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Farewell, Tim Wakefield

I do not keep many things on my desk.

In fact, I keep so few items on my desk that it makes one of my coworkers uncomfortable. Since I started in October, she pops up at least once a week to see how I am doing. In these conversations, she fishes for pieces of information about my life. Where I am from, my family, and my hobbies in an attempt to understand what my world outside of the office is like.

She fishes for these details, because my desk is not like most: it is not a collection of personal artifacts that define who I am to the office onlookers. I really do not like clutter; I also do not like the prospect of having a livable and enjoyable workspace. Keeping the work environment sterile and impersonal is an important principle. But persistant hounding broke down my walls a little bit...and in an effort to distinguish my space from those who are just temporary employees, I caved.

The decision of what items I should choose to customize my space was a difficult one. I really did not want to add any real personal effects in order to maintain that separation of work and personal life. So in an attempt to make the space more pleasant, I added some baseball items which would seem ordinary to onlookers, but extraordinary to me personally.

I brought in a baseball from the 700th consecutive sellout game at Fenway Park and put that on my desk in its' plastic cube.I brought a 2010 Jason Varitek Topps Heritage card and tucked its' corners underneath the metal trim that holds my cubicle walls together. But my favorite, the Pièce de résistance, is a photo from last season that encapsulates one man's career so succinctly.

Though it took eight tries, Wakefield finally got his 200th win. And even though the Boston Red Sox were on their September decline, the AL East now nipping at their heels to knock them out of play-off contention, and even though he began the 2011 season as a reliever, Wakefield could now go down in the record books for recording his 200th win...and he did it all with knuckleballs.

When the 200th win was over, there was a celebration on the field for Tim Wakefield. And though I can not speak for Wakefield, I would assume at that moment he knew his career was over. Perhaps part of him, his heart, thought there may be an opportunity to return in 2012. But in his head, Wakefield had to know that this game on September 13th, would be one of his last appearances for the Red Sox.

During the post-game celebration, one of my favorite photographs in recent sports history was taken. There was Tim Wakefield, a pitcher who has been in the league since 1992 extending his arms to hug a smiling Jason Varitek, his teammate since 1997.

And it is this image of the two veterans embracing that sits on my desk in all of its 8x10" glory. And while my coworker would probably prefer to see a photograph of the husband I do not have or my cavalier spaniel Lola, there is just a simple black frame with a photograph of two athletes hugging.

But to those who know anything about Tim Wakefield, that photo is so much more. The Red Sox, but specifically players like Wakefield and Varitek, help create a frame of reference and parallel to things in life, including my own. To some that kinship will not make any sense... but to others, it is everything.

That photo reminds me that much like Wakefield, I will never receive a lot of praise for things I will do in my career. I will show up and work hard, but I will largely go unnoticed. And like Wakefield, my approach to tasks is simple, never flashy, and rarely consistent. Perhaps I identify with the knuckleball itself just as much as I do Tim Wakefield: there is an element of unconventionality and surprise that could describe my life just as much as it describes a pitch that befuddles so many at the plate.

While the knuckleball sets him apart from the rest of the pitching world, his numbers and performance were never enough to make him elite. He will never see the Hall of Fame, and it's not real likely he'll ever come back and work as a coach. Yet, Wakefield has always been a fan favorite. And it was rarely based on his ability, but on the fact that there are pieces of Tim Wakefield in some of us. The Tim Wakefields of the world are kindred spirits in a world of fastball throwing Josh Becketts.

And for the Tim Wakefields of the world, it is easy to identify and find parallels between his career and personal experience. The larger conversation since his retirement was announced is an outpouring of emotion and narrative of Wakefield's influence on baseball and daily life. Wakefield was more than just a player, he was a fixture in baseball whose absence is inevitable, but understandably painful.

Sure, Wakefield's career can be summed up in numbers. 19 seasons, 200 wins, one All Star appearance. 4.41 career ERA, 2156 strike outs. Appearances against 13 Hall of Fame players, 3226 innings pitched. But, Wakefield's career is much more than just a series of numbers.

He was a starter, a reliever, a closer. He was a positive attitude in the clubhouse, a calm presence on the mound, and unselfish in his willingness to pitch whenever needed. Wakefield is a father, a charitable contributor, and a man who has had a positive impact in his community. He has two World Series victories, and knows first-hand how devastating Aaron Boone can be.

It's tough to think that we will never see Wakefield walk out to the mound at Fenway again. That number 49 won't dig his toes into the dirt and rock his heel off the rubber while gently gripping the baseball between his fingers to release in an effortless delivery so unique that one similar may never be witnessed again in the majors.

The prospect of baseball without Tim Wakefield is one that will take some time to get used to. But I will always remember the first time I saw his knuckleball, the first game that I saw his knuckleball dance in person, the laughter induced by Wakefield striking someone out on an unexpected fastball, and finally the image of him embracing Jason Varitek after his 200th win.

And while my workspace remains sterile and inpersonal to uninformed onlookers, for those who watch baseball and understand what it is like to be one of Tim Wakefields of the world, the framed photo on my desk proudly displays my warmth and affection better than a photo of my dog could.