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12/23/11 5:26 PM EST

For Axford, family time is highlight of holidays

MILWAUKEE -- What a year for John Axford, the onetime bartender who nearly gave up baseball before the Brewers took a flier on him in 2008. Nearly four years later he is entrenched as Milwaukee's closer, coming off a franchise-record season in which he logged 46 saves and became a first-time dad off the field.

Axford, who lives in Ontario with his wife, Nicole, and six-month-old John Brian, took some time to talk to MLB.com about his plans for the holidays.

MLB.com: First things first: What's on top of your Christmas list?

Axford: Honestly, I couldn't tell you. The top of my Christmas list is having all of my family here, and we're doing that again -- we'll have almost 20 people at our house for dinner. It will be all of my sisters, our parents, everyone. It will be the first time in a while that we'll all be together.

MLB.com: Is that Nicole's show, or will you get involved in playing host?

It will be a team effort, for sure. Last year we tried to tackle everything for dinner, and we're not going to do that again. So people will bring their side dishes, and Nicole and I will handle the turkey, ham, mashed potatoes and pies. I'm not a bad cook. Nicole is much, much better than me, but I can handle the grill or the cooktop.

MLB.com: Speaking of family, this is the first Christmas as parents for you and Nicole. How does that change things?

It makes it a lot more exciting, that's for sure. Nicole and I are having way more fun going out and shopping for him than we usually were shopping for each other. He seems to like winter hats, and he has this zip-up, winter bear outfit that he wears. We're excited to have him around for Christmas.

MLB.com: What is your strongest holiday memory?

I think the reason I don't have a gift at the top of my list is that my strongest memories are just spending time with family. We had Christmas dinners with my parents, my sisters and I, our grandparents, some aunts and uncles. Over the years it became bigger and bigger. My best memories are of waking up and knowing we're going to have people around throughout the day.

MLB.com: Since you're not a big gift getter, can you think of the best gift you've ever given someone else?

I got some really good stuff this year, but I can't tell you about it because my wife is standing right next to me. So it will have to stay a secret. I've always enjoyed giving gifts way more than getting them, but my wife always winds up getting me great things that I didn't even know I wanted or needed.

MLB.com: If you gave Brewers general manager Doug Melvin a gift, what would it be?

It would have to be something Canadian. I know he's not here very often, but his parents are still here, so I could put together a gift basket of some pure Canadian maple syrup, some poutine and maybe some real Canadian Smarties. Did you know they're different up here? They have a hard candy shell and are more like M&M's. We have them in the clubhouse sometimes. The Smarties like they have in the U.S. are called Rockets up here.

MLB.com: As the resident clubhouse film critic, what is your favorite Christmas movie?

I love a lot of them, but two of my favorites are definitely "A Christmas Story" and "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation." Both of those just remind me so much of my childhood because we used to watch them every year, and it reminds me so much of my dad because he would start cracking up and laughing at the funny parts before they even happened. And then my mom would laugh at him for laughing too early.

Watching those movies now always brings me back to sitting on the couch at home, laughing together.

MLB.com: Egg nog or hot toddy?

Egg nog. I go through a couple cartons a week. [laughing]

MLB.com: Real Christmas tree or fake?

We have two fake Christmas trees, so I have to say fake. Just because of the mess. With a dog and a baby already, we can't afford any more mess.

MLB.com: Peppermint candy canes or those multi-colored cherry ones?

Well, I prefer the blue striped ones. Those are the best. I don't like the cherry ones.

MLB.com: Are you excited for the season to begin again?

I'm really looking forward to it. I'm on Twitter all the time, so I see how many days it is until pitchers and catchers report. I haven't even received that information yet myself, so it's good to see it on there.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.