Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Float on

No, Tim Wakefield hasn't always been a Red Sox - it just seems that way. Judging by the card above, he apparently pitched for the Pirates at age 12.

The media guide tells me Wakefield has been with the Sox since April 26, 1995 - 10 years next week. And after today's announcement that he has signed a one-year, $4 million contract with the Sox that includes multiple team options at the same Filene's Basement rate, we can say this knowing that it's a realistic possibility:

Here's to 10 more, Knucksie.

I'll admit, I haven't always been a huge Wakefield guy. As a knuckleballer, he is prone to giving up home runs and walks, two characteristics in a pitcher that drive me nuts. And his pitch is inconsistent and unreliable by nature - hell, that's why the thing works - but it guarantees that his bad days will be maddening, if not gruesome. All in all, I'll take the fireballer over the knuckleballer just about every time. It's easier on the nerves.

Yet when I heard the news today that he'll be sticking around for as long as the Red Sox will have him, I had one reaction: Man, that is great news. Wakefield's staying. Thank goodness.

I'm not sure when exactly Wakefield won me over for good, but it was relatively recently. Maybe it was the shattered, I-just-want-to-cry look on his face after giving up Aaron Boone's homer, a look that was on all of our faces that night. Maybe it was his willingness to eschew his Game 4 start and a shot at personal redemption in last year's ALCS to save the weary bullpen in Game 3, a remarkably selfless act that helped spin the series on its axis. Maybe it's his sudden mastery of the Yankees, or the stories of his tireless charity work, or the fact that he makes half of what Matt Clement or Jaret Wright make with the promise of similar if not superior results.

Maybe it was last fall in St. Louis, when our affection for every last one of The 25 became eternal.

Or maybe it was something my wife said in the gleeful immediate aftermath of the World Series victory, something that's stayed with me since: "You know who I'm happiest for?" she said. "The guys who have been here the longest. Like Wakefield, and Lowe, and Varitek, and Nixon. They know how hard this is and how much it means to everyone. They understand."

I think that's it, the main reason among many to like Tim Wakefield. He understands what the Red Sox mean to New England.

And today, with one more selfless act, he told us that the Red Sox mean just as much to him, too.