It was late in the game on June 1 when Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina knocked a fly ball to left field. Johan Santana, the Mets starting ace who was still working his way back after missing the entire previous season, was facing a multi-base hit — what could have been the first of any hits that night.
Mike Baxter headed back to the wall, trying to keep the no-no intact. He caught the ball and bounced into the blue padding at a high speed. A few innings later, Santana would go on to record the team’s first no-hitter in a 50-year history.
Whitestone native Baxter, however, would end up throwing his shoulder out during the catch — giving up his own health for the sake of the team he grew up loving and watching.
“It was bitter sweet,” said dad Ray Baxter, who hasn’t missed a home game his son has played since joining the team. “It was great while it happened but all of a sudden, 10 seconds later, you start to worry: it’s your child out there that’s hurt. He’s not getting up, and you see him walk off the field and they’re holding his arm like he’s got a broken arm.”
A few hours after the game, as Santana went through a number of interviews, teammate Justin Turner got to Twitter and dubbed his friend “The Pride of Whitestone.” The nickname has since stuck.
Baxter, 27, has come full circle in his still-young baseball journey. He grew up playing baseball in the Bayside Little League, and then at Archbishop Molloy High School.
From there he went on to play college ball at Columbia University, but found himself unhappy with the program, his father said.
He found a home, to this day, in Tennessee where he transferred to play and study at Vanderbilt University, and still keeps a home today.
Baxter played under long-time Commodores coach Tim Corbin, who said he could always tell the Queens product would make it into the majors based on his all-around abilities and determination.
The young player, his former coach said, could do a number of things at the plate and was resilient in his time at Vanderbilt. It was these factors, among others, that brought Baxter to the majors, Corbin said.
After spending six years with the San Diego Padres organization, Baxter was released in 2011. Nearly instantly, however, the Mets picked him up — making it a bittersweet phone call home.
“It was a tough phone call,” Ray Baxter said, in reference to his son being released from the Padres. “You’ve got to take a breath.”
Baxter acknowledged the same sort of feeling, but went on to say that putting on the Met jersey for the first time was an unbelievable feeling.
“That was just a great day, it all happened so quickly,” he said. “You could say it was a dream come true.”
He finally returned to the team during a series in San Francisco on July 30. A few nights later, against his first big league team, Baxter would tie a team record by drawing five walks. When he returned for his first night back at Citi Field on August 7, Baxter said he was most proud to be back in front of the fans.
“I love playing in New York,” he said. “When you come back to New York and you get back in front of the fans, some of the greatest in the world in my opinion, it’s always exciting taking the field out here.”
The Whitestone native’s future is still to be written and it is unclear what will come in the next few years. His dad, on the other hand, is certain his son will stay in baseball for as long as humanly possible, even after he hangs up his glove.
“In my heart, I believe Michael is not leaving baseball.”