Sunday, January 16, 2005 Updated: January 19, 1:40 PM ET
Schilling eyes next big moment
By Jayson Stark ESPN.com
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The clock ticks in Curt Schilling's head.
Less than three months until Opening Day.
Schilling is determined to be ready for Opening Day.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
The medical people shake their heads. Medically, he shouldn't be ready.
Medically, his surgically restitched ankle is healing fine. But the rest of him -- specifically the right arm that has put him on America's sporting map -- is at least a month behind where a guy normally would be if he were pointing toward Opening Day.
But Schilling is pointing toward it. Make no mistake about that.
He hasn't merely thought about what it would be like to pitch on Opening Day -- against his former 6-foot-10 partner in October glory, Randy Johnson. In his mind, Curt Schilling is already there.
He can feel it. He can taste it. He can practically hear the buzz in Yankee Stadium as he coils to deliver that first pitch to Derek Jeter.
It is April 3 in the Bronx. Sunday Night Baseball. Yankees-Red Sox. Johnson-Schilling. ESPN cameras stationed everywhere but his glove.
His body is far from ready for that night. But Curt Schilling's mind has already booked the flight and gripped the baseball.
"I will do everything in my God-given ability to be healthy, 100 percent, on the mound that night," he said. "I mean, as far as a regular-season game goes, I don't know that it gets any better than that.
"Pitching against the most dominating pitcher in the last 20 years, maybe the last 100 years. Yankee Stadium. As a member of the Boston Red Sox. Coming off a World Series. Given all that, I mean, that is a dream game. ... Given our history [his and the Unit's], playing together, and everything that's happened. ... Let's put it this way. I'll be pretty amped up."
The image of Randy Johnson in pinstripes is dancing across the big screen in Curt Schilling's brain these days. But there's a whole multiplex in there, in case you never noticed. Also showing are Pedro Martinez, Barbara Walters, teammates old and new, friends and critics, and Life After The Curse. Among other things.
Schilling discussed all of that and more last week, in a long conversation with ESPN. Much of that conversation will air Sunday on SportsCenter. But here are some highlights you won't see on television:
On whether that first-night duel with Johnson could provide some actual healing power:
"That's my carrot. No question. I'm convinced now the ankle's going to be healthy by then. But the arm has to be where it needs to be. And I have to be comfortable knowing I can take the ball Opening Day and not go out there with a pitch count and let it go."
On what pitching against Johnson (whom he's never faced) in any setting would mean to him:
"If I go out and go 2 1/3 and give up eight runs, it doesn't mean anything. (Laugh.) ... You want people to say wow, that was special. ... I live for games like that."
On how he would describe his relationship with Johnson, then and now:
"As teammates, we were close, from my perspective. Randy pushed me, and was one of those guys who made me do some things in my career I never thought I could do. ...
"I think that Randy felt like he -- and I think I saw it with Pedro this year, too -- I think they're offended when people ask them if I pushed them, because of what they've already done, what they've already accomplished. That doesn't really bother me. I don't have a problem telling you that I wouldn't be the pitcher I am today without Randy Johnson, without Pedro, having been my teammates."
On whether he thinks he ever did anything to make Martinez as jealous as he sounded in his first news conference as a Met:
"No. ... I think that was the scenario that the media created in Boston. There was an article a week about who the ace was of the staff -- and I think that ... no one cared."
On how upset Schilling was that Martinez criticized manager Terry Francona on his way out the door:
"Terry did and said a lot of things [to cover for Martinez] with a stiff upper lip, and I couldn't believe that [Pedro] would turn his back on him like that. And it was disappointing."
On the breakup of the Red Sox team that won the World Series:
"I remember thinking the night in St. Louis, when we won it all, that it was probably the last time we were all going to be together. And it's amazing how, at the end of the season, it's all taken from you very quickly. And there's an empty feeling when it's over because it's over immediately. ...
"I knew, given what happened to me in 1993 with the Phillies. Theo [Epstein] made a point to say you can't become emotionally attached to a team and a concept. ... In 1993, I think that's exactly what happened. The Phillies fell in love with that group of guys and paid for it. So I think in a sense, everybody knew that so-and-so or somebody would leave."
"I knew that if Jason Varitek didn't come back, we had no chance to repeat as champions. No chance. None."
On the pitchers the Red Sox brought in -- Matt Clement, David Wells, Matt Mantei and Wade Miller:
"Matt Clement to me is a Cy Young arm who hasn't figured out how to turn that 10-15 win corner yet. He needs to go out and win 18-20 games, and this could be the year he's going to do that. ...
"David Wells -- big-game winner, big-game pitcher. The one guy in the big leagues who I thought belonged on our team last year but wasn't on it ...
"Matt Mantei gives us a Tom Gordon in the seventh inning. And Wade Miller is a potential No. 1 starter."
On whether he's as "fascinating" as Barbara Walters evidently thought he was -- in placing him on her list of 10 Most Fascinating People of 2004:
"My wife wouldn't describe me as fascinating. (Laugh.) I think I had a fascinating year. That's what I think. I think everybody has a level that's fascinating to someone else. I