By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — So often, the knuckleball can look so simple. Yet if it were an easy pitch to throw, there’d be more than just a dozen or so pitchers from the modern era to have perfected the craft.
Despite that difficulty, 31-year-old Steven Wright is currently enjoying great success as the Red Sox’ most consistent starting pitcher. And though Wright himself is the one who’s worked on the pitch for six years and is also the one who’s on the mound throwing strikes, the all-star pitcher is quick to spread the credit to those who have helped him.
In a fascinating story written for The Players’ Tribune, Wright detailed his journey from being on the verge of baseball extinction to where he is today.
Wright detailed how he went from making $15,000 a year and wondering if he’d soon be doing contracting work to finding success in repetition. He expressed thanks to Tom Candiotti for helping him get started within the Indians organization and to Charlie Hough for helping him improve.
But he also expressed a great deal of gratitude to the man who’s working with him now, Tim Wakefield.
“I’ve had the incredible opportunity to work more closely with Tim Wakefield. He’s constantly evaluating me and is able make little adjustments to keep me consistent and within my delivery,” Wright wrote. “Working with Wake has been one of the biggest factors behind the success I’ve had this season.”
It’s not surprising. Wakefield, of course, managed to last 17 seasons with the Red Sox, pitching 3,006 innings and winning 186 games for Boston. Though no two knuckleballers are exactly alike, having someone with Wakefield’s experience nearby was bound to pay dividends for Wright. Now the team’s special assignment instructor, Wakefield is uniquely qualified to provide the support that Wright needs.
“If I had never been traded to the Red Sox — where I get to work so closely with Wake — I don’t know that I’d be where I am right now,” Wright said.
And of course, after learning he had made the All-Star team, Wright was quick to share the credit. On Tuesday night, he said the “main reason” he’s getting to go to the All-Star Game is because of the defense of Jackie Bradley, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Co., and he eagerly thanked bullpen coach Dana LeVangie in addition to Wakefield.
“The fact that he takes time away from his family to come and help me in spring training, and then takes time here to come in early to have conversations with me — if I need him, he’ll come out and watch me play catch,” Wright said of Wakefield. “So he’s helped me a lot of ways and I look forward to continuing our relationship.”
“Everybody’s taken so much time and effort to help me get this way and help me keep going forward, because I feel like I’ve got a lot of work to do,” Wright said. “So it’s almost more rewarding for them than it is for me, because if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be in this position. So it’s one of those things, I’m just going to enjoy every minute of it and try to involve everybody I can.”
Wright will be pitching Wednesday night at Fenway Park, looking to cap off his fantastic first half and perhaps earn himself a starting nod for the All-Star Game next week. He’s made it clear that there’s a lot more than just his right arm delivering that ball toward home plate every pitch. Each pitch is just the end result of thousands of pitches just like it, of hours in the bullpen, and of incalculable input from those who have mastered the craft before him.