As spring training approaches, new A’s reliever John Axford has some prep work to finish.
Sure, he’ll be getting his body ready for the grind of a long season. But he’s also got a list of must-see movies to watch.
The Academy Awards take place Feb. 28, and Axford’s Oscar predictions have become their own form of entertaining theatre. Two years ago, he posted his Oscar picks on Twitter hours before the show, then shocked everybody by going a perfect 18-for-18.
Last year, Axford took over Major League Baseball’s Twitter account during the Academy Awards and took a stab at all 24 categories. He hit on 17 of them.
One of those he missed was Best Picture -- Axford chose “Boyhood”, but the award went to “Birdman.”
“I think I was just trying to be a little more bold,” he says now. “I was trying to think that Hollywood wouldn’t pick a Hollywood film, but they definitely picked a Hollywood film.”
Oakland’s bullpen always houses a character or two, so Axford, 32, fits in well from that standpoint. Throughout his seven-year career, the right-hander has been on the cutting edge of facial-hair fashion.
Clearly, there’s more than baseball that makes him tick.
Axford majored in Film & Television at Notre Dame, but the Canadian native traces his love of movies back to childhood and the influence of his father, Brian.
“My dad liked to play some old-school films for me,” Axford said. “I remember he’d be driving to get gas. He’d stop, and if one of the old gas stations had some VHS tapes of some movie he liked, he’d pick it up.”
That’s how Axford got introduced to movies like “The Shining,” “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” and “The Deer Hunter.”
While attending high school in Brantford, Ontario, Axford took a communications class, and he and a buddy would grab video cameras and shoot scenes around campus. They eventually began making promotional videos for school events, with their work being piped into classroom TVs.
“We’d live-broadcast our announcements like a news segment,” Axford said.
By the time he was in college, Axford couldn’t watch a movie without dissecting it from every angle. But he said he’s now able to enjoy films for the pure entertainment. It’s a good way for a reliever to clear his head away from the diamond.
Axford is one of several key additions for an A’s bullpen looking to improve on a disappointing 2015 season. He throws in the mid-to high-90’s and arrives with 141 career saves on his resume. Though Axford projects as a setup man, he’s got the experience to be an insurance policy for incumbent closer Sean Doolittle.
During his four-plus seasons with the Brewers, Axford became a sponsor at the Milwaukee Film Festival. The annual event now features a “John Axford Presents” segment. In 2012, he presented a 25th anniversary viewing of “The Princess Bride.” In the years since, he’s been on a self-described “Kubrick kick,” presenting “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Dr. Strangelove” and, of course, “The Shining.”
Before submitting his Oscar picks for this year, Axford said he still needs to see several contenders, including “Spotlight,” “Room” and “Brooklyn.” One movie he gives a big thumbs-up to is “The Revenant.”
“The cinematography is gorgeous,” he said. “It’s beautiful. All natural light. Leonardo DiCaprio is incredible. He probably should win (Best Actor), I would think, this year.”
Axford often catches an early movie before heading to the ballpark during the season. But it’s on team charters that he does his serious viewing. And the A’s, being on the West Coast, make some of the longest road trips in the majors.
“My plane rides consist of some food and movies,” he said. “I’ll be able to catch a few more, I’m sure now, being in Oakland, with the travel we’ll have. I just gotta make sure my laptop’s charged.”