Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘Toronto Blue Jays

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

Sports Roundup: Alison Gordon, Ray Rice…and the Milwaukee Bucks?

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Folks, this sports roundup column will be unusual, as three disparate, but noteworthy things have happened in the past week that I want to comment on.

First, pioneering baseball reporter Alison Gordon died at 74. Ms. Gordon was the first-ever female reporter for any team in the American League and covered the Toronto Blue Jays, starting in 1979. She faced much criticism when she started her career — I’m just barely old enough to remember some of it — yet persevered and prevailed. Later, she wrote a series of murder mysteries where a baseball reporter solved crimes in and around baseball. Here’s a bit of her obituary from cbc.ca:

(The) Baseball Writers Association of America infamously issued her press accreditation as Mr. Alison Gordon, as it had no female-specific or gender-neutral honorifics at that time.

Gordon was also one of the first females allowed into a Major League Baseball locker room, which was controversial at the time but since paved the way for female sports reporters. She was also the first woman on the American League beat, the division of baseball the Jays play in.

Ms. Gordon’s accomplishments were profound, and it’s partly because of her that so many other female sports journalists have gone on to have stellar careers.

Next, Ray Rice’s long-awaited apology has been released as of earlier today (link is from Yahoo’s “Shutdown Corner” NFL blog). In it, Rice expresses remorse, but also thanks the fans of the Baltimore Ravens (his NFL team). Here’s a bit from that apology:

To all the kids who looked up to me, I’m truly sorry for letting you down, but I hope it’s helped you learn that one bad decision can turn your dream into a nightmare. There is no excuse for domestic violence, and I apologize for the horrible mistake I made. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me, and I hope to make a positive difference in people’s lives by raising awareness of this issue.

Now, you may be asking yourself why I said “long-awaited.” No one else, save perhaps Keith Olbermann, is likely to say this, but it’s the truth: without a heartfelt apology, it’s unlikely that Ray Rice can resuscitate his career, not in the NFL, not in the CFL, not anywhere.

See, there are female football fans out there — many of them, as I’m far from the only one in the history of the universe. And we need to see some remorse and some signs that Ray Rice has learned not to abuse women any more. (One wonders what female reporters think of Ray Rice; most haven’t said much, except that he needs counseling and a consciousness raising and to never, never, do this again. Which seems a bit incomplete.)

There are some players, such as Brandon Marshall of the Bears, who after an earlier incident have become outspoken advocates for women and domestic violence. These are players who’ve truly learned that they must do better as human beings, and I hope Ray Rice, down the line, will join their number.

At the moment, though, all I can say is that Ray Rice has apologized. And since he has, I think some team out there should give him another shot, providing Rice stays in counseling (both personal and marital) and gets the anger management he needs.

And finally, how about those Milwaukee Bucks?

Last year, I wrote about how awful the Bucks were. They didn’t even win two games in a row, they were so bad…they only won 15 games, and set a team record for the worst season in the history of the franchise.

What a difference a year makes.

This year’s Bucks squad is 30-23. They’ve doubled their amount of wins in a year, and they’re only at the All-Star break despite losing their #1 draft pick F Jabari Parker to a knee surgery, losing PG Kendall Marshall to a knee surgery, losing C Larry Sanders to a variety of issues, and losing F Ersan Ilyasova to post-concussion syndrome for a month.

Coach Jason Kidd has revitalized the Bucks. Forward Giannis Antetokounmpo has become so much better this year in every respect. Center Zaza Pachulia’s career has been revitalized. PG O.J. Mayo has regained his three-point touch. And best of all, Milwaukee now plays excellent defense, something they decidedly didn’t do under former coach Larry Drew. The Bucks now believe they can win every single night no matter who’s in shape to play– and that enthusiasm and self-belief has become infectious.

As a long-time Bucks fan, I’m pleased with how the 2014-2015 season has turned out thus far. I fully expect the Bucks to make the NBA playoffs (if the season ended today, the Bucks would be the #6 seed), and I wouldn’t have believed that was possible a year ago.

Any thoughts regarding this sports roundup? (I’m guessing there might be a few regarding Ray Rice, at least.) Give me a yell in the comments!