wanted to play for your favorite team growing up, but as you get older you realize itâs not that simple.â
Despite this reality, Baxter always worked hard, starting as a youngster at St. Lukeâs Parish school in Whitestone. As a seventh and eighth grader, he attended the baseball and basketball camps run by Archbishop Molloy H.S., Briarwood, legendary coach Jack Curran.
In his early days, Baxter played shortstop and emulated his favorite Mets player Rey Ordonez. As a freshman at Molloy in 1998, the lefty swinger began laying the framework of a successful career.
âMike epitomizes what the student-athlete should be,â Curran said. âWe really got to know him at Molloy. He was always interested in baseball and playing well. He worked very hard and was a good team player.â
In a bit of foreshadowing, Baxter led the Stanners to a NYC Championship in 2002, with the title game right played at Shea Stadium. After initially attending Columbia University, Manhattan, for baseball, he transferred to Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn., for a more competitive baseball atmosphere.
Baxter, playing mostly first base and outfield, spent two years at Vanderbilt, where he put up stellar numbers. The San Diego Padres made him a fourth-round draft pick (128th overall) in 2005. While he was grateful to the Padres for giving him an opportunity, he was forced to wait six years (over 700 minor league games) for his first September call-up, which he received at the end of last season.
Baxter certainly earned this promotion after hitting .301 with 18 HR, 72 RBI, 22 SB, 30 2B and 10 3B for the Triple-A Portland Beavers. With a strong spring training in 2011, he was heavily considered for a spot on San Diegoâs 25-man roster heading into this season.
However, with just five days to go in spring training, Baxter dove for a ball in right center field, tearing ligaments in his thumb. He was placed on the 60-day disabled list and became sort of a forgotten entity in the Padres system.
On July 22, the Padres placed him on waivers, and of all the other 29 teams that could have claimed him, it was the Mets that came calling. Mets GM Sandy Alderson, who spent time as the Padres GM, was familiar with Baxter and wanted to give him another shot.
After a brief stint in the Mets minors, Baxter was called up on Aug. 8. In his first Mets at-bat, he laced an RBI double in the eighth inning to start a rally that led to a come-from-behind Mets victory. Ironically, this hit came against the Padres.
Even more ironic, Ray Baxter had marked off the Aug. 8 date on his calendar at the beginning of the season as a possible game to see Mike in a Padres uniform at Citi Field.
âItâs just a fabulous feeling that he did make it to Citi Field on the day we planned,â said Ray Baxter. âAnd itâs an even greater feeling knowing he was in a Met uniform. Itâs much more exciting being a hometown boy.â
It was almost a touch of fate that Baxter was able to recover from his injury just in time to make his season debut for the Mets in Flushing. In addition to the baseball gods, someone up above was watching out for him.
âThereâs a plan for all of us,â Baxter said. âItâs out of our hands.â
Baxter and his family have thoroughly enjoyed his time back in New York. According to Ray Baxter, the Mets organization has treated the family extremely well since Mikeâs arrival.
âI love playing in New York,â Baxter said. âPlaying at home has been a great experience so far. The guys on the team have done an awesome job in making me feel comfortable right away.â
Though Baxter was temporarily sent down to Triple-A Buffalo in late August to make room on the roster for Jose Reyes, heâll have the chance to finish the season with the Mets as a September call-up, since heâs still on the 40-man roster. With a good final month, he should be in the conversation for a bench spot in 2012.
âIâm just looking forward to making the most of my time with the Mets,â said Baxter. âYou just donât whatâs around the corner. You just have to take advantage of any opportunities you get in this game.â