By Joe Rini
Chipper Jones Honored by Mets and “Mr. Shea Stadium”
The dream of playing baseball for the hometown team is real for any dad who has soft tossed a ball to his young son holding a plastic bat or any 10-year old boy who’s homered in his backyard to win a World Series. In the New York Mets 50 year history, only five natives of their home borough of Queens have played for them but 27-year old outfielder Mike Baxter lives that dream everyday.
Born in Whitestone, Queens and a 2002 graduate of Archbishop Molloy High School, the Mets acquired Mike in July 2011 from the San Diego Padres. When asked before Friday’s game against the Braves what it takes for a kid living in the long winters and short springs of New York to make it in the summer game, Mike suggested that kids, “Play as many sports as possible…do everything to be an athlete…play outside…it completes you as a human.” Besides starring in baseball, where he led Molloy to a city championship, Mike also played basketball in high school and played hockey as a youth.
Coming into this season, Mike said he knew his best chance to make the team was as the 25th man/pinch hitter, so he worked on “shortening his swing and not missing fastballs.” Also, given the situations when a pinch hitter bats, his approach had to be “more aggressive early in the count.” By about the fifth inning, Mike will start stretching and taking swings in the indoor batting cage to prepare himself for a late game appearance. Considering the pinch hitter’s role is usually left to a more veteran hitter, the young outfielder’s hard work has paid off as he has excelled in this role with 10 hits in 22 at bats for a .455 batting average.
Despite his success as a pinch hitter, Mike’s most famous moment of the season came June 1 when he preserved Johan Santana’s no-hitter with a spectacular catch, crashing into the left field fence. The catch saved the no-hitter but cost Mike two months of the season with a severe collarbone injury but he said the rehab was a “seamless process” and he feels fine. Mike said the no-hitter was a “great moment and memory for the team and Johan.” While he’s modest about his contribution, he is grateful when people take time to compliment him for his role in it.
After a few weeks rest, Mike will prepare for 2013 with a conditioning program of running and weightlifting and possibly more rehabilitation for his injury. According to Mike, besides fulfilling a dream by making it to the major leagues, playing for the hometown Mets has added an emotional attachment for him because it’s something he has been able to share with his family.
Atlanta Braves third baseman and perennial Mets nemesis Chipper Jones played his final games in New York this past weekend at Citi Field. Mets Chief Operating Officer Jeff Wilpon, who joked that Chipper’s son Shea probably had more Mets memorabilia in his room than his own son, presented the future Hall of Famer with a portrayal of Chipper at Shea Stadium by 3D pop artist Charles Fazzino. Chipper was also presented with an Atlanta Braves flag that flew above Shea Stadium and a section of the Shea Stadium wall by “Mr. Shea Stadium” aka John Cornell of Orange County, a large supplier of Shea Stadium collectibles. Considering that 19-year old Bryce Harper shows signs of replacing the 40-year old Chipper as the Mets bête noire, Mr. Shea Stadium may want to start stocking up on Citi Field collectibles.
After a successful 6-3 road trip, the Mets struggles at Citi Field continued against the Braves and Nationals, where they have lost 20 of their last 24. They entered play on Wednesday with a record of 65-77 in fourth place and after a three game road trip in Milwaukee this weekend, they return to Citi Field on September 17 to play the suddenly surging Phillies.