John Axford wasn’t trying to be controversial when he tweeted that National Football League quarterback Tim Tebow had become a, "Kardashian of professional sports."
He wasn’t trying to cause a stir either when he left the media a handwritten note on the day his impressive consecutive-save streak came to an end. He just couldn’t stick around the locker room after the game because his wife had gone into contractions.
The 29-year-old was just being himself.
Axford is a fan of interaction.
He doesn’t shy away from the media, whether he’s had a fantastic outing or a disappointing one, and is often recognized as one of the most easily accessible players. He enjoys keeping in touch with his fans, even though that means tolerating negative feedback along with the positive.
Axford simply likes to interact.
"It’s fun for me personally," he said. "Because it gets you away from baseball to a certain degree, even though people will still get angry at you because they feel it’s their right to get angry at you on Twitter if you tweet and things aren’t going right.
"At the same time, you need to escape from the game. You need to escape from what’s happening in everyday life at times and that’s a good way to do it. You get to interact with the fans a little bit, which I always love and I always enjoy because the fans in Milwaukee are fantastic. That’s what I like to use it for most. It’s just having fun and a little bit of an escape."
The native of Port Dover, Ont. – and not Simcoe, he will tell you, because it’s very important to the Port Dover community – could not escape the commotion that he caused when he sent out a tweet regarding the excessive coverage Tebow, the New York Jets’ new pivot, received just by arriving at training camp.
Some publications noted that Axford was, "taking a shot" at Tebow, though it was nothing of the sort. ESPN didn’t help matters for the Brewers reliever when they misinterpreted his original tweet and then didn’t immediately rectify the issue, causing backlash against Axford on Twitter.
'Sometimes you throw things out there and maybe hope you get a response and other times you’re not expecting to get one and you do. You have to kind of watch what you say at times.' — Brewers RP John Axford on using Twitter
"[My wife and I] were watching SportsCenter and I was wondering why 10 minutes of the 30-minute episode was all about him when it was just training camp," he said. "So I made that [tweet] and somehow it turned into something bigger. I had all my comments after it too [to clarify].
"I probably got 70 per cent of the people understood what I was meaning but then after SportsCenter put it on, they made it sound like I was being a complete jerk about it. Then everyone started getting angry at me until they redid it again and kind of apologized to a certain extent on Twitter and then on SportsCenter too…
"Sometimes you throw things out there and maybe hope you get a response and other times you’re not expecting to get one and you do. You have to kind of watch what you say at times. I’m not one to be on there to be controversial by any means and that wasn’t meant to be controversial."
Axford figures he gained about one thousand followers from the misunderstanding. He’s not sure they’ll stick around, though, because they might be expecting something from the right-hander that he’s not.
"Because people were spinning it that way they think, ‘Oh maybe this guy is a good controversial follow,’" Axford said. "But no, I’m not. I’m just actually a guy that likes to talk about skull T-shirts and doing everyday stuff and music and movies and whatever.
"It’s interesting the way social media can spin you and the way that people around social media can spin you, too."
Character stands out
There are many more fans of the pitcher’s tweets and comments than there are discontented readers, Axford makes sure to note. He responds to his followers, posts pictures, starts contests and shares his thoughts on a regular basis. He even starred in a music video in Ancaster, Ont., after the lead singer of a local band tweeted him a request.
It’s his character that stands out to many fans, though his National League-leading 46 saves last year might have also made an impression. But, he said recently before a game in which he had yet another tough outing, "Your strength of character isn’t tested in your good moments. It’s tested in your bad moments."
Axford had two bad moments on the night he left a note for the media that, again, turned into something much bigger than he ever could have imagined.
One was his first blown save after 49 consecutive converted opportunities. The second, a moment that put the first into perspective, was a wave of worry that overtook him as he was informed that his pregnant wife needed him.
"It was my first blown save in over a year for that note, and I just wanted to cheer myself up," Axford said. "Because once you get off the field, I was really upset; really angry. And Tony, the head clubhouse manager, he came over and said, ‘Hey your wife’s outside,’ and my mood immediately changed. I was like, okay something’s going on. So I got out and realized there’s more to it than just baseball.
"But I was upset once again. I was upset for baseball reasons before and now it turned into, this is my family and I’m upset because of that. So the note was literally just to make myself cheer up a little bit and I knew the media was going to be standing right by my locker right after the game and I wasn’t going to be there. I wanted to leave them something other than someone in our PR group saying, ‘Ax couldn’t make it, he had to go.’ I didn’t expect it to be what it was."
'For every bad comment I get, I probably get 10 positive ones.' — Axford on his Twitter scorecard
Axford has become a man involved in things much bigger than him. With his success last year, a 1.95 earned-run average in 73 2/3 innings and successfully earning the Brewers closing role, Milwaukee found a hero.
With the results he’s posted this season, so far the worst of his career — a 5.40 ERA through Aug. 3 — the negative tweets seemingly flow in after each appearance. Axford has even gone so far as to call out #TwitterToughGuys on occasion. He says it’s all in good fun and he keeps a sense of humour about the negativity.
"It doesn’t matter who you are," Axford said. "If you’re on Twitter, you’re opening yourself up for anybody to talk to you. For every bad comment I get, I probably get 10 positive ones. The fans are great and for every bad comment, that’s generally just someone that’s trying to rattle your chain or do something that they wouldn’t normally do to you in person anyway.
"I think it’s fun. People think I actually take it to heart but I really don’t. I find it more hilarious than anything else that people feel that they can actually be able to speak to you the way they do on Twitter, with as many swear words and insults as they can. That’s another fun thing."