Opportunity knocking for Sox right-hander Dylan Axelrod
BY TONI GINNETTI email@example.com April 5, 2013 10:30PM
The Sox found Dylan Axelrod while he was with for an independent team in Crestwood. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 8, 2013 6:53AM
There was no precipitation when White Sox right-hander Dylan Axelrod took the mound Saturday against the Seattle Mariners at U.S. Cellular Field, only enough wind to cause problems.
But it didn’t bother Axelrod, who held the Mariners to an unearned run and three hits in 52/3 solid
innings. He didn’t get a decision in the Sox’ 4-3 triumph, but matching Mariners ace Felix Hernandez was its own kind of victory.
‘‘Definitely, your confidence goes up with experience and success,’’ he said. ‘‘It gets easier to be out there.’’
Rest assured, the 27-year-old Axelrod gladly would take the ball in any climate, given his road to the majors and his spot in the Sox’ rotation — however long it lasts — with left-hander John Danks on the disabled list.
‘‘It’s a special thing to be here at the beginning of the season and with this team, so I’m taking it and running with it,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t care if it’s raining or cold. I’ve dealt with a lot of things already.’’
Those ‘‘things’’ go beyond the usual challenges for pitchers. His mother died of cancer when he was 10, something he admits made him ‘‘grow up pretty fast.’’
‘‘One of my high school baseball coaches would always say [about baseball]: ‘It’s not arms and legs. It’s baseball, a game,’ ’’ Axelrod said. ‘‘He was a Vietnam War veteran. So I kind of learned, no matter what, it’s a game and life goes on.’’
The lesson was repeated only a couple of years after the San Diego Padres drafted him in 2007 out of California-Irvine. They released him, but a determined Axelrod joined an independent-league team.
‘‘I wasn’t expecting to be
released when I was by the Padres,’’ he said. ‘‘It was kind of a shock, but I felt I still had something left.’’
Axelrod joined the Windy City Thunderbolts in south suburban Crestwood, one of the teams in the independent Frontier League. After going 3-1 with a 2.21 ERA in 22 games with the Thunderbolts, the Sox took a chance on him and signed him in August 2009.
He pitched at every level for the Sox before being called up in 2011, going 1-0 with a 2.89 ERA in four appearances. He made 14 appearances for the Sox last season, going 2-2 with a 5.47 ERA.
‘‘He’s very confident and composed for a young pitcher, and he knows what he’s doing,’’ manager Robin Ventura said. ‘‘He showed he can pitch with anyone.’’
‘‘This kid has beaten a lot of the odds already,’’ pitching coach Don Cooper said. ‘‘It’s a tremendous story, and he’s earned every opportunity he’s had so far — and this is the best opportunity of all.’’
Axelrod knows his story is, well, storybook by big-league standards.
‘‘A lot of people bring that up, and that makes me remember,’’ he said of his time in the Frontier League. ‘‘I try to think about the present. I feel I belong here, but it’s a rewarding path when you look back on it. You had to battle through some things.’’
Baseball always has been a big part of life for Axelrod and his family — his uncle Barry was a player agent before becoming a special
assistant to Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers — and so has a charitable attitude.
‘‘My dad’s good friend is head of a mentor program for United Cerebral Palsy Inc.,’’ Axelrod said. ‘‘My grandmother worked for him, so I kind of grew up around people with cerebral palsy.’’
He’s part of the mentor program, too.
‘‘I just decided it was a way to give back,’’ he said. ‘‘We go on outings — movies, sporting events, what have you — and it brings a smile to their faces. . . . It makes you look at yourself. You’re healthy, let alone in the major leagues. It keeps you grounded.’’
But Axelrod looks to — and reaches for — what still lies ahead.
‘‘Perseverance, you know,’’ he said. ‘‘I try not to let people tell me who I am and label me. I just figured, ‘Go for it,’ and just play my heart out. Play as long as I can, and here I am.’’