- Last Updated: 3:46 AM, July 29, 2012
- Posted: 1:59 AM, July 29, 2012
PHOENIX — These six words tell you all you need to know about Mike Baxter: “You got to make the play.’’
Baxter made one of the greatest plays in Mets history, slamming into the left-field wall to save Johan Santana’s no-hitter June 1 at Citi Field. He made The Catch and paid the price.
After spending a lifetime trying to establish himself as a major leaguer, Baxter, 27, went on the shelf with a dislocated collarbone and rib injuries.
He hasn’t played for the Mets since, but that will change in San Francisco. Baxter is scheduled to rejoin the team tomorrow. He was in Indianapolis last night with Triple-A Buffalo when I caught up with him. Buffalo had played the previous night in Louisville. There was a 2 1/2 -hour rain delay then a two-hour bus ride, but that was nothing compared to the eight-hour bus ride from Buffalo to Louisville.
Life in the minors is a grind.
The journey to the majors is a long one, and Baxter, the kid who grew up minutes from Shea Stadium, has taken the long way around. But he’s nearly back home again with the Mets.
If Baxter had to make that play all over again, even if it happened on his first night back, would he smash into another wall for his team? He never hesitated. “You got to make the play,’’ Baxter said.
“I hope that I would still try to make the play, and I think I will,’’ added Baxter, who could become the primary left fielder because of Jason Bay’s colossal hitting woes. “Injuries are part of the game and unfortunately they happen, but we are out there to try to make the plays for the guys. That’s our job. I didn’t see the game [Friday] night, but somebody told me that Jason ran into a fence again. It’s not just me, it’s everybody.’’
That’s why Terry Collins can’t wait for Baxter to return. The Mets lost again to the Diamondbacks last night at Chase Field, 6-3, despite three home runs from Ike Davis.
The left-handed hitting Baxter is hitting .323 and .444 as a pinch hitter; he is a glue guy.
He thinks about team first. He’s been that way since he played for the legendary Jack Curran at Archbishop Molloy High School. Former Padres teammate Will Venable told me he’s never had a better teammate.
“Mike was raised right,’’ Venable said, praising Baxter’s parents Maureen and Ray.
Baxter can’t wait to return.
“I’m feeling much better, and the arm is really coming around really well,’’ he said. “I’m feeling good in the field. I’m ready to play.”
He has been back in the outfield for a week. He’s ready to be back in the majors.
“I’m just so excited to get back out there and play again,’’ he said. “What took the longest to heal was the separated collarbone. The ribs and the cartilage and all that other stuff was pretty good in terms of healing and getting back into baseball shape, but the collarbone slowed everything down.’’
He has seen replays of The Catch.
“Looking back on it’s obviously one of the greatest memories I have of the major leagues, that’s for sure,’’ Baxter said. “It was a great night, and I’m still, really, really happy to be a part of that. It’s a night I will never forget, and I think everybody has a story from it.’’
The Mets should make a training film for their young players and include Baxter’s catch. This is how you play the game. This is how you become part of Mets lore.
Baxter looks on the bright side and does not think about the injury or running through walls.
“The good thing is that there is still a couple months left in the season,’’ he said. “Luckily, the Mets have given me the opportunity. I hope to play well for them.’’
The Dream was derailed, but Mike Baxter is back on the baseball tracks again.
He knows you got to make the play.Follow @NYPostsports