Tim Wakefield acknowledges the crowd at Fenway Park before throwing a ceremonial first pitch at the Red Sox home opener in 2012. Wakefield had recently retired after 17 seasons with Boston. AP Photo/Elise Amendola

Tim Wakefield harnessed the magic of baseball.

He did it for 19 years as a major league pitcher, mastering the alchemy of the knuckleball. His pitches floated, and danced and befuddled the best hitters on the planet. And they delighted Red Sox Nation.

Twenty years ago, Pedro Martinez was the can’t-miss pitcher who led the Red Sox to an eventual championship. You circled your pocket schedule and tried not to miss a Pedro game.

But Tim Wakefield was the relatable superstar. He didn’t throw a 95 mph fastball. He gripped the ball with his fingertips, sent it toward Doug Mirabelli (because Jason Varitek had no chance of catching it), and watched along with the rest of us to see what would happen.

The result was often a strikeout. He recorded 2,046 of them over 17 years with the Red Sox, the second most in team history.

In 1995 I drove down to Boston from Portland for a job interview. I didn’t get the NESN job that day – I’d get a call back later in the week – but I did get tickets to watch the Sox play.


Wakefield was on the mound. He dazzled over 8 1/3 innings, giving up just two hits and pitching into the ninth inning of a 3-2 win. It was Wakefield’s 10th consecutive victory with Boston and upped his record to 14-1. He finished third in the Cy Young Award voting that season.

Wakefield’s career numbers speak for themselves. He won two championships. Was an All-Star. He finished his career with the most starts and innings pitched of anyone in Red Sox history. Only Cy Young and Roger Clemens won more games with the Sox.

Former Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield signs autographs for Tegan Morse, 10, left, and Owen Blaisdell 10, both of Falmouth, during a break in action at the Drive Fore Kids charity golf event at Falmouth Country Club in June. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Wakefield retired as a pitcher in 2011, notching his 200th win in August of that season. He was just the 89th pitcher in the modern era to reach that plateau.

A year later he became a broadcaster, and was instantly beloved by fans for the passion he had for the game and the love he had for the Red Sox.

For all he did on the diamond, and in the booth, Wakefield’s impact in the community was what made him special. He dedicated countless hours to charity, from his hometown of Melbourne, Florida, to Boston. He was the honorary chairman of the Red Sox Foundation after serving as the team captain of the Jimmy Fund.

As tributes poured in from around the baseball world the word “selfless” was used time and time again. It was the perfect word to describe Wakefield. He brought attention to charities that needed it, and helped raise millions for those charities.


He also had a way of making everyone he met feel special. He would spend time talking with fans young and old, sharing memories of championship seasons with them and listening to what those moments meant to them.

Even in retirement, he harnessed the magic of baseball. He used the sport’s platform – his platform – to elevate dozens of causes and make thousands of lives better.

Boston Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield, center, is embraced by teammate Jon Lester, left, as Red Sox minor league pitching coach Rich Sauveur looks on after Wakefield announced his retirement at Boston’s spring training complex on Feb. 17, 2012, in Fort Myers, Fla. AP Photo/David Goldman

So many professional athletes struggle to find their way when their days of competing come to an end. Not Wakefield. He remained the perfect example of what a Red Sox player should be.

At his Red Sox Hall of Fame induction in 2016, I asked Wakefield what his proudest moment as a ballplayer was. I was curious if it was the championships, his first All-Star berth, or one of the many individual honors he received.

He told me it was winning the Roberto Clemente Award in 2010, the MLB award given to recognize extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions both on and off the field.

No one represented those traits better than Wakefield. We were all lucky to have him land in Boston, and to have him call the city home.

Tom Caron is a studio host for the Red Sox broadcast on NESN. His column appears in the Portland Press Herald on Tuesdays.

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