The New York Mets have had many players in their history hail from the Empire State. They’ve had several Brooklynites over the years, including Paul Lo Duca, Joe Torre, and John Franco. Amazins who originated in the Bronx include Ed Kranepool, T.J. Rivera, and Bobby Bonilla. Several Long Islanders have also donned the orange and blue, including Steven Matz, Frank Viola, and Marcus Stroman.
Surprisingly, there have not been too many Mets over the years who have actually been from Queens.
One local kid who did make it onto the field in Flushing, however, was Mike Baxter.
Baxter was born and raised in Queens, NY, in a neighborhood called Whitestone that resides only a few miles from Citi Field, and graduated from Archbishop Molloy High School in 2002. Later on, while with the Mets, he earned the nickname, “The Pride of Whitestone.” From a young age, the Mets were on Baxter’s mind as a dream baseball destination.
“That was five years old. That was swinging a bat, doing anything. That was Howard Johnson, Darryl Strawberry, I’d pretend to be those guys in my front yard,” said Baxter in a 2020 interview with the Mets. “Taking the 7 train to high school, going by the field every day. Winning a city championship in 2002 at Shea Stadium, these little pockets of time where, I think, when you reflect on a career, you realize how interweaved the Mets were in your life.”
However, his Mets career did not begin until nearly 10 years after he graduated high school.
After starting his collegiate baseball career close to home at Columbia University, Baxter transferred to Vanderbilt University, where he currently works as a hitting coach. He was drafted by the San Diego Padres in 2005, but did not make his Major League debut until 2010, notching one hit in just eight at-bats with the Padres that season.
The following year, the Mets brought him home. They selected Baxter off waivers from the Padres on June 22, 2011, thus beginning the story of one of the most beloved cult heroes in recent Mets history.
When Baxter first got to the Mets, though, some things hadn’t changed from his upbringing. His parents still lived in his childhood home in Whitestone, and as a utility ballplayer just trying to go with the flow, that turned out to be very convenient.
“In  I did [stay at my parents’ house], cause I got up in August, and obviously at the end of the season, you just get where you can get,” said Baxter. “So I stayed in a hotel for the first week, and after that, just stayed at my parents’ house and [went] back and forth from there. And then in ’12 when I made the team on Opening Day, we got an apartment, in ’12 and ’13.”
Even as a Major Leaguer, Baxter frequented a certain subway line that stops right at Citi Field.
“In ’11 I would take the [7 train] in, cause I got moved up and I didn’t have a car. It’s crazy, sometimes my mom would drop me off and take me in. If not, I would take the Q-14 [bus] to Flushing, but yeah, I did occasionally [take the subway].”
Baxter is, of course, best remembered for the famous catch he made in the 7th inning to preserve Johan Santana’s no-hitter on June 1, 2012. The two of them are forever linked in Mets lore because of that night.
One thing Mets fans might remember in the half-inning immediately following Baxter’s famous catch is how Santana, due up second to bat, was delayed getting into the on-deck circle. According to Baxter, the slight delay was not due to manager Terry Collins weighing whether to leave Santana in the game but was actually caused by something else.
“So [Santana] came back in, I was in the training room getting checked out with the doctors, and Johan ran back to check on me and see how I was doing,” said Baxter. “He was like, ‘Great catch, great catch. Thank you.’ Then he ran back outside. Watching the game back, he actually is delayed getting into the on-deck circle, and I think that’s a story that not many people know.
“I think the general consensus is that Terry was trying to figure out, does he stay in, trying to make that decision. I don’t think it was necessarily a decision, it was more that Johan was in the training room, checking on me. And then he popped out on deck, and obviously the crowd erupts. . . everybody wants to see him go. But again, very Metsian, another layer of drama.”
Though Baxter’s shoulder injury from that catch sidelined him for a good portion of the 2012 season, that year was not without another remarkable feat. On August 4, 2012, the Mets beat the Padres, 6-2, and Baxter walked five times. Those five free passes represent the most walks for any Met in a single game in franchise history.
Baxter’s patient feat may have gotten lost in the excitement of Daniel Murphy going 4-for-4 in that same game, but it contributed to the win nonetheless.
2013 featured not one, but two Baxter walk-offs in a very short span of time. The first occurred on May 7, 2013, the same night as Matt Harvey’s famously brilliant one-hit outing against the Chicago White Sox. The game was still scoreless heading into the bottom of the 10th.
With Ike Davis on second thanks to a walk and a sacrifice bunt, Baxter pinch-hit for Bobby Parnell. With the count 1-1, he drove a fastball down the right-field line, scoring Davis easily from second. His teammates showered him with appreciation as he ran around first base. For one night, the kid from Whitestone was the hero in Flushing.
Two days later, Baxter was the walk-off king of Queens once again.
On May 9, 2013, the Mets were playing the Pittsburgh Pirates. The game was tied, 2-2, heading into the bottom of the ninth inning. After a single by Marlon Byrd and a sacrifice bunt by Andrew Brown (remember him? I don’t), Baxter pinch-hit for Juan Lagares against right-hander Jason Grilli. On the second pitch of the at-bat, Baxter swung and shot the ball up the middle for a single. Byrd raced, or rather, lumbered home, sliding in safely with the game’s winning run.
For the second time that week, Baxter was mobbed by his teammates at first base as the Citi Field faithful celebrated in their seats, cheering for the local kid who was making the entire borough of Queens proud.
Unfortunately, Baxter’s game-saving heroics for the Mets were pretty much over after that. He was up and down between the Majors and Triple-A for the rest of the year, and then the Los Angeles Dodgers claimed him off waivers from the Mets in the offseason. Baxter appeared in 38 games for the Dodgers and the Chicago Cubs over the next two years before hanging up his cleats for good after the 2015 season concluded.
Years later, Baxter no longer resides in Queens during the baseball season. His permanent home is in Nashville, near Vanderbilt, where he is helping the next generation of promising young hitters to perfect their craft. Though Baxter’s Mets career was not nearly as long and illustrious as that of teammates like David Wright, he considers his chapter as a New York Met to be one of the best times of his life.
“One of the best parts of not playing is being able to look back with clarity and realize how fortunate and lucky I was to be given those opportunities to come out and play for the Mets,” said Baxter. “To be able to do things in places you call home, like Queens, and share that experience with your family, it’s so rare. . . To spend two or three years there and really reflect on a career and look back at that pocket of time, I think it’s my favorite pocket of time. It’s very special, and I’m very grateful for that.”
Want your voice heard? Join the Rising Apple team!Write for us!
Baxter makes it back to Queens for holidays once or twice a year. He said that the first place he stops when he steps off the plane at LaGuardia Airport is still his childhood home in Whitestone, where his dad is the “coordinator of all memorabilia” from his baseball career. Baxter grew up in Queens, created magical baseball memories in Queens, and will always be a local hero to the Flushing Faithful.