This afternoon at Fenway Park the Red Sox honored a pitcher who for 17 years called its’ mound his home. The Red Sox held “Thanks, Wake” Day and in an emotional ceremony before the series finale with the Mariners (a 5-0 Red Sox win), Tim Wakefield reunited with a few of his former teammates, relatives, friends, and members of his charity “Wakefield Warriors”. And in a tribute to an incredible event that happened on May 1, 2006, Wakefield’s personal catcher Doug Mirabelli was escorted into centerfield in a Massachusetts State Trooper’s cruiser to catch one final knuckleball thrown by #49. If you remember, Doug Mirabelli was re-acquired in a trade that day that sent Josh Bard, Cla Meridith, and cash to the Padres in exchange for the seldom used catcher that had the rare ability to handle the knuckleball.
Tim Wakefield was born in Melbourne, Florida on August 2, 1966 and he went to college in town at Florida Institute of Technology. At Florida Tech he was named the team MVP as a first-baseman in both his sophomore and junior years and has the school home run record with 40 in his career with the Panthers. He also has #3 retired by college.
After college Wakefield was drafted in the 8th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1988 draft. He was selected as a first-baseman, but after being told by a scout that he wouldn’t make it above the Double-A level as a position player with the skillset he had, he started to develop the knuckleball that has made him so famous. At the time Wakefield stated “I just want to be able to say I tried everything I could to make it” and that work ethic he displayed even as a kid helped make him a fan favorite during his 19 year career. It also helped him make the full transition into a pitcher, and in 1990 he led the Carolina League in starts and innings pitched. He continued to improve and develop throughout 1990 and 1991, and he finally made the major leagues in 1992 after starting the season with the Pirates AAA Affiliate the Buffalo Bisons.
On July 31, 1992 Wakefield was called up by the Pirates and made his major league debut against the St. Louis Cardinals. In his first game he did something he would do 32 other times in his career, he pitched a complete game in a 3-2 win. He struck out 10 batters and walked 5 in his major league debut and allowed two un-earned runs on just 6 hits. Wakefield was a boost for the playoff bound Pirates that year, going 8-1 with a 2.15 ERA, and then pitched 2 complete games against the Braves in the National League Championship Series. Unfortunately for Wakefield, he struggled at the beginning of the 1993 season and was sent back down to the minors and he then had an awful year in 1994 in AAA, before ultimately being cut by the Pirates on April 20, 1995.
Six days after being cut by the Pirates, Wakefield was signed by the Red Sox, and he very quickly became the most dependable pitcher on the Sox. I won’t bore you with the details of what he accomplished in Boston, but I’ll let the stats tell the story. Over the course of 17 seasons in Boston he compiled a 186-168 record, had 22 saves, a 4.43 ERA, and pitched 3006 innings. He was also a key pitcher on both Red Sox World Series Championship teams, an all-star in 2009, the 1995 AL Comeback Player of the Year winner, and the 2010 Roberto Clemente Award recipient. You would have to be a Red Sox fan to appreciate everything that he’s done for the ball-club and for the Boston community, and he set a good precedent as being one of the few “unselfish heroes” during his time in professional baseball.
Today an emotional Wakefield gave a speech to thank people for helping him accomplish everything that he has in the game of baseball, and I would like to include that speech here. Wake stated: ““I have to thank the Red Sox organization for giving me the best 17 years of my life. I have to thank my teammates, the former ones that I played with. You guys have always had my back and I’ll have yours forever. Thank you for your support. Last but not least the fans, like I said in February, every time I took this mound I gave everything I had and every time I walked off you guys always gave me a standing ovation and I will cherish the memories that we shared together from ’04-’07 and all the 17 years in between. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I love you guys and thanks for being here today.”
Wakefield, the real thanks goes out to you, from all of Red Sox Nation. For all the innings you ate up (the most in Red Sox history), for all the big wins you had and the losing streaks that you snapped. For always being there when the team counted on you, for never complaining, and never publically questioning managers for what’s been asked of you. All the charity work Wakefield performed over the years helped thousands of children, and I’m sure thousands more like me went out and practiced that knuckleball whenever there was a dull moment at practice. #49 is a true Red Sox legend and this afternoon was a touching tribute to a man who meant so much to the hometown nine.