Matt Waldron opens game with knuckleball to honor Tim Wakefield

Red Sox

Waldron, the only active knuckleballer, sharpened his craft with Wakefield’s help.

San Diego Padres pitcher Matt Waldron delivers a pitch against the Red Sox. Steven Senne/AP Photo

As a kid in Omaha, Nebraska, San Diego Padres right-hander Matt Waldron grew up mesmerized by the knuckleball and in awe of Tim Wakefield.

He and his brother learned the nuances of the pitch while playing with Wakefield on a video game. They marveled at it and came to an agreement that it’s “not fair.”

“It was just magical,” Waldron said.

As he incorporated the pitch into his repertoire, the Padres set up a Zoom meeting between Waldron and Wakefield so they could talk shop.

When the 27-year-old Waldron made his Fenway Park debut Sunday afternoon, he threw a knuckleball to open the game to honor Wakefield, who died in October 2023.

According to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier, Waldron is the first pitcher to throw a knuckleball at Fenway since 2019. He’s the only active knuckleballer in the league and uses the pitch about 40 percent of the time in a typical game.

Waldron gushed about Wakefield and credited him for helping to drive his career.

“You could tell he had a very sweet life. I just thought, ‘I could do that! I would love to have that life!’” Waldron told reporters. “But even more, he was a very helpful, giving guy. That’s what I noticed and what I admired. That’s what was cool. It made me comfortable.”

He said he felt Wakefield’s presence multiple times throughout the weekend, even before he started Sunday’s game.

“It’s been special,” Waldron said during Saturday’s broadcast. “I just want to honor him and do the best I can. I’m humbled by it.”

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