Tim Wakefield made little progress this past season toward his goal of winning the most games of any pitcher ever in a Boston Red Sox uniform. The 44-year-old knuckleballer was just 4-10 with a 5.34 ERA, and lost his spot in the team's starting rotation. The four wins were the fewest he's had in a season and left him with 179 wins, 13 short of the record of 192 jointly held by Roger Clemens and Cy Young.
But in his 15 years with the Red Sox, Wakefield has never been measured solely by his performance on the field, which is why he has cemented his place in Sox history as a permanent fan favorite. When he started against the New York Yankees in Fenway Park on the next-to-last day of the 2010 season, the applause was warm and sustained, even as he departed after giving up five runs in five innings.
Thursday night before Game 2 of the World Series in San Francisco, Major League Baseball recognized Wakefield for what New Englanders have known all along: that Wakefield's investment in those around him extends far beyond the field. With Roberto Clemente's widow, Vera, present for the ceremony, along with her son, Roberto Jr., Wakefield was awarded the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award, given annually to the major leaguer who combines a dedication of giving back to the community with outstanding skills on the baseball field.
"This is a very special day for me and I am extremely honored to be named the recipient of the Roberto Clemente Award," Wakefield said. "Roberto's legacy truly epitomizes how an athlete should act, not only on the field, but off as well. That's what I've tried to emulate throughout my career. I feel very lucky to be living out my dream I had as a kid and I feel a responsibility to give back."
Wakefield has essentially served two communities -- Boston, where he makes his professional home, and Melbourne, Fla., where he grew up and was drafted as a first baseman by the Pittsburgh Pirates. It is in Melbourne where Wakefield has been a driving force for funding to support the Space Coast Early Intervention Center, a nonprofit therapeutic preschool facility that pairs children with special needs with those without such needs. For the past 17 years, he has hosted a celebrity golf tournament in Melbourne to support the center -- this past January, Hall of Famers Bobby Orr and Jim Rice both showed up with their clubs.
But Wakefield has hardly neglected those in his adopted town. Twelve years ago, he established the Wakefield Warriors program, which among other things enables young patients from the Franciscan Hospital for Children and the Jimmy Fund to visit Wakefield and attend batting practice before all Tuesday home games. Last year, the hospital renamed a refurbished baseball field the Tim "Wake" Field.
Wakefield also has contributed to Garth Brooks' Teammates for Kids foundation and has co-hosted the Pitching in for Kids charity golf tournament and kickoff party with teammate Jason Varitek for several years. All of these things he does with little fanfare, except when he's putting the squeeze on someone to help one of his causes.
One story that goes back some years: In 2004, just after the Red Sox had won their first World Series this decade, Wakefield showed up in Portland, Maine, with guitar in hand, to fulfill a promise to a friend. Recording artist Cindy Bullens, who lost her 11-year-old daughter, Jessie Bullens-Crewe, to Hodgkins disease, was holding a concert to benefit the Jessie B-C Fund as well as the Maine Children's Cancer Center. Wakefield played with her band, then took the mike while the band backed him up as he sang lead on the Eagles' "Take It Easy."
That's just one illustration of why Wakefield has been nominated by the club eight times for the award. Wednesday night is a "W" that won't close the gap to Young and Clemens, but counts for so much more.
Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.