The Red Sox held "Thanks, Wake Day" at Fenway in honor of the recently retired pitcher. The knuckleballer took a stroll around the park before Boston's series finale with the Mariners, stopping to shake hands with fans. He was then honored in a pregame ceremony near the mound and threw out the first pitch.
Wakefield started a team-record 430 games in his Red Sox career, but he didn't know what to expect in his latest return to Fenway Park.
"I was very nervous, even driving into the park today. I wasn't even this nervous when I knew I was pitching," said Wakefield, who ranks first in Red Sox history with 3,006 innings pitched. "I knew there was going to be some surprises, but the anxiety that goes with the unknown was pretty awesome. It was a very emotional day for me to be able to share it with the fans that have been supportive of me over the past 17 years. Every time I walked off that mound they were there to great me and gave me a standing ovation, and I'll cherish that for the rest of my life."
Wakefield retired on Feb. 17 after 19 seasons in the Majors, including 17 with the Red Sox. Only Carl Yastrzemski (23), Dwight Evans (19) and Ted Williams (19) played more seasons with Boston.
Wearing a Red Sox uniform with his No. 49 on the back, Wakefield said he never considered signing with a new team last offseason.
"This was the team that I was going to end my career with, whether it be this past February or this coming October," Wakefield said. "I've worn this uniform long enough, this is the one I was going to wear from here on out."
Still, leaving the game has been a tough transition.
"It's been hard," he said. "It's been difficult because that fire to compete is still there, obviously. Nothing is ever going to replace that. It's been fun to be home and be a dad and be a husband. I do miss it, and watching them play. It's kind of hard to watch sometimes, but I'm still rooting for them hard."
Wakefield, 45, said he misses the camaraderie that comes with being in the clubhouse every day. But for a moment on Tuesday, he was reunited with former catcher Doug Mirabelli.
The catcher appeared from a police car in center field before the game, walking to the mound to a standing ovation. It was a tribute to 2006, when Mirabelli arrived at Fenway Park in a police escort to catch Wakefield after being traded from San Diego back to Boston. He took his place behind the plate and caught a Wakefield knuckleball.
"I thought it was priceless," said Wakefield, who didn't know his former catcher would be on hand. "A perfect ending to a great ceremony on my behalf to have him come back again in a cop car after that episode in 2006. It was pretty amazing."
Between innings, the video board in center field featured a photo slideshow of Wakefield's career, highlights and recorded messages from former teammates Derek Lowe and Johnny Damon.
Even the grass in center field bore Wakefield's No. 49.
Wakefield won 98 games at Fenway Park, the second most for any pitcher behind Roger Clemens (100). Wakefield had 200 victories in his career, including 186 with the Red Sox. Only Clemens and Cy Young won more games with Boston, each amassing 192.
"I'm going to miss [Wakefield] as long as I play here just because he was a role model," said slugger David Ortiz. "He was the kind of guy who always taught everybody how to do the right thing."
Manager Bobby Valentine wasn't around for Wakefield's 17 years with the club, but he understood what the pitcher meant to the organization, even from afar.
"He was a great go-to guy," Valentine said. "There's no diminishing the value of being out there when your team wins 200 times, it's extremely impressive."
Wakefield won two World Series championships with the Red Sox, in 2004 and '07. He was an American League All-Star in 2009 and The Sporting News' AL Comeback Player of the Year in 1995, his first season in Boston.
But the accolades he built up over 19 seasons in the big leagues made it difficult to walk away.
"I think it's harder to give it up knowing you can still compete versus being forced to give it up because of an injury," Wakefield said. "I've battled injuries and my age the last couple years, so it's a little bit of both."
Austin Laymance is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less