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Wakefield a warrior off the field

Wakefield a warrior off the field, too

BOSTON -- His first instinct when asked to talk about the inordinate amount of work he does in the community?

"I'd rather not talk about myself like that," said Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. "I'm sorry."

There was nothing to be sorry about. Wakefield obviously doesn't place such a high priority on community service so he can be recognized for it. However, the Red Sox refuse to stop recognizing it.

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For the sixth year in a row, and seventh time overall, the Red Sox have nominated Wakefield as their nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, which "recognizes players who best exemplify the game of baseball through sportsmanship, community involvement and positive contributions to their team."

That's Wakefield now, and for the entirety of his decade-plus in a Red Sox uniform.

Much like it seems like he could throw his knuckleball forever, that's how long the 39-year-old Wakefield's good deeds are likely to continue. How many players get signed to what amounts to a lifetime contract, like Wakefield did this past April?

The Red Sox gave Wakefield a $4 million extension for 2006, then an option (for the same base salary) that the club can exercise for as many years as it wishes after that. How many players would sign a deal like that?

Wakefield and the Red Sox have a unique relationship, filled with trust.

"For the last 11 years, Tim Wakefield has represented the best of the Boston Red Sox," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein the day the new contract was announced. "His continuing contributions to the success of the franchise on the field are matched only by his dedication to community service. This agreement virtually guarantees Wake will retire as a Boston Red Sox, which is fitting. In the long, proud history of the franchise, few men have brought greater honor to the uniform."

In 1998, the veteran pitcher established the Wakefield Warriors program, in which Wakefield invites patients from the Franciscan Hospital for Children -- and sometimes the Jimmy Fund -- to watch batting practice and visit with him and selected teammates before Tuesday home games.

Wakefield likes to make the kids smile. At times, there are tears of joy.

"He made my day. He went and got my favorite player for me, Jason Varitek," said teenager Toni Randel of Wrentham, Mass. "I was bawling my eyes out."

Randel was diagnosed with cancer in January, but she is battling through it.

Her father, Dave, couldn't express enough appreciation for the joy Wakefield brought to his daughter, both back in Spring Training and before the Aug. 30 home game at Fenway Park.

"Overwhelmed," Dave Randel said. "That's a good thing though, it helps a lot. Attitude is nine-tenths of this battle."

"Just the tickets to the game are enough, then he meets them and talks to them and spends time with them," said Tori's mother, Tony Randel. "You have no idea what it means to be able to say, 'Hey, guess who you're going to meet tonight?'"

By now, Wakefield -- who became a father in 2004 -- realizes what it means, because he's visited with so many young patients throughout his career.

"You look at kids like that, you see the struggles they're going through, and we think we have bad days here, it's not even close," said Wakefield, who eventually relented and spent a couple of minutes talking about his community endeavors. "If we can put a smile on their face and maybe make them feel good about themselves ... I've had doctors tell me that helps in the healing process. Self-confidence and laughter and happiness, I think that really heals the soul more than anything."

Aside from all of the things he has done in Boston, Wakefield also continues to be a contributor in his hometown of Melbourne, Fla. He has basically kept the Space Coast Early Intervention Center -- a nonprofit organization that offers care for children with special needs -- afloat.

To Wakefield, it isn't difficult to spend time or money for these worthwhile causes.

"I'm not taking anything away from pitching in a World Series or winning a World Series or anything like that, but I've always believed when it's all said and done, it doesn't matter how many cars you have in your driveway or how big your house is or how much money you have in your bank account," said Wakefield. "If you make the difference in the life of a child, you can't beat that. Nothing can replace that. Nothing monetary or anything."

Wakefield didn't have much more to say about his off-field work. He is much more content to just keep doing it.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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