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Wakefield's is gripping story

Knuckleballer still contributing

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There's a mirror hanging in the bedroom of Trevor Steven Wakefield back in his home in suburban Boston. The frame is shaped in the form of a Red Sox uniform, and when the Sox went to the World Series, Trevor's daddy made sure everybody on the team signed it.

It is Tim Wakefield's hope that when 9-month-old Trevor is old enough to stand up and see himself in that mirror -- we're talking at least a couple of years -- his father still will be pitching, preferably for the Red Sox. Sure, it was great that his son was born in the same year that generations of fans were forced to stop complaining that the Sox had not won a World Series in their lifetimes. Better yet that Trevor's mom, Stacey, took him to Game 1 of the World Series, with his father on the hill at the start of the game.

But of such moments are memories made? For mom and dad, of course. For young Trevor? "He was 5 months old at the time and didn't see anything," Tim Wakefield said with a smile. "He slept the whole time he was there."

Wakefield this spring begins his 11th season with the Sox, and it's well-covered territory that he easily has the longest tenure of anyone on the team, outlasting Roger Clemens, Mo Vaughn, Jimy Williams, Joe Kerrigan, John Harrington, Dan Duquette, and Pedro Martinez, among others.

He also is in the last year of the three-year, $13 million contract he signed with the club in November 2002, and turns 39 in August. Talks are quietly going on between team and player about a new extension, taking him through another two or three years. Maybe it will get done this spring. If not, the pitcher is content to wait until afterward. After all, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone in Sox management -- including the notably unsentimental Larry Lucchino -- who isn't on record as saying they'd like Wakefield to finish his career with the Sox.

To the Sox, Wakefield is just one of those gifts who keep on giving -- another dozen wins and 30 starts last season for the stat-minded, who should also know that with another 10 wins this season, Wakefield will vault to third place on the team's list, trailing only a guy named Cy Young and a guy (Clemens) who has won more of Cy Young's awards than any pitcher, living or dead.

But his value to the club is measured in so many other meaningful ways, on and off the field. We'll give you two. Game 3 of the ALCS, Wakefield pitches 3 1/3 innings of relief in a 19-8 blowout loss to the Bombers that costs him a scheduled start in Game 4 but saves the bullpen to live another day.

"We had to get through that night before we could play the next night," he said yesterday. "When you're in the heat of the moment, you try to do what you think is the right thing to do."

That was on the field. Just days after the Sox won the World Series, Wakefield was in Portland, Maine, fulfilling a promise to a friend: Singer-songwriter Cindy Bullens, who lost her 11-year-old daughter, Jessie Bullens-Crewe, to Hodgkin's Disease, was having a concert to benefit the Jessie B-C Fund as well as the Maine Children's Cancer Center, and Wakefield showed up, guitar in hand. He played with her band, then took the mike and let them back him up while he sang the Eagles' "Take It Easy."

A month earlier, Bullens, a former backup singer for Elton John who has had Sir Elton record with her, as well as such notable artists as Bonnie Raitt, Steve Earle, and Rodney Crowell, pulled Wakefield into the Woolly Mammoth recording studio near Fenway Park and had him play and sing backup on a song she's recording for her new album, "7 Days." The song has a verse about Ted Williams, and Bullens, a two-time Grammy Award nominee and devoted Sox fan, wanted Wakefield's voice to be heard.

Last month, Bullens showed up for Wakefield's golf tournament in his hometown of Melbourne, Fla., which this spring raised $241,000 for the Space Coast Early Intervention Center, which offers care for children with special needs. Let others bang the drum for what the ballplayer/guitarist does; he just quietly goes about what he can do to make a difference. The Sox, who fancy their players as more than idiots, have nominated Wakefield six times for the Roberto Clemente Award, given by Major League Baseball to honor players for their charitable endeavors.

But what he still enjoys doing most is pitching, and assuming he can avoid dodging the cars of 75-year-old grannies -- one struck him with her car a few years back while he was jogging a couple of weeks before spring training and fractured a bone in his leg -- Wakefield sees no reason he can't continue.

"There's no question in my mind I can pitch until my mid-40s," he said, "[but] I'm not going to pitch that long."

Are you sure?

"No, I'm not sure," he said, "but I'm positive I can pitch to at least 42. If I sign a two- or three-year extension that would carry me to 42.

"The whole reason I want to pitch longer is I want my son to know what Dad did. I want to share the experience with him."

Wakefield admits that even three years from now, it might not register permanently on Trevor what his father does.

"It might be 5 or 6 before he starts remembering this," Wakefield said.

That would put the pitcher at 45, which would mean he'd still be three years younger than his knuckleball mentor, Phil Niekro, was when he called it quits.

Compared to the contracts teams handed out to pitchers with far less impressive pedigrees this winter, Wakefield comes as a bargain for the Sox. He assumes he will be a starter again this season, though a healthy Wade Miller seemingly would leave manager Terry Francona with a choice of bumping Wakefield or Bronson Arroyo from the rotation. Wakefield has been down that road before; he spent four seasons as a swingman, working mostly out of the pen, before Grady Little gave him the ball back for good on a full-time basis in August 2002, when he went 6-1 with a 1.66 ERA down the stretch.

He doesn't want a repeat of that scenario this season, nor does he believes he deserves one.

"I know the situation with Wade Miller, too," he said. "I don't see any reason why I should be the guy who goes to the bullpen.

"It's either me or Bronson. I think Bronson's the more likely candidate for that. He's more of situational type of guy. He can come in and get righties out better than lefties out. I can get both guys out.

"At his age [28], he might be a little more resilient than I am right now. I could probably pitch every day, too, but he's shown in the past that he can pitch back-to-back days -- two innings, two innings, then get the day off."

Trevor Steven Wakefield isn't old enough yet to grasp the lesson, but Wakefield's approach to the coming season, coming off the World Series thrills, is one his teammates would do well to give heed.

"My philosophy is you're only as good as your next start, and you're only as good as your next season," he said. "That was last season. It was great, it happened, but you don't walk backwards. You look at what you just did, then turn around and walk forward. That's our goal, and I think we all realize what's at stake."

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