January 30, 2023

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Remembering an iconic Mets catch

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This story was excerpted from Anthony DiComo’s Mets Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

A few years ago, Mike Baxter’s son, Will, wanted to play a game of catch, so the ex-Mets outfielder rummaged through his old baseball gear for a glove. The one he found was tan and worn, tucked away and forgotten over the previous decade. Not long after Baxter had used it to make one of the iconic defensive plays in Mets history, he switched glove companies and his old one went into storage. He hadn’t seen it since.

In that fashion, Will Baxter’s interest in baseball unlocked a trove of memories for his father, who found himself explaining both the catch and his career to his son. Will mostly wanted to know what it felt like to slam up against an outfield wall, to catch a baseball and displace a collarbone (among other unwanted souvenirs). At the time, he was still too young to understand the significance of the play.

His father was not, nor were multiple generations of Mets fans. In grabbing that ball on June 1, 2012, Baxter made himself an indelible part of the franchise. In saving Johan Santana’s no-hitter — still the only single-pitcher no-no in six decades of Mets history — he gave millions an experience they had long desired and, in some cases, thought they might never receive.

In catching that ball, Baxter also ensured his fame for posterity, with the 10-year anniversary of Santana’s no-hitter this Wednesday restoring his name to the forefront of fans’ minds. The Queens native won’t be able to attend the ceremony at Citi Field on Tuesday due to his work as Vanderbilt’s hitting coach, but he’ll very much be thinking about the night that changed his life.

“It adds depth to what you take as an average, footnote career,” Baxter said. “It’s really nice to be able to have that, and to be able to reflect on that, and to have that little footnote in Mets history. Getting to talk about it now is very cool.”

Even at the time, no one needed to tell Baxter what his grab meant. A Whitestone native, Baxter grew up in Queens and attended high school in the borough, becoming a feel-good story when he earned his first significant Major League playing time with the team he grew up idolizing. By June 1, 2012, Baxter was in the best groove of his life, playing every day and batting .323 with a .915 OPS.

Like most at Citi Field that night, he was well aware of what Santana was in the midst of achieving, just as he was cognizant that the Mets were one of only two franchises never to have a no-hitter.

Of course, Baxter wasn’t actively thinking about all that when longtime Mets villain Yadier Molina clubbed a ball to the warning track in the seventh inning; he was simply trying to catch the thing. When he chased it down, Baxter pivoted his body and extended his tan glove, squeezing the ball with his left arm outstretched. Fractions of a second later, unable to arrest his momentum, Baxter hurtled shoulder-first into the left-field fence.

It was not until after all of that — after the handshakes from teammates and the initial X-rays, after all the commotion centered around Santana — that Baxter began to reflect on the gravity of what he had accomplished. Late that night, Baxter’s father drove him home because his body hurt in too many places to drive himself. His dad offered to take him to the hospital. Baxter insisted he was fine.

Then his father told him his catch was going to mean the world to countless people.

“I have the memories from that night, obviously, and that experience,” Baxter said. “I’m grateful that I have a little chapter of Mets history, that I played a part in a great night in Mets history. I’m always grateful for that.”

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