Axford finds serenity on Coors Field mound
Rockies closer maintains composure amid son's health issues
DENVER -- Coors Field is considered a pitcher's nightmare. Not for Rockies closer John Axford, however. Coors Field is his oasis of serenity.
It's where, for a couple of hours, Axford can flush his mind of the real-life challenges, focus on doing his job as Colorado's closer, and not worry in the slightest about how the batted ball carries or the breaking ball doesn't break at altitude.
Axford's job is to get saves. And he does it well. Axford worked the ninth inning of the Rockies' 6-3 victory against the Dodgers in the day portion of Tuesday's day-night doubleheader, earning his 10th save in 10 opportunities.
There was a touch of drama. Justin Turner led off the top of the ninth with a single. Three batters later, however, the game was over.
And then Axford's focus returned to the reality, life and death matters.
Jameson, Axford's 2-year-old son, continues to move forward from his recovery after being bitten twice on the top of his right foot by a rattlesnake during Spring Training. For two months, Jameson was in and out of hospitals, doctors working to save his foot. Axford was even inactive for much of April, tending to family matters.
On Axford's way to the ballpark on Tuesday morning, he accompanied his wife for Jameson's regular checkup, where the doctor examines the healing process, and redresses the wound.
"He is not quite healed enough," said Axford.
The skin graft on top of the foot where doctors had to go into the bone to remove an infection has been slow in healing. Jameson is not allowed to walk yet, but he is starting to get around at the Axford family residence north of Denver.
"It is tough to see your son wanting to walk, but he can't," said Axford, a smile coming across his face. "He is getting rug burns on his left leg. My wife showed him how he can scoot around. We're putting long socks and shorts on him now, though, to avoid the rug burns."
The challenge for Axford comes with the demands of the job.
"The road trips, a week, 10 days at a time, and then even being home and having to leave in the afternoon to go to the ballpark can be tough, but in the end is about dealing with adversity and accomplishing the goal of securing things for the family," said Axford.
Challenges, however, are nothing new for Axford.
This is a graduate of Notre Dame with a degree in film and television who recently completed work on his Master's. When Axford's early foray into pro baseball didn't work out, he figured he would get on with that media career and put in applications any place he could think of in the Toronto area, where he is from and still lives in the offseason.
There weren't any responses.
How bad were things? Well, when Axford was trying to survive in the Minor Leagues, he worked one winter selling cellphones and the next winter tending bar.
"There is better money in bartending than the Minor Leagues," he said.
But the dream was baseball, and finally Axford caught that break. The Yankees signed him and he spent the 2007 season with four teams in their Minor Leagues before being released that fall, and picked up by the Milwaukee Brewers. Axford got to the big leagues for seven appearances, and the following year, he replaced expected Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman as the closer, earning 105 saves from 2010-12.
Then came the challenges again. Axford split 2013 between the Brewers and the Cardinals. He split the 2014 season between the Indians and Pirates. Axford spent last offseason looking for work, finally getting an invite to Spring Training from the Rockies that quickly turned into a spot on the 40-man roster.
Now look at him.
Axford is back on the top of his game, assuming the closer role after Adam Ottavino underwent Tommy John surgery. He's not only converted the 10 save opportunities -- the rest of Colorado's staff is 5-for-10 -- but he is unscored upon in 14 of 16 appearances, giving up an earned run in one appearance and an unearned run in the other.
And Axford has done it at Coors Field. He never balked at the idea of calling Coors Field home when he was looking for work in the offseason.
"It never bothered me to pitch there," said Axford, who has a career 3.10 ERA at Coors Field. "The only home run I've given up here is to Tulo and he's my teammate now."
But the image, the reputation?
"I've gone through adversity," Axford said.
And he has handled it well.