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Soup of This Day #68: When There’s One Day Here And The Next Day Gone

September 15, 2011

Tim Wakefield pitching
God’s Favourite Knuckleballer, Tim Wakefield, on the mound – Photo: Waldo Jaquith, 2006. Waldo Jaquith has no affiliation with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

In 1992 I was in my final year of boarding school in the Western Australian Wheatbelt town of Narrogin. If you have kids and you’re considering sending them to boarding school then I have some advice for you:


Don’t get the wrong idea – I wasn’t bullied, abused or tortured. The food might have been construed as a form of torture however that was mostly down to my parents bizarre dietary requirements for their offspring. And then there was Lorna’s Pineapple Surprise. To be fair it did contain pineapple and it was a surprise in so much as nobody foresaw how a dessert involving pineapple could end up tasting like moldy cardboard. Now that I think about it the tuna also tasted like moldy cardboard. I wasn’t bullied, or abused though.

The main problem with boarding school is that it wasn’t home. Until April of 1992 it was 105kms south of home (Beverley). Then mum died, the small family she had held together disintegrated and home wasn’t really definable anymore except that it wasn’t in Narrogin. If you’re from Narrogin, I’m sure it’s a lovely town. It just wasn’t for me. In 1991 word got around that 2 lesbians had been spotted kissing in the local supermarket. The entire boarding school population trundled into town to check it out. Now sure, for the guys there’s a little testosterone driven curiosity there but seriously, they were just 2 women holding hands and kissing outside Coles. We were all a little disappointed and confused when the exotic creatures didn’t just get naked on the spot.

Things like this plus the family stuff just made me want to live in Perth, the city where I was born. I spent a chunk of free time staring out the windows of the Yr12 dorm at where I though Perth was, 205km to the north west. It turns out I was probably staring at Bunbury, 172kms off course, but I meant for it to be Perth. See in Perth I could eat whatever food I wanted, listen to whatever music I wanted and presumably see lesbian women getting naked all of the time. As it happened when I got to Perth I was almost always without money and there was no Napster invented yet so I ate a lot of rice and hummed to myself. Lesbians turned out to be just like other women and getting to see a woman naked cost money or commitment, both from me and the woman. I was still happier than I was in Narrogin though.

So, when it came time for me to check out of boarding school I wasn’t ambivalent about the place. A supervisor took my name off the board for the last time and then leaned on the counter. He nodded in the direction of the carpark to where some other Yr12s, who had checked out days before, were showing off their wheels, next to Dad’s battered 25th Anniversary Kingswood. ‘You’ll be back Fred’, he confidently asserted as I hoisted the last box of my stuff into my arms.

‘No,’ I quietly pronounced, ’I won’t’.

And I haven’t been. Not once in almost 19 years. 1 time (in 2000 I think) I got to within 36.5km but that was only because I wasn’t driving and someone else though it would be a good shortcut.

In that 19 years a lot has happened in my life. I got married, conveniently to a non-lesbian, got an education, got a career and now have a son, who I will never agree to send to boarding school in Narrogin. I’ve listened to a lot of music, most of which I get to choose and I eat mostly good food, although I am ironically now lactose intolerant, whereas I wasn’t when Mum thought I was and thus made me lug soy milk to boarding school.

I don’t mind soy milk. Soy ice cream though is not good. Don’t be fooled.

I’ve watched a lot of sport and my teams haven’t changed. I followed the Red Sox through the frustration of the 90’s and got to see them come back from 3-0 down to the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS. I saw them win 2 World Series and have got used to them being thereabouts at the end of each regular season. Liverpool haven’t quite reached the same dizzying heights although 2 FA Cups and a glorious 5th European Cup/Champion’s League triumph via the Miracle in Istanbul have been adequate compensation.

