I hope that starting pitcher Josh Beckett and everybody else on the Red Sox roster was watching closely during the "Thank you, Wake" ceremonies before today's ballgame against the Mariners at Fenway Park.
In addition to being a classy sendoff for the knuckleballer, the event showed just where Tim Wakefield's priorities were during his 17-year career with Boston.
Rather than showing a bunch of highlights of Wakefield's 200 career victories, the Jumbotron featured photos of him posing with kids from Dana-Farber's Jimmy Fund Clinic and Franciscan Hospital for Children. Rather than trot out a bunch of celebrities to sing his praises, the Red Sox had representatives from the different charities Wakefield has supported during the years join him on the field.
And in a moment that moved the man of honor to tears, dozens of former "Wakefield Warriors" emerged from the same center field door that past Red Sox players had used to make their entrance during Fenway's 100th anniversary celebration last month. The Wakefield Warriors are patients from the Jimmy Fund and Franciscan Hospital who Tim invited to be his guests before each Tuesday game at Fenway, and it was clear from the look on his face as he shook their hands just what their presence at the ceremony meant to him.
The only person to speak besides emcee Don Orsillo and Wakefield himself was longtime teammate David Ortiz. Like Wake, Ortiz is a former winner of the Roberto Clemente Award given annually to the MLB player who "best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement, and the individual's contribution to his team," as voted on by baseball fans and members of the media. "I know how much Boston means to you, and I know how much you mean to Boston," Ortiz said, and the fans roared in agreement.
One of the few baseball moments that was referred to during the half-hour ceremony was Wakefield's selfless gesture to give up his Game 4 start in the 2004 ALCS and pitch in long relief during a 19-8 loss to the Yankees at Fenway in Game 3. This move, perhaps more than any other, showed Wake's character and devotion to his teammates. (It was followed up, of course, by three great relief innings and a win by Wakefield in Game 5, helping Boston on the way to its improbable pennant and World Series triumph.)
In the wake of last September's collapse, the chicken and beer scandal and the bad karma that has (fairly or unfairly) carried over into this Red Sox season, the ceremony was a reminder of the type of difference ballplayers can make in the lives of others—and their teammates—by carrying themselves with class and dignity.
Tim Wakefield won more games at Fenway Park than any other pitcher, but he also won the hearts of fans for what he did when he wasn't on the mound. That's the sign of a true hero.
Saul Wisnia lives less than seven miles from Fenway Park and works 300 yards from Yawkey Way. His latest book, Fenway Park: The Centennial, is available at amazon.com and his Red Sox reflections can be found at http://saulwisnia.blogspot.com/. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @saulwizz.