John Axford, who played two seasons for the Oakland A’s before joining Toronto, was in the Bay Area earlier this month training at the University of California, Berkeley and trying to figure out his next steps, in a March 18, 2020 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Canadian pitcher Axford not thinking about baseball future amid outbreak

John Axford is taking a break from wondering about his baseball future.

The Canadian relief pitcher, who last appeared in a major league game with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2018, is more concerned with the COVID-19 pandemic, and how its affecting those around him.

“The communities themselves that we are in, I think that’s the biggest piece to all this,” Axford, 36, said in a phone interview with The Canadian Press from his Burlington, Ont., home. “I’m a part of the baseball community, but I’m also part of the Burlington community and the Hamilton community, and people that I know and love work here and I want to assure that everyone is able to get by in these unprecedented times.

“It would be great to keep playing and I’d love to continue playing for another few more years, but I’m also at the point of realizing this may not happen this year because of everything that’s going on, so I have to prepare myself for that. But it’s more about looking at the bigger picture of what’s going on here.”

Axford, a right-hander originally from Port Dover, Ont., appeared in 45 games with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2018 before being acquired by L.A. at the trade deadline that year.

He re-signed with Toronto on a minor-league contract before the 2019 season, but a stress fracture he sustained in his throwing elbow at spring training kept him out of action for the entire year.

After having surgery last August to remove bone spurs from the elbow, Axford said he was feeling good heading into this off-season and hoping a team might take a chance on him.

“I didn’t know what to expect (after the surgery) but I worked really hard and diligently and followed protocol,” Axford said. ”I really felt ready to go for spring training, knowing that if I signed with a team I’d have to make with that team.”

Axford, who played two seasons for the Oakland A’s before joining Toronto, was in the Bay Area earlier this month training at the University of California, Berkeley and trying to figure out his next steps.

He flew back to Canada as he’d originally planned last Wednesday — the same day the World Health Organization labelled the coronavirus spread a pandemic — and MLB announced the next day it was cancelling the rest of spring training and postponing the start of the season by at least two weeks.

MLB extended that postponement by another six weeks on Monday.

As gyms and fitness facilities are closing around the U.S. and Canada in an effort to halt the spread of the virus, Axford believes it’s going to be tough for any player, let alone one without a current contract, to stay in shape over the next two months.

“It’s a difficult spot to be in, especially with everything else that is going on,” he said. “Facilities are getting shut down, places where you would go to prepare for a baseball season physically are closing.

“Even the players who do have teams to go to, they’re going to be facing the same reality. They’re going to have spaces where they train that will now be closed. … So I think baseball is going to have to take another look as to what happens when these eight weeks are up — do you have another spring training? Are players just expected to prepare through all this and stay vigilant and keep their arms healthy and their swings ready?

“It’s going to be a difficult thing, especially for starting pitchers. That buildup happens at spring training and now there’s a shutdown.”

Axford, who’s also a father of two young boys, turns 37 in two weeks. Should he miss out on the entire 2020 season, he’d be nearing 38 — without having pitched in a live MLB game in two years — when the 2021 season begins.

Axford said he’s thinking less and less about that each day, however.

“I kinda took my mind off baseball once things started escalating,” he said. “There’s so much more happening right now in our communities — all these closures, the self-isolation.”

Axford said he reached out to Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro to see how he could help with the recently established Team Toronto Fund — a combined endeavour by the Blue Jays, Maple Leafs, Raptors, Argos and Toronto FC to assist arena/stadium workers and support staff during each league’s closure.

“We have all these stadiums that are now going to be empty and people have jobs and need to get paid and carry on with their lives,” Axford said. “We have restaurants and gyms and concert halls and museums completely closing up and people are without work and without means to possibly get by in these next few weeks.

“I think that dynamic is a little bit bigger than my own selfish reason to want to continue to play baseball.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 18, 2020.

BaseballCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

FILE - A Tim Hortons employee hands out coffee from a drive-through window to a customer in Mississauga, Ont., on March 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Tim Hortons to test deposit program for returnable coffee cups and packaging

Test program to start at select Toronto restaurants

FILE - U.S. President Donald Trump, center left, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chat before a round table meeting of NATO leaders in Watford, Hertfordshire, England, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Evan Vucci
US NATO allies still short on defence spending aims

None of the 30 allies owes NATO or its members money

Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce. (Contributed photo)
Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce announces business of the year winners

All finalists ‘displayed courage’ this year, says chamber CEO

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives for an announcement at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020.	Kenney is isolating at home after one of his ministers tested positive for COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Alberta premier isolating after minister tests positive for COVID-19

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is isolating at home

Canada goalkeeper Erin McLeod wipes tears from her eyes after losing 2-1 to England during a FIFA Women’s World Cup quarterfinal soccer game in Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday June 27, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Canadian ‘keeper Erin McLeod happy in Iceland, looks to help others stay positive

Orlando loaned McLeod to Iceland’s Ungmennafelag Stjarnan in August

FILE - Toronto Raptors’ Fred VanVleet (23) goes up for a shot agains the Boston Celtics during the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Raptors do without live visits from potential recruits as NBA draft approaches

No opportunity to bring players to Toronto training facility

FILE - This Dec. 11, 2019 file photo shows Channing Dungey at The Hollywood Reporter’s Women in Entertainment Breakfast Gala in Los Angeles. Dungey has been named chairman, Warner Bros. Television Group, starting her tenure at the studio early next year. The news was announced today by Ann Sarnoff, Chair and CEO, WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group, to whom she will report. Dungey will succeed Peter Roth who will be stepping down from his Studio responsibilities running the TV Group and its operating divisions in early 2021. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)
Study: TV industry falls short of off-camera inclusivity

Whites held 92 per cent of chair and CEO positions

Tampa Bay Rays' Brandon Lowe rounds the bases after a home run off Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Tony Gonsolin during the first inning in Game 2 of the baseball World Series Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Lowe homers twice, Rays hold off Dodgers 6-4 to even Series

Lowe homers twice, Rays hold off Dodgers 6-4 to even Series

Mighty Heart is held outside trainer Josie Carroll's stable by exercise rider Des McMahon, as the colt is washed down after being breezed at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto on October 15, 2020. Mighty Heart will make his Triple Crown quest from the the No. 8 post Saturday. The Queen's Plate and Prince of Wales champion was named the even-money favourite in the draw Wednesday for the $400,000 Breeders' Stakes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Mighty Heart to take run at ending Triple Crown drought in $400,000 Breeders Stakes

Mighty Heart to take run at ending Triple Crown drought in $400,000 Breeders Stakes

Toronto Blue Jays President Mark Shapiro watches during baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., on Friday, February 24, 2017/ Short on specifics and long on bullishness, Shapiro set an optimistic tone during his first general media availability since the team was eliminated from the post-season a few weeks ago. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Toronto Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro short on specifics, long on bullishness

Toronto Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro short on specifics, long on bullishness

Most Read