Fremantle have also won… some games. In fact they have won 150 of their 374 regular season outings. That’s just on 40%. They have even played 7 finals matches, winning 2 of them. That’s 28%. Understandably they haven’t parlayed any of this into winning a competition, although the wooden spoon for the 2001 season when they won just 2 of 22 is a trophy of sorts.

And while all of this happened, God’s favourite knuckleballer Timothy Stephen Wakefield quietly racked up Major League wins, initially with Pittsburgh but then, from 1994 with the Red Sox. He got his 1st win July 31st 1992, pitching a complete game as the Pirates won 3-2 over the Cards. Over the next 2 seasons he sporadically added to his tally, but eventually he was dropped by the Pirates April 20, 1995 with just 14 wins to his credit. 6 days after that the Sox picked him up and by the end of the 1995 season he’d added 16 more ‘w’s.

In the years that have followed Wake’s role has changed, from starter to innings-chewing relief and then back to starter. Wherever the Sox have needed him. Each year his tally of wins has increased, from 1995-2009 by at least 6 wins a time. On 4 occasions he had 16 or more wins, the last of which was in 2007 when at the age of 40 he compiled a personal best 17 wins and then missed the World Series with an injured shoulder. He has pitched more innings than any other Red Sox player and as of this season is the oldest player to have played for the Sox (currently 45). He has the 2nd most wins of a Sox pitcher at Fenway (97 to Clements 100) and the 3rd most of any Sox player (186 to Cy Young and Clements 192).

Funnily enough, it’s not any of these wins that mark the man for me. My favourite Wake memory is from the 2004 ALCS. The Sox were getting hammered in Game 3, were clearly going to lose. Knowing that the bullpen needed a rest Wakefield stepped out for the beating, foregoing a Game 4 start. The score was at 9-6 at that point and it got ugly, eventually finishing 19-8 in a blow-out. Wakefield took the punches though and the pen got the necessary cover. They won Game 4 and in Game 5 with the scores tied at 4 apiece over 11 innings the Sox turned to their knuckleballer again. He pitched 3 innings of shutout and then watched from the bullpen as Big Papi scored the winning run. The Sox won Game 6 and then Game 7, becoming the 1st MLB team to come back from 3-0 down. They went on to clinch the subsequent World Series with Wake starting Game 1 and getting no decision in a 11-9 Red Sox win.

This season the old knuckleballer has been thrust back into the limelight as the starting rotation for the Sox has been decimated by injury. Expected to be a temporary measure Wakefield has pitched well enough that he has been 1 of the cornerstones of an erratic outfit. By July 29 he’d racked up 6 wins for the season and was poised on 199 all time. Wake-watch began with fans celebrating the imminent arrival of 200.

Only it didn’t happen. Every start since something went wrong. Wake got hammered, the bats couldn’t respond or the bullpen caved in on him. In 3 of the 7 starts he absorbed a loss, dropping him to 6 and 6, while in the other 4 he got no decision. 7 times he fronted the post-game media and with sad eyes said the right stuff: It doesn’t matter. It’s about the team winning.

Wake-watch was becoming tragic.

By yesterday’s start vs the Blue Jays it had become almost like something you don’t mention. 8th time’s a charm a few noted and early on that looked like a plaintive cry for help. Twice Wakefield gave up a lead, from 2-0 to 2-3 and then 4-3 to 4-5, each Jays comeback seeming inevitable. Still 3 times the bats got him a lead and the 3rd time something stuck. Wake retired 6 straight at 6-5 and then the bats added 4 to make it 10-5. Whispers began – Maybe, maybe. Tim sat down, Aceves came in and the bullpen imploded.

Only this time it wasn’t the Sox bullpen.

Boston added 1 in the 7th and then 7 in the 8th, blowing the score out to 18-6. In the end the Sox had a 5 game losing streak snapped by a win that got tagged to a guy who in 2010 won the Roberto Clemente award for the player who ‘best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team’.

That his 200th came at a time when his Sox needed it most seemed like some nice icing for Tim Wakefield.

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