Sports can be a dirty world.

In the era of Coach Prime and AAU, what was once the ultimate classroom for cooperation and sacrifice has too often become a me-first environment, where every triumph by your teammate is taken as a threat to your next contract, scholarship or playing time. Analytics boils down every individual to a number, calculating that a player either provides “wins above replacement” or, by definition, is replaceable.

Then there are those who personify everything that’s still great about sports, like Tim Wakefield.

I only ever heard one Red Sox fan — my longtime colleague Mike Cole — profess Wakefield to be their favorite player. The rest of us probably took him for granted. Yet he was such a reliable presence that when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and 2007, he was one of the players you felt most happy for. Because for all the ups and downs you’d been through as a fan, he’d been right there through much of it.

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And nobody weathered the ups and downs with more nobility than Wakefield. After great outings, he would deflect credit to the weather conditions for helping his knuckleball dance or tip his cap to catcher Doug Mirabelli for his work behind the plate. After poor outings, by contrast, he never blamed the knuckler for not knuckling enough or brought up a key error made behind him; the accountability, he would stress in those cases, was his.

That’s why, with time, even those of us who once took him for granted eventually came to love Wakefield. Because his attitude was a model not only for sports, but for daily life — to celebrate others in victory, and shoulder the responsibility in defeat.

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Wakefield, who died Sunday at age 57, will no longer grace our lives on NESN, and he’ll be particularly missed during the annual WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon coverage. But the class and selflessness he displayed as the consummate teammate throughout his 17-year tenure with the Red Sox will reverberate for decades among those who watched and admired him.

Yes, sports can bring out the worst. But when they bring a person like Wakefield to emulate into our lives, they can bring out the best in ways that remind us of what it’s all about.

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Featured image via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images