SALT LAKE CITY — With stunning views of the Wasatch Mountains as the backdrop, Spring Mobile Ballpark is one of the most picturesque minor league ballparks in America.
But Mike Baxter doesn’t want to be here.
The former Mets pinch hitter's heart is back in Queens, with his wife Diana, his father Ray and mother Maureen and especially his newborn son William.
“Your drive is always high to get back because it's what we always strive for and where we want to play,” Baxter said.
"It would be great to go back. I’ve got to prove that I’ve earned my way back. I feel like I’m on the right path to do that.”
Baxter, who had seemingly carved his niche as a productive pinch hitter and who forever etched his place in Mets history by making a dramatic catch in Johan Santana’s 2012 no-hitter — the first in club history — was sent down by the Mets a month ago, along with struggling first baseman Ike Davis and pitcher Robert Carson.
After playing parts of three seasons at Citi Field, a short distance from his childhood home in Whitestone and playing the part of hometown hero, Baxter is back in the Pacific Coast League. He’s trying to fight his way to the big leagues like he did five years ago when he was in the San Diego Padres farm system and called Portland, Oregon, home.
“It’s a different perspective,” Baxter said. “I think once you experience the major leagues, settle in there and feel like you’ve created a spot for yourself, it’s difficult to come back. You never want to [have to] come back.
"The goal is to stay in the major leagues as long as you can.”
Baxter, who was hitting .212 with the Mets, wasn’t happy to be sent down, but he understood. He said he took 24 hours to process the move and then went right to work when he arrived in Las Vegas, home of the Mets Triple-A affiliate, the Las Vegas 51s.
“I brought that upon myself,” Baxter said. “I didn’t play well enough this year to stay. I find myself in Vegas and the good thing about coming down is I’ve had a chance to play every day since I’ve been here. The best part is getting at-bats and playing every night again.”
With help from Las Vegas hitting coach George Greer and manager Wally Backman, Baxter said he’s corrected some of his issues at the plate and he’s seeing the results over the past week or so.
A former standout at Archbishop Molloy, Baxter grew up a Mets fan in Whitestone and helped lead the Stanners to the 2002 CHSAA title at Shea Stadium. It was the last of legendary coach Jack Curran's 17 baseball city titles.
He went to Columbia for a year, but transfered to college baseball powerhouse Vanderbilt before being selected by the San Diego Padres in the fourth round of the 2005 draft. He spent six long years in the minors before making his major league debut for the Padres on Sept. 6, 2010.
Baxter is hitting .563 since July 6, including going 2-for-4 with a walk, triple, RBI and two runs scored in a win over the Salt Lake Bees Tuesday night.
While his hitting streak was snapped at four games in a 7-4 loss Wednesday night in the series finale, he reached base three times — walking twice and getting hit by a pitch in his five at-bats.
“It’s not the amount of hits that’s come, it’s the quality of at-bats, the ability to recognize pitches,” Baxter said. “It’s been going better than it has pretty much all season.”
After a three-game series against Tacoma in Las Vegas, Baxter is coming home. This time, it’s just four days during the All-Star Break.
Next time, Baxter hopes it's for good.
“It’s another bump in the road,” Baxter said. “It’s been a long road, but hopefully I can get around it and get back.”