Dom Amore’s Sunday Read: Fond memories of Tim Wakefield, who always had time Connecticut’s PGA stop; toughening up the TPC; Paige Bueckers just wants a burger, and more

Andy Bessette knew Tim Wakefield and former UConn and NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky would hit it off.

“Both salt of the earth” types, he thought. So they were paired together for the Travelers Championship Pro Am last June.

“Absolute pouring rain,” Orlovsky remembered, via his Twitter, or X, account. “Massive group of my kids and their friends following us. (Wakefield) talked to them all. Let them hold his World Series rings, and even putt for him. Spoke to my autistic son in a way few have.”

Wakefield, 57, the Red Sox pitcher known for the knuckleball, was also known for his kindness, his charity work, his loyalty. He died last Sunday of brain cancer.

In Connecticut, Wakefield was a fixture at the Travelers. Bessette, looking for celebrities, met him through the Red Sox in 2013 and invited him, extolling the work the tournament does for local charities. It was a natural fit for Wakefield, an avid golfer and an avid worker for charity, so well known and liked in New England.

“I remember talking with him, explaining what we were trying to do, and he said, ‘I’m in.'” recalled Bessette, VP and Chief Administrative officer at Travelers. “You have to understand, I’m the biggest Red Sox fan in the world, I know every Red Sox fan thinks that, and I was saying, ‘Oh, my God, Tim Wakefield.’

“I’m pinching myself. Wow. He came and he played every single year, Tim was always, always there for us. He was the kindest man, he was the nicest man. I couldn’t believe how unaffected he was by his greatness, by his stardom.”

The greatness on the mound would come and go during Wakefield’s 17 years in the majors, 15 with the Red Sox, because it’s that way for knuckleballers, unhittable when it dances, very hittable when it doesn’t. The stardom endured, remained long after he threw his last pitch.

“World class human,” Orlovsky called him.

There will always be a certain fascination with that pitch, and the few pitchers with the courage to throw it to major-league hitters. Wakefield arrived with the Pirates in 1992, went 8-1 with a 2.15 ERA and helped them reach the postseason. A year later, the magic vanished and he resurfaced in Boston on May 27, 1995. After holding the Orioles to two hits on Aug. 13, he was 14-1, and the Red Sox were on the way to an AL East title.

That’s when I first met him. A demanding editor got the idea to get Wakefield to break down how he threw his signature pitch in as excruciating detail as possible, exclusively for The Courant, and sent me to Fenway to execute it. At the height of his fame, when everybody wanted to interview him, Wakefield gave me all the time and information I asked for, how he used an emery board to manicure, his grip, his motion, his release. Couldn’t have been more patient or gracious with a writer who was not a regular in his clubhouse. Lots of baseball writers told similar anecdotes this week.

As the years went by, Wakefield sometimes starred as a starter, sometimes as a long reliever, one year as a closer. The Yankees, the team I covered, were obsessed with his knuckler, George Steinbrenner often ordering an amateur knuckleballer to come and throw BP.

When Aaron Boone came up in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, Wakefield was out there to go as long as he could and fight for the pennant. Yankees manager Joe Torre sent Boone up with instructions Ted Williams had once given him, to try to hit a line drive to the second baseman, as a way to keep the weight back and stay inside the ball. Boone hit it into the left field seats to send the Yankees to that World Series, but Wakefield stayed late in the visiting clubhouse and answered every question. Disappointed, but unashamed.

“He’s not an excuse-maker,” Torre would say, whenever Wakefield’s name came up. A year later, Wakefield helped the Red Sox beat the Yankees, by soaking up a lot of innings in ALCS games that were lost, and break the curse. Torre made a point of calling Wakefield to congratulate him personally. Wakefield helped the Red Sox win titles in 2004 and ’07, and when he retired in 2011, he was 44 and had 200 wins on the nose.

Then he settled into being a resident Boston legend, and wherever he went it was a big deal, even if he never big-timed anyone. He often went to work recruiting other celebrities to come to the Travelers.

“Over the years, I got to know him more and we’d sit and have a lunch and I’d ask him questions,” Bessette said. “He always understood the mission of the tournament, the millions we raised for charity. Wake was so generous to us.”

Dom Amore’s Sunday Read: Andre Jackson’s voice can’t be replaced, but his voice still echoes for UConn men

In 2022, Bessette hosted the Good Guy Invitational, an event the PGA Tour and Golf Fights Cancer was running on Cape Cod. He invited Wakefield join his foursome at New Seabury.

“I’m in,” Wakefield said, once again. His wife, Stacey Stover, has been fighting pancreatic cancer. The event raised $250,000.

“He and I had such a great dinner together,” Bessette said. “And we talked about the Red Sox, and it was the most memorable, fun conversation I ever had. It’s such a tragedy, I feel so badly. Here’s a guy, 57, the prime of his life and he’s struck down with brain cancer. It just knocked the wind out of me. His heart was so good, such a good man and so unassuming, so quiet, and yet he did so much good after he got out of baseball.”

Rory McIlroy not thrilled with record-low scores at Travelers; says technology has ‘passed the course by’

Reworking the TPC River Highlands

As promised, work is underway at the TPC River Highlands to make the course a little harder for the Travelers Championship and the elite field it will draw in 2024, after the record low scores in 2023. Remember Rory McIlroy called the course “obsolete.”

“The golf course designer and architects, the rules officials of the tour, the words they use are ‘more competitive,'” Bessette said. “The player feedback we’ve gotten has been positive.”

Some of the changes:

On the first fairway, a hill that has allowed errant tee shots to roll back onto the fairway is being flattened.

On 5, there will be a new tee box farther back on the par 3.

On 6, the fairway will be narrower.

On 9, the tee box is moving to the right, making the angle trickier, and the left back of the green will be pared.

On 11, the green will be smaller.

On 12, rough will be added to hills around the green.

Sunday short takes

*Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury is staging a new musical, which celebrates the life of Connecticut softball legend Joan Joyce. Certainly an interesting concept. It runs through Oct. 22

*So first the Yankees were going to get an “outside firm” to analyze their baseball operations, and now, as reported, they’re just sending their people to visit other teams and pick their brains. Wait, why should other teams help the Yankees? Maybe they can get Texas to, you know, just send Jordan Montgomery back? It’s all bad trades and signings in a results oriented business.

*Firing managers is always awkward but the Mets, who let Buck Showalter announce his own firing before the last game of the season, seem to handle it worse than others.

*The Wolf Pack will have the goalie tandem that led them to the playoffs last season back on the XL Center ice, with the Rangers assigning veteran Louis Domingue and prospect Dylan Garand back to Hartford.

*Bill Masse, the East Catholic-Manchester grad who has had a long career in baseball, started a new gig late in the season as advisor to Padres GM A.J. Preller. He’s been working on the major-league roster, but his role could evolve. Meantime, Masse’s son, Easton Masse, who plays at Westminster School, Class of ’25, committed to Boston College Friday. His choice came down to BC or Miami.

As her senior season approaches, Aaliyah Edwards looks to bring consistency to her role in the UConn women’s lineup

Last word

Paige Bueckers may or may not have been kidding when she said her favorite thing about Europe was ordering an American burger. “Makes me think we wasted a lot of money,” Geno Auriemma said. “Maybe we should have left her home and catered some burgers or something.”