May 7, 2015

Pitcher Who Started the First Night Game At Shea Stadium: Bill Wakefield (1964)

William Sumner Wakefield was born on May 24th, 1941 in Kansas City Missouri. The six foot right hander attended Stanford University getting signed by the St. Louis Cardinals as an amateur free agent in 1961. He was turned into a relief pitcher by the time he got to AA Tulsa in 1963 going 3-7. That season he struckout 17 batters in a Texas League game.

From there he was promoted to AA Atlanta the same year going 1-3 with a 2.50 ERA. In November 1963 he was traded to the New York Mets along with George Altman in exchange for Roger Craig.

Wakefield debuted in the big leagues in the second game ever played at Shea Stadium pitching in relief and finishing out the 9-5 Mets loss. Wakefield had made six relief appearances by early May, when Casey Stengel gave him his first start in a historic May 6th game at Shea Stadium.

It was on this night that the first ever night game was played at Shea, as the Mets took on the Cincinnati Reds. In the game Wakefield allowed five runs in four innings & took the loss. The Mets had five pitchers go in the 12-4 loss (Wakefield, Ron Locke, Larry Bearnarth, Ed Bauta & Steve Dillon) as their record fell to 3-16 in the young season.

On May 15th Wakefield earned his first save in San Francisco holding down the Giants for two innings. On June 1st he came into relieve Tracy Stallard in the 1st inning in a game in Houston, after he had given up early four runs. The Mets rallied to win the game 7-4 as Wakefield pitched into the 7th inning holding the Astros scoreless.

In July he earned two more relief wins, being the one of the most reliable relievers out of the bullpen. He led the team in appearances with 62 (6th most in the NL). He was third on the club to Ron Locke & Carl Willey in ERA (3.61). Overall Wakefield was 3-5 with two saves, two holds & 61 strike outs in 119 innings pitched. He certainly had his control issues walking 61 batters & hitting nine batters with pitches (5th most in the NL).

Wakefield spent the next two years in the minors leagues, having a disappointing 0-4 season a AAA Buffalo in 1965.

Honors: In July 2009, in celebration of the 45th anniversary of the first night game played at Shea Stadium, Wakefield returned to the Mets. He threw out the ceremonial first pitch in a game against the Cincinnati Reds at Citi Field.

Joining him was former Mets pitcher Steve Dillon who closed out that first night game in 1964. Wakefield was joined by his children & grand children at the game. 

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