Tim Wakefield is back for another spring. Entering his 15th year with the Red Sox, Wake, 42, has the third-highest win total in franchise history. I spoke with him about getting outs, getting older, and getting a catcher who can handle the knuckleball.
TC: Unless Kenny Rogers signs with an American League team today, youíll report to spring training as the oldest pitcher in the AL. How did that happen?
Wakefield: [laughs] Good question. I donít know how it happened. Iím honored to have that title, but I guess itís just a sign of longevity and being with the same club that believes in you for the last 15 years.
TC: Thank God for Jamie Moyer in the NL.
Wakefield: Yeah, no kidding. I think Jamie is 46, and watching him last year in the World Series put a smile on my face knowing that he throws just about as hard as I do and heís still getting outs without a knuckleball.
TC: The Red Sox have added Brad Penny and John Smoltz to the staff. One thing weíve learned in Boston over the years is that rotational depth is so important, and it takes more than five guys to last the season.
Wakefield: I think so. You never know what injuries may pop up, and you need that depth. Whatís good about our club is weíve also got a lot of young guys who can step in and fill those roles, too. With Clay Buchholz or Justin Masterson or Michael Bowden, [we have] guys like that who have been in the big leagues before and have shown that they can fill in for somebody who may be on the DL for 15 days. With the addition of John Smoltz and Brad Penny, weíve got six bona fide major league starters who can get it done.
TC: Youíve pitched with some pretty impressive pitchers in your time here, guys like Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez. And now you can add another future Hall of Famer, Smoltz, to that list.
Wakefield: Yeah, and Iím very honored to say that I was teammates with guys like Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe and now John Smoltz, and you can add Josh Beckett and Jon Lester to that. I was able to see four no-hitters in my career in Boston. Itís pretty amazing to be able to say that. You get to see some special things, and Iím very fortunate to have been able to do that.
TC: You sit here having won 164 games with the Sox. Only Clemens and a guy named Cy Young have won more in the uniform. Yet, somehow, you manage to hide in the weeds and stay off the radar. How do you do that? Is it by design?
Wakefield: [laughs] I donít know how I do it, I just do it. I was brought up to just go work and keep your mouth shut and just play hard. I think the one thing Iíve really taken pride in is just doing the work, donít make excuses after a bad outing, be a man and stand up and face the responsibilities that you have. I try to give credit where credit is due, and go out there every five days and give it my best. By having that type of attitude and philosophy about the job, it has allowed me to stay under the radar a little bit.
TC: You signed a contract that gives the team a perpetual club option at $4 million a year, giving up some freedom to make this your home. Do you ever have any regrets when you see guys with lesser resumes making more as free agents?
Wakefield: Absolutely not. I told my agent when we worked this deal that it wasnít about the money, it was about staying in Boston and retiring with the Red Sox jersey on my back. The money wasnít an issue. I just wanted the stability and to be able to come back year after year and make the same money. It doesnít bother me at all when I see guys sign for more money or more years.
TC: Josh Bard is coming back as catcher. Have you spoken with him this off-season?
Wakefield: He sent me a text and I sent one back. Iím real excited for Josh. Heís one guy that came into camp in 2006, and Iíve never really seen anybody work as hard as he did to try to learn how to catch the knuckleball. He was disappointed in the outcome, obviously, but I think heís got a better light on the idea of catching it in his own way and not try to emulate Doug [Mirabelli] or emulate somebody else thatís caught it. He has his own unique style, and I thought he did a really good job the time he was here. I just think he tried a little too hard.
TC: More than any other pitcher, you get dragged into these catching discussions. Do you get tired of hearing your name mentioned every time a catcher comes to the Sox?
Wakefield: [laughs] I just kind of shrug my shoulders. Whatever. You know, Dougie did such a good job for six, seven years, and [Kevin] Cash did a great job for me last year. Even in the short amount of time that Josh was here I thought he did a tremendous job. It just was a matter of being consistent with what he was supposed to be doing. I just laugh at it, itís like I need that special catcher all the time, but Jason Varitek could probably do it, too. I feel bad because itís the uniqueness of how I throw that we need that special catcher to come in and catch me.
TC: You made John Flaherty retire.
Wakefield: [laughs] So I was told.
TC: Is spring training your fountain of youth? Does that drive to Fort Myers make you feel 20 years old again?
Wakefield: I really look forward to that drive, knowing itís time to go back to work and have a lot of fun. The off-season, as short as it is, is a lot of fun and a lot of freedom, but I like that structure of getting up and getting my work done and having the ability to compete at the highest level. I still get excited about it, even after 17 years of playing.
OT contributor Tom Caron is the studio host of Boston Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network.
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