A demotion to the minor leagues is never easy to take.
When former Vanderbilt star Mike Baxter was sent Triple A, though, the timing could not have been worse.
The New York Mets optioned Baxter to the Las Vegas 51s on June 10. His wife, Diana, was due to give birth to the couple’s first child on June 26 in New York – more than 2,500 miles away from Sin City.
“It is always tough when you get sent down to begin with,” Baxter said earlier this week. “But especially with such a big event coming up, you want to make sure you are there. Thankfully, the Mets were great. They let me get out of here once she went into labor. I made it in time and I got three or four days to hang out. So it really worked out perfect.”
After a game on June 28 in Tacoma, Wash., Baxter flew across the country to be with Diana. Two days later, on July 1, Will Baxter was born.
“It was great. It was one of those experiences that nothing compares to,” said Baxter, who played at Vanderbilt from 2004-05. “I have had a lot of great experiences in baseball. I’m lucky enough to play in the big leagues and get a couple cool experiences there. But nothing really compares to that moment when he comes and you just feel the immediate love for him. It was incredible.”
Despite the geographical issues, Baxter, 28, thus far has been able to juggle baseball and parenthood.
He saw Will two weeks ago during the all-star break. And this week he is in Nashville with the 51s for a four-game series against the Sounds. Mike and Diana, who also went to Vanderbilt, live in Nashville. So Baxter has spent as much time with Will this week as possible before the 51s leave Nashville on Friday and head to Memphis.
“He is getting big. He is long,” Baxter said laughing. “He is awake now. He is starting to get some life in his eyes. It is cool. You are seeing some personality. It is great to watch him.”
While the timing of the demotion wasn’t ideal, Will’s arrival appears to have boosted his dad’s play.
Before his son was born, Baxter was hitting just .217 with two home runs and three RBIs in 16 games. Since he returned on July 4, the right fielder has hit four home runs and driven in 13 runs while boosting his average to .266. He is currently in an eight-game hitting streak.
“In July, I turned the corner,” he said. “It was kind of in coordination with Will being born. There were also some physical adjustments. It wasn’t just Will. The past month or so, I feel like I have finally caught back up to where I feel normal. It is a good feeling. When you step back and look at it and you say, ‘All right you’re in Triple A.’ At least I’m playing and I’m getting to a spot where I feel like I’m normal again and I’m ready to contribute wherever it is, whether it is here or in New York.”
The Mets used Baxter in a utility role as a fourth option in the outfield and he started occasionally in 47 games before his demotion. He was batting .212 with no home runs, four RBIs and 20 strikeouts in 85 Major League at-bats.
A fourth-round draft pick by the San Diego Padres in 2005, he is in his third season with the Mets, who signed him before the 2011 season. It was a dream come true for Baxter, who grew up in Queens and lived five minutes away from Shea Stadium.
He made his Major League debut in 2010 with the Padres but his best season in the big leagues came last year when he hit .263 with three homers and 17 runs driven in 89 games.
Though this season has not produced the best results, Baxter has found a silver lining in his most recent demotion. More at-bats have been available with Las Vegas. Those are opportunities he hopes he can parlay into a return trip back to New York.
“It has been a challenging year,” he said. “I was frustrated with the way I played when I was in New York. Obviously I didn’t do my job well enough to help them win. I found myself in Las Vegas, kind of rightfully so. I think it has been good to play every day and kind of get back into a routine and rhythm… At the end of the day, hopefully I’ll turn into something that is a positive.
“I’ll just be ready when they call on me.”