John Axford on Team Canada for World Baseball Classic

John Axford in Team Canada jersey
John Axford “Ax Man” is pitching for Team Canada at the 2023 World Baseball Classic starting Sunday against Team Great Britain in Phoenix. Photo: Baseball Canada.

By Jacob Fehr

PORT Dover native John Axford is set to represent his country once more during the 2023 World Baseball Classic (WBC) starting Sunday.

The long-time MLB pitcher was selected to join Team Canada’s mixture of prospects, veterans, and current big-leaguers in their quest to be crowned World Champions of baseball. They begin play against Team Great Britain in Phoenix, Arizona on March 12.

If Team Canada advances from their competition pool, they will travel to Miami, Florida for the quarterfinals and beyond beginning March 16.

John’s parents, Port Dover residents Brian and Vera Axford, are thrilled.

“We are very excited about the World Baseball Classic again this year and very happy about John being a part of it.”

“We are planning to attend all the Arizona games and hopefully some in Miami. We truly enjoy watching and are very proud and happy to see our son play for Canada,” Axford’s parents told the Maple Leaf.

“John, of course, is excited about playing in this year’s classic. He takes pride in representing his country, and truly enjoys the comradery with the other players on the team. He understands that it will be a tough tournament to advance through to Miami but they will always give their 100%.”

Axford’s teammates include Los Angeles Dodgers’ first baseman and 2020 National League (NL) Most Valuable Player recipient Freddie Freeman and St. Louis Cardinals’ outfielder and 2021 NL Gold Glove winner Tyler O’Neill. This group will seek to be the first Canadian team to advance beyond the WBC’s first round.

For Axford, the path back to pitching was paved by his persistence. He missed the 2019 season due to bone spurs in his elbow and sat out the shortened 2020 season. In 2021 he rehabbed in the Toronto Blue Jays’ minor league system before being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers and suffering an elbow injury in his return to MLB on August 2, 2021. He has since recovered from his second Tommy John surgery – formally ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction to repair a torn ligament inside the elbow.

With over 10 years of MLB experience, Axford will bring wisdom and grit alongside his pitching repertoire. He led MLB’s NL with 46 saves in 2011 while he was the closing pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers.

“As parents we are very proud of John and his lengthy baseball career. It’s hard to believe the time has passed by so quickly. His professional career started a little late after a couple rough patches that he worked hard to get through, but paid off when he settled in with the Brewers, where he set team and MLB records. He was a big part of the Brewers play-off run in 2011 and was in the World Series of 2013 with the Cardinals.

“Plus he also got to play for his childhood favourite Blue Jays later in his career.”

Originally published March 8, 2023

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