Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for August 6th, 2021

John Axford Rejoins Brewers, Gets Injured…Not the Way the Story Was Supposed to Go

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A few days ago, pitcher John Axford rejoined the Brewers, came out to pitch in the 9th inning to wild applause…then injured his elbow after first hitting a batter, then walking two (getting one out in the process). I could see the injury when he threw to the last batter (the second walk), as the elbow looked wrong in a way I can’t quite explain.

This was not the way the story was supposed to go.

Axford is now thirty-eight. He is the Brewers single-season saves leader with 46. And he’d recently pitched for Team Canada during Olympic qualifications, then was sent by the Toronto Blue Jays to their Triple-A ballclub as Axford had looked impressive and his velocity (upper nineties on the radar gun) was back. Then Toronto traded Axford, a then-minor league player, to the Brewers for cash considerations. This was a classy move by a classy organization.

To make matters even more interesting, Axford had worked for the Blue Jays as a TV analyst at the start of this season before making his comeback effort. (To say that all of this is quite uncommon, almost of a storybook quality, is understating Axford’s story.)

So, we return to Milwaukee and Axford’s appearance a few days ago. As I said, he came out to wild applause; there may have even been a standing ovation. (We Brewers fans do not forget our players.) Axford, who’d not pitched for the Brewers since 2013, seemed touched by this (I was watching TV, and saw his expressions). He warmed up on the mound, as every pitcher does, and he looked quite good.

I was happy to see Axford. I wrote about him years ago (that’s why I have a “John Axford” category here at my blog), and I know he’s a quality human being and a class act. I also knew that he’s not the type of guy to accept a challenge unless he believes he can beat that challenge.

Anyway, during the first at-bat by the opposing team (Pittsburgh), he looked impressive. His fastball was hitting 94 or 95 mph consistently and hit 96 at least once. (Fastball velocity matters because major league hitters can tee off on pitches that are slower than that, in general. There are exceptions to this, pitchers who can make change-ups work for them, such as Brewers pitcher Devin Williams. But Axford is not one of those exceptions.) And he’d gotten a couple of strikes on the batter — I forget the guy’s name now, but he always stands right on top of the plate — before hitting him.

So, that guy goes to first base.

Axford still looked OK. He wasn’t rattled. (As an experienced closing pitcher, he’s certainly done things like that before. Not often, but often enough that it wouldn’t throw him.) He kept going.

But something happened to his elbow during the next few at-bats. While he did get one guy out (soft outfield fly, if I remember right), he was not able to get any more outs. And with the last few pitches he threw, the ball came nowhere close to the plate. In fact, they didn’t even come close to the batter’s box, that’s just how far outside they were.

That’s not like Axford, or any experienced player. I knew this. And I also knew that if you ever see something like that in a professional ballgame, the pitcher’s hurt.

Axford was taken out of the game. An MRI was done the next morning, and all Brewers fans know to this point is that Axford is out for the rest of the season as he has unspecified elbow damage.

I feel for Axford. I truly do.

I am not a professional pitcher — not hardly! — but when I was in my teens I had a good fastball for a fourteen-year-old and tried out for the local team. (Unofficially, mind.) Another of the girls I knew, who ran cross-country, also tried out. And we showed enough that it’s possible both of us would’ve gotten an official tryout, even during a time where young women weren’t exactly encouraged to be athletes — and definitely not encouraged to be pitchers. (My friend was a first baseman, mind, and hit a ton. But I digress.)

Anyway, sometime over the next year, I messed up my right arm. I went in to see the orthopedist, and he said as I was not ever going to be pitching again, I didn’t need to have my arm fixed. But that I’d apparently torn something — a ligament, a rotator cuff, he wasn’t sure (and no, he didn’t do an X-ray, either; MRIs were quite expensive, then). Because I was a musician, not an athlete, he did not recommend getting my arm fixed.

Ever since, instead of throwing in the high 70s/low 80s (which was quite good for a fourteen-year-old, I point out again), I can maybe throw a fastball in the mid 30s. My right arm hurts when the weather changes, too.

I know that professional pitchers do get their arms fixed, and they should. But I’m here to tell you that I know these injuries are extremely frustrating. Even to someone like me, who wasn’t really an athlete (though I wanted to be, desperately), an arm injury of the type Axford apparently suffered is difficult to deal with. (I had pain while playing my instruments for at least six months, too. But I digress, again.)

Everyone among the Brewers faithful, and probably most others as well, wanted Axford’s appearance to go differently. They wanted Axford to get the save. They wanted Axford to remain uninjured. And they wanted Axford to enjoy a night that he’d worked hard to get back to: a night in the big leagues, again.

That did not happen.

The story did not go where it should’ve. And that just goes to show you that stories, even when they don’t go the way you want, are important.

I wish Axford well, hope he fully recovers, and pitches again in the big leagues before he retires. But if he isn’t able to make it back to “the Show” again, I hope he’ll remember that the journey to get there was important. All the work he’d done to stay in shape, to try out for Team Canada, to go to the minors and work hard, was important as well.

Hard work, dedication, sacrifice, and care are all important. Axford has all of that in droves. And now, he — along with the rest of the Brewers faithful — needs to remember that he’s done everything he can.

The rest, unfortunately, is out of his hands.

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 6, 2021 at 4:30 pm