Former Met outfielder Mike Baxter is back in school as the hitting coach and recruiting coordinator at Vanderbilt, his Alma mater.
“I enjoy it a lot,” Baxter said. “I think it’s a great age range. Eighteen to 21, 22, I think really great years to be around good ballplayers. We enjoy spending a lot of time with them and winning.”
Baxter played one season at Columbia University, batting .375, before transferring to Vanderbilt. “When I was a kid I was always hoping to get a chance to go down and play in the SEC or a conference like that,” Baxter said.
“I think northern kids, they feel like that’s where the best baseball is, and as a child that was what one of my goals was.”
He was drafted by the Padres but worked on getting his degree at Vanderbilt as he played in the minors and did an internship as an assistant coach.
“That was my first idea then that I knew I wanted to get involved and stay in the game,” Baxter said. “I saw how fun it was to coach and how fulfilling it was and I knew that it would definitely be something I was interested in.”
A Whitestone native, Baxter played with the Mets from 2011-2013. Although none of those teams were winners, he did win a CHSAA title at Shea Stadium in 2002 in his senior season at Archbishop Molloy. He drove in the first run of the game with a sacrifice fly in a 5-2 win.
“I was lucky to stay in the game for a long time and that’s still one of my favorite memories,” Baxter said. He hit .438 for that Molloy team.
Baxter was a Mets fan and John Olerud was his favorite player. Baxter himself is in Mets lore for saving Johan Santana’s no-hitter on June 1, 2012 with a running catch in the seventh inning to rob Yadier Molina of a hit.
A pro career that lasted for 12 seasons is remembered for one play. “I’ll take it,” Baxter said. “I didn’t have a memorable career. For me it was great. It’s great just to be a small little sliver of Mets history.”
The catch was costly as he injured his shoulder as he slammed into the wall, and missed six weeks. Baxter had been hitting .339 coming into that game but wouldn’t have that kind of success again. He said he has no regrets as the injuries are part of the game. And he was a capable pinch-hitter in 2013, even delivering two walk-off hits over a three-game span.
Baxter returned to Queens in 2015 with the Cubs, and Joe Maddon let him take the lineup card to home plate before a game. “He knew that I was back in New York, hometown guy,” Baxter said. “That’s Joe. He’s just got such a good feel for his players.”
Baxter’s playing days ended at 31 due in part to a broken wrist. Now he is back in college, in an exciting atmosphere with 56 regular season games, a sprint compared to the marathon of a 162 game season.
Baxter made the Mets out of spring training in 2012 because of success he had after shortening his swing. Now the game seems to be all about home runs and strikeouts and walks, although Baxter once drew five walks in a nine inning game.
“I think from an amateur side, what you see is kids kind of changing their swing a little bit at earlier ages,” Baxter said. “There’s probably a happy medium there. You’ve got to find that middle ground. For every guy in the big leagues that is trying to get the ball in the air, those guys, they’re pretty skilled. They’ve done it for a long time.”
From the perspective of a hitting coach, he likes line drives. And he realizes it’s different strokes for different folks as all players are different.
“Everybody in the big leagues isn’t doing one thing,”’Baxter said. “And even if the end result might be trending in a direction, there are certain people that are moving in that direction with different thoughts on how to get there. I think for the young player, it’s important for them to identify how their body moves and how it works for themselves, and then understand how that fits into what their end result or desired goal is.”
The Vanderbilt hitters should be happy that Baxter has come back to school.