TORONTO -- Hours before the Mariners boarded their charter flight to Toronto on Sunday, James Paxton was asked if it still meant something special to pitch in his native country.Paxton lives in Wisconsin in the offseason, near his wife's family. He's spent most of the rest of his adult life
TORONTO -- Hours before the Mariners boarded their charter flight to Toronto on Sunday, James Paxton was asked if it still meant something special to pitch in his native country.
Paxton lives in Wisconsin in the offseason, near his wife's family. He's spent most of the rest of his adult life as a resident of Seattle, just a few hours south of British Columbia, where he grew up with his parents in the small town of Ladner, about 15 miles south from where his mom, Barb Paxton, owns a fabric store called the Cloth Shop on Granville Island in Vancouver.
Paxton's homeland is still stitched close to his heart, as well as displayed prominently on his right arm in the form of a large maple leaf tattoo.
"Yeah," Paxton said as he rushed to ready for one final workout before heading to Toronto. "It's cool to be back in Canada. I enjoy going back there and hearing the Canadian anthem and experiencing Canada again. It's always good."
:: James Paxton no-hitter ::
What Paxton didn't expect is that he'd hear the powerful strains of "O Canada" being blasted on the sound system inside the visitors' clubhouse at Rogers Centre by his teammates on Tuesday night when he came back in from doing postgame interviews … after throwing a no-hitter.
Paxton left Canada in 2007 to attend the University of Kentucky, and his life has been about baseball in the United States since. But no, he hasn't forgotten home.
Some people wear their emotions on their sleeve. Paxton literally wears his under that, on his forearm.
"It's a maple leaf and inside a mural of an island that my family has a cabin on, called Boyer Island," Paxton said of the tattoo that he held up and pointed to at game's end as a tribute to the Blue Jays fans who were cheering him. "As I was growing up, we'd go there two weeks every summer until I started playing baseball. And then I didn't get to go very often.
"But it's just a place that reminds me of family and it's a special thing for me, having not lived in Canada for the past 10 years or so. It just reminds me of home."
The man called Big Maple by his teammates is down to earth, with a quiet, humble way. It's that easy nature that makes it easy to root for the tall 29-year-old.
And by the final innings on Tuesday night, even the Blue Jays faithful were pulling for Paxton in Seattle's 5-0 win.
"Early in the sixth and seventh innings, I could hear a few of them getting on me, saying, 'Oh, you're going to give it up,'" Paxton said. "But I just kept on going. And by the ninth inning, I could hear the cheers when I got outs. People started getting excited about it."
Paxton admitted he'd never heard of Dick Fowler, the only previous Canadian to throw a no-no back in 1945 for the Philadelphia Athletics.
"I have not. I probably should now though, shouldn't I?" Paxton said with a smile. "There've been some great pitchers that have been Canadian that have come through the Major Leagues. I'm very honored to be the next guy."
For Paxton, it's been quite a journey. He was drafted by the Blue Jays in the first round in 2009, but he didn't sign. And when Paxton tried to go back to Kentucky, he wound up being declared ineligible by the NCAA, because he'd already hooked up with agent Scott Boras.
After pitching a few games of independent ball, Paxton was drafted in the fourth round by the Mariners and began a career that has had flashes of immense potential interspersed with injuries and setbacks.
Not everything has been sweet for the Big Maple.
"Funny story," Paxton said. "My first start here in Toronto -- I don't know if you guys remember that, but I do -- I went 1 1/3 innings, I think, and gave up nine earned runs. So I've come quite a ways from that."
It was actually 2 2/3 innings that late September day in 2014, and eight of the nine runs allowed were earned in a 14-4 loss. But Paxton's point was perfect.
It hasn't always been smooth. It hasn't always been easy. But through it all, Canada has always been home. On Tuesday night, Paxton returned in triumph. And "O Canada" never sounded better.
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.