Navy blue has been the color of choice for the majority of John Axford’s baseball career. From his two stops in college to breaking into the big leagues with the Milwaukee Brewers, Axford has worn blue.
But now he’s sporting an entirely different color on a daily basis. Not just red, but Cardinals red.
“It’s been a little different,” Axford said. “Even in college at Notre Dame and Canisius College it was always navy blue. Then the Brewers. I was with the Yankees for a year in the minor leagues and that was all navy blue. It’s been interesting getting used to it. I got a taste of it with Team Canada in spring training, but it’s been a good adjustment so far.”
The Brewers traded their former closer to St. Louis on Aug. 30 for a player to be named later that turned out to be reliever Michael Blazek. Though he didn’t get into the game, Axford’s Cardinals faced Milwaukee for the first time since the trade Tuesday.
While he knew he was a prime candidate to be non-tendered by the Brewers in the offseason and figured his time in Milwaukee was running thin, Axford didn’t expect to be sent to a division rival.
“I think my first words before I was even told I was traded were ‘It’s happening right now?’ ” Axford said. “I was told ‘Yes, this is happening’ and then ‘Ax, you’ve just been traded to the Cardinals.’ I think my next words were ‘Really? The Cardinals?'”
“It’s a great thing going from fourth-place to first and the Cardinals have been playing fantastic baseball with the sweep of the Pirates last weekend and going back into first. It’s been great to get that energy and get that feel out there on the field that a first-place team has. It’s been fantastic.”
Making $5 million this season and owed at least $4 million if tendered a contract for next season, whether Axford is brought back by the Cardinals next year likely depends on how he performs down the stretch in a pennant race.
After missing his first game with St. Louis due to flight delays due to weather and a fire on the runway at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, Axford made his Cardinals debut the following day. He has a 4.91 ERA in five outings for St. Louis and was ejected Friday for hitting Pirates’ catcher Tony Sanchez after both benches had been warned.
Axford broke in with the Brewers in 2009 and ended his time in Milwaukee second in franchise history with 106 saves. His 46 saves in 2011 are a franchise record and he was dominant in the team’s run to the National League Championship Series. The last two seasons have been up and down for the 30-year-old, but he will always remember his time with the Brewers fondly.
“(You miss) all the guys that you get to know when you are over there,” Axford said. You are in the clubhouse with them every single day. You get to be around everybody every single day with the flights, the bus rides, just the comradery you have with these guys is something that you miss.
“It’s hard to get that within a week that I’ve been with St. Louis. But at the same time, it’s been great coming over here right now. The clubhouse is really open, the guys have been fantastic and open with me and they’ve really made me feel welcome.”
While the first outing against his former team didn’t come Tuesday, Axford will more than likely take the mound against the Brewers in one of the final two games of this series and then again when St. Louis visits Miller Park later in September.
“You just have to be professional about it,” Axford said of facing his former team. “I’m sure I’ll be enjoying the game for the first little bit, watching everybody as the opposition now for the first time. But when I get on the mound it will be all business. I have to go after things professionally.”