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‘He was our hero’: Tim Wakefield remembered for his selfless charitable works, including for the Jimmy Fund

Dan Shaughnessy remembers Tim Wakefield
WATCH: Sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy joins Boston Globe Today to celebrate the life of Tim Wakefield.

The city and beyond mourned the death of former Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield Sunday following his battle with brain cancer, as fans, state officials, and the charity organizations he aided remembered him for his feats on the mound — but perhaps even more for his work in the community away from the ballfield.

Wakefield, 57, played 19 seasons in the major leagues, including 17 with the Red Sox from 1995 until his retirement following the 2011 season. Along the way, he gained a reputation not only for fooling hitters with his elusive knuckleball but also as one of the league’s most charitable players.

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The Red Sox announced Wakefield’s death Sunday afternoon prior to their final game of the season, a 6-1 win over the Orioles in Baltimore.

Just outside Fenway Park Sunday afternoon, walkers in the annual Jimmy Fund Walk for cancer research — which Wakefield strongly supported — were crossing the finish line on Brookline Avenue. The news of Wakefield’s death drew tightened lips and solemn nods.

“Just terrible news,” said Marc Farrand, 54, a lifelong Red Sox fan from Wrentham. “Everybody has someone who’s been touched by cancer.”

Wakefield was closely involved with the Jimmy Fund, which benefits the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, throughout his career and into retirement. He was named the first Jimmy Fund co-captain for the Red Sox in 2010 and “always went the extra mile,” according to a statement from Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund.

Rebecca Gavin, an official with Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund, said Wakefield “set a high bar” for future co-captains by spending time with adult and pediatric cancer patients and working to raise money for cancer research and patient care.

“He really used his fame and legendary status as a Red Sox icon to do good and to really try to advance our mission, and that was not only in the public eye but also just in the quiet moments and connecting with patients,” said Gavin, vice president of annual planned and institutional giving at the hospital and the Jimmy Fund, in a phone interview.

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“Having your hero come to cheer you on as you’re undertaking your own cancer journey is a really incredibly moving experience for any person, let alone a child,” she said. “I think Tim’s passion for our mission and just his humanity really shone through in all of those moments.”

Wakefield’s condition became public last week after former teammate Curt Schilling put the news out in his podcast, a disclosure made without Wakefield’s permission. Schilling also revealed that Wakefield’s wife, Stacy, has a different form of cancer. He has been widely denounced for divulging such deeply personal information.

Following the team’s announcement of Wakefield’s death Sunday, tributes and appreciations poured in on social media.

“This one hurts,” Governor Maura Healey wrote in a post on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. “Tim Wakefield epitomized class, empathy, and devotion to his family, team, and community. He will be truly missed and my condolences to his family, friends, and all who loved him.”

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu shared an image Sunday night of City Hall lit up with red and blue lights, the Red Sox colors, to honor Wakefield “and all that he contributed to his team and our city.”

“I extend my sincere condolences to Tim’s family and all who share in mourning his loss,” Wu said in a social media post.

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Former governor Charlie Baker, now the head of the NCAA, said Wakefield “was a gentleman” and a positive example to fans.

“He reinvented himself as a ballplayer more than once & became one of the players that broke the curse,” Baker wrote in a post on X. “He set an example for us all & I’m grateful that he and his family made MA their home. RIP Tim, we won’t see another like you for a long time.”

Former Boston mayor Martin J. Walsh expressed condolences to Wakefield’s family.

“My heart is with Stacy, Trevor, Brianna, and the entire Wakefield family today as we remember the life and legacy of Tim Wakefield. A great ball player and a better man — we will miss you, Tim,” Walsh wrote on X.

The Boston Police Department said Wakefield “was a great player and even a better friend to all of our Fenway Park officers and entire department.”

The David Ortiz Children’s Fund, which supports children in need of cardiac services in New England and the Dominican Republic, also honored Wakefield in a post on X.

“Tim was a beloved member of the Red Sox and DOCF family and a champion for children in need. Our thoughts and prayers are with Tim’s family during this difficult time. We love you, Wake.”

Home Base, a national nonprofit dedicated to supporting veterans and their families, said its staff was “heartbroken” by Wakefield’s death.

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“Tim was committed to the work of Home Base since our inception and was the inspiration for our Warrior Health & Fitness program,” the organization said in a post on X. “He was a tireless advocate for Veterans and their Families, an unwavering supporter of Home Base and a friend to many who met him.”

Wakefield also was a longtime supporter of Franciscan Children’s, which serves children and adolescents with complex medical conditions and mental health challenges, according to the organization’s spokesperson, Eileen Curran.

Curran said in a statement the organization was heartbroken over the loss of Wakefield. The former pitcher visited patients, brought children to Fenway Park, and helped raise money for mental health and adaptive sports programs.

“Our kids cheered Tim throughout his career and were known as ‘Wake’s Warriors.’ In 2009, we dedicated our athletic field to Tim and think of him every time we go out onto ‘Wake Field,’ ” the statement said. “He was our hero and will be greatly missed.”

In 2010, Wakefield was honored with the MLB’s prestigious Roberto Clemente Award, which is given to the player who best represents the game through “extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.”

After his retirement, Wakefield was named an honorary chairman of the Red Sox Foundation in 2013 and continued his involvement with charities in New England and closer to his home in Florida.

Sunday’s Jimmy Fund Walk had about 8,500 participants and raised around $9 million, according to event director Zack Blackburn. The walk’s path followed the Boston Marathon course, though it ended at Fenway Park. Participants chose whether to walk the course’s full length or shorter segments.

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Catherine Rhodes was in the middle of the 26.2-mile course when she heard the news about Wakefield’s death in a text from her teenage son, Neil, who called Wakefield “a great guy.”

Rhodes, of Hopkinton, said it was a bittersweet “serendipity” that the annual Jimmy Fund Walk for cancer research fell on the same day as Wakefield’s death from cancer. Her friend and fellow walker Jennifer Wolter of Medford said it “adds another layer of emotion.”

Rhodes said Neil was born in 2007, and her daughter, Merin, who joined her at the finish line, was born in 2004 — the two years the Sox won the World Series with Wakefield in the starting rotation.

“The lore runs deep in this family,” she said. “He was a great pitcher and did a lot for these causes.”

Globe correspondent Bailey Allen contributed to this report.


Nick Stoico can be reached at nick.stoico@globe.com. Sean Cotter can be reached at sean.cotter@globe.com. Follow him @cotterreporter. John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.