OAKLAND (AP) — Little Jameson Axford is running around like a typical toddler these days, nine months after the son of reliever John Axford received a rattlesnake bite at spring training that threatened his life.
Now, Jameson — with that blond hair and big grin — will need some new baseball gear in green and gold.
Axford finalized his $10 million, two-year contract with the Oakland Athletics on Friday along with fellow reliever Ryan Madson, who has a $22 million, three-year deal.
While the A’s have Sean Doolittle as their closer, Axford boosts a bullpen that became a top offseason priority. He is ready to begin a new chapter while so appreciative to the Colorado Rockies and community for how they supported his family during a terrifying ordeal this year.
“It definitely was a hard time,” Axford said Friday. “He spent a month in the ICU. We were worried initially about him even surviving the bite, then it turned to possible leg amputation to foot amputation to toe amputation. Each and every week the prognosis got better and better, so I’m happy to say he’s a really strong boy, a huge fighter and he’s jumping around and running around like a little 3-year-old should right now. Obviously, he still has some things that he’ll have to deal with when he gets a little bit older, and we’ll deal with those when it comes.”
Axford will earn $4.5 million next season and $5.5 million in 2017. He has performance bonuses of $250,000 each for 30, 35, 40, 45, 50 and 55 games finished, and his 2017 salary will increase by half the amount of the performance bonuses earned in 2016.
Even under tough personal circumstances, the right-hander went 4-5 with a 4.20 ERA and 25 saves in 60 appearances for the Rockies this year. His son threw out a first pitch from his wheelchair for a May game at Coors Field.
“The thing I took the most from it was how much support he had from his teammates, how his teammates spoke publicly about how much they were rooting for him,” A’s general manager David Forst said. “You got the sense this was a guy who was well liked and who was going to make an impact in any clubhouse he was in.”
Axford was away from the team for more than a week to be with his wife and son, an unforeseen family emergency following an offseason in which he felt so encouraged about his preparation and readiness for the rigors of a new year.
“It was obviously a really, really hard time,” Axford said. “I really put myself in a good spot mentally last year to prepare for the year and be able to compartmentalize when I need to and really focus on pitching. That was a huge test to that. I stepped away from the team for a while, for about 10 days at spring training, really focused on what I needed to focus on, which was my son and my family at the time. The team was really good about allowing me to come back when I wanted, to leave again when needed. But my family needed me, my son needed me.
“It is tough to step away from the game that you love, that you enjoy. My teammates and the clubhouse were a great way for me to kind of get away from certain realities of what was happening but at the same time when I needed to be there and when I needed to check myself in mentally with my son and with my family I could do that.”
Madson, who reached agreement on his deal Sunday, went 1-2 with a 2.13 ERA in 68 outings and 63 1-3 innings for World Series champion Kansas City this year. It was his first AL season following nine years with Philadelphia.
Both Axford and Madson can fill ninth-inning duties if needed. Doolittle spent much of last season injured.
“I think it’s nice that we’ve added their experience at the back end of the game, whether that’s the seventh, the eighth or the ninth innings,” Forst said. “We feel very covered for whatever. At this point, Sean is the closer. I don’t think there’s going to be any confusion about that, but we obviously saw last year that we need to have a plan B and a plan C in place.”