Tim Wakefield: Baseball Legend, Panther for Life

By Stephanie Bacon

Two-time World Series Champion. American League All-Star. Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer. Roberto Clemente Award winner. Robert F. Kennedy Award winner. National League Rookie Pitcher of the Year. American League Comeback Player of the Year. Two-time MVP Florida Tech. Florida Tech Sports Hall of Famer. Jerome P. Keuper Distinguished Alumni Award Winner.
TIM WAKEFIELD is a testament to perseverance, professionalism and humanitarianism. Most sports enthusiasts would agree, there has never been a player like Wakefield in major league history. In today’s headlines where there are questionable sports characters dominating the news, Wakefield is heralded as one of the best to ever play the game for his efforts on and off the field.

His 19-year major league career is one that is hard to believe. As a pitcher—he has started, closed, been ousted from the rotation, left off a playoff roster, started a World Series game and through it all, he does what needs to be done and sacrifices himself for the best outcome for the team.

Wakefield was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates (eighth round, 1988) out of Florida Tech, believe it or not, as a powerhitting first baseman. His university records are still standing today. Shockingly, he quickly discovered his bat wasn’t good enough for the major leagues.

Fortunately for Wakefield, after being watched in a game of catch by a manager for the Gulf Coast League Pirates, Woody Huyke, the idea was born to make him a knuckleball pitcher.

“Looking back, I was just throwing the ball warming up the way my father used to throw it to me after work in our backyard, those years of just having fun with the ball, changed my life,” reminisced Wakefield.

He underwent a drastic makeover to master the trick pitch. His knuckleball was instantly successful and led the Pittsburgh minor leagues in all the stats that matter—wins, innings pitched and complete games.

This success catapulted him into the major leagues in 1992. His season was so good, he nearly led the Pirates into a World Series appearance. It would seem that the next season would be far and away his best year yet—not so.

Instead devastation. He lost control of his pitches and ultimately returned to the minor leagues. The following season, a baseball player’s nightmare, he was released.

As luck would have it, the Boston Red Sox saw potential. Determined to return to the glory of the Majors, he tapped into his Panther pride. Coach Les Hall, Florida Tech’s legendary baseball coach who recently passed away, taught him valuable lessons early in his Panther athletic career. Hall did everything he could to get the Panthers and fields ready for practice—acting as head groundsman, pitching coach, setting the pitching areas and batting coach. Coach expected the same level of dedication from each of his players. Hall even sat his star player (Wakefield) during a game versus UCF in Orlando, while there were scouts in attendance to prove a point.

“Witnessing Coach’s devotion to work and the integrity of the game had a lasting influence—how to become a man and the right and wrong in life,” shared Wakefield.

Knuckleball coaching and dedication revived his baseball career. For the next 17 years, he provided the Boston Red Sox baseball team with whatever pitcher they needed at the time. He is the franchise leader in starts with 430, and innings pitched with 3,006. And as any baseball fan knows—he was part of the team who broke the “Curse of the Bambino” and helped lead the Boston Red Sox to the World Series championship in 2004. He again was a World Series champion in 2007.

Personally, he recorded his 200th career victory, 2,000 strike-outs and 3,000 inning milestones which mark him with the other baseball pitching legends.

Off the field, Wakefield helps those less fortunate and his community. The Boston Red Sox nominated him eight times for the Roberto Clemente Award, which is presented to the player who best reflects the spirit of giving back to the community. He won the award in 2010. Whether it is raising millions of dollars, visiting the Jimmy Fund Clinic, creating the “Wakefield Warriors” Program with Franciscan Hospital for Children or the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to meet patients, volunteering for New England’s Pitching In for Kids organization or Touch ‘Em All Foundation founded by Garth Brooks, Wakefield seeks to make a

In Brevard, it is well known that he played a major role to save the Space Coast Early Intervention Center by holding an annual golf tournament that continues on to this day. For his fellow ballers, he spent time on the field in the off-season with the Panthers. His contributions along with others made the Andy Seminick/Les Hall Lighted Field a reality. He continues to lend his time to his alma mater though his board of trustees work. His name is remembered in more than the Florida Tech Batting Cage Facility and the historic confines of Fenway Park, his actions and service perpetuate his philosophy that it is our responsibility to include and help everyone. Jerome P. Keuper would be proud.

The true measure of a university’s greatness can be found in the achievements of its alumni. Florida Institute of Technology has established a worldwide reputation for developing leaders and innovators
across diverse fields, from academia to private industry to government. In that stratum of “the best of the best,” FIT alumni have gained their unique distinction through successes in their professions, service to the
university and contribution to their communities.

The Jerome P. Keuper Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes an alumnus whose career accomplishments honor the university’s legacy of excellence. This year’s recipient is Tim Wakefield who will be presented with the award at the Homecoming Awards Gala on Oct. 15.

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