Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. This seemed like the lifetime refrain for the forty-four year old Tim Wakefield, a man who performed consistently for years upon years with very few individual accolades. Sure, he came in third for the AL Cy Young Award way back in 1995 (his first year in Boston), but that was really the only recognition he received, and it would have to tide him over until 2009.

Last summer, after a fantastic first half, Wake was selected to participate the All-Star Game in St. Louis, and was excited as any rookie, despite the fact that he was between 10 and 20 years older than many of his teammates. Unfortunately, AL Manager Joe Maddon didn't put Shakey Wakey into the game, and I know I can't be the only Red Sox fan that's still miffed about it.

Despite the fluctuations in ERA for Wakefield from year-to-year, he has managed to pitch a career average 202 innings each season, and even managed 140 frames this season, despite his advancing age and exile to the bullpen. But no matter what was going on between the foul lines, you could always depend on Wakefield to do his fair share - and more - of charity work.

He runs the Wakefield Warriors program, works with the Space Coast Early Intervention Center in Florida, and is an avid supporter of the Jimmy Fund. Tim Wakefield has been nominated for the Roberto Clemente Award eight times, making him sort of like the Susan Lucci of the prestigious baseball/service award, which goes to a player with great accomplishments on the field, and an outstanding dedication to community service off it.

As always, Wake was gracious: "You've probably heard me say this 1,000 times: It really doesn't matter what you do on the field. What matters most is making a difference in someone else's life. Roberto was a class act when it came to that. This is the ultimate. This is the highest. This has nothing to do with baseball. It has nothing to do with your statistics or anything. It has to do with your character. You guys who know me in Boston, I take a lot of pride in my character. This is an award for character, which ultimately is the highest accomplishment I can attain, or the highest compliment you can get from somebody. I'm very honored and humbled at the same time to accept this award."

He went on to note that he felt he really understood Clemente's legacy, having come up in the Pirates' system, and praised the famous outfielder lavishly: "Not only was he a first-ballot Hall of Famer and one of the greatest players ever to play the game, but for what he did off the field, it really epitomizes what I think athletes and people should be like."

Tim Wakefield may not have the sheer physical gifts and talents that the great Roberto Clemente was blessed with, but he has certainly made the most of his own ability, and, perhaps most importantly, Wakefield has used his influence as an athlete to improve the lives of countless others.

It's possible that we have seen Wakefield's last pitch in Boston: though he is under contract for next year, there has been speculation that the Sox would swallow the money in favor of rotation and bullpen flexibility. I hope to see Wakefield continue his work, both on the diamond and off, but if the time has come to say goodbye, at least he's one out with a bang.

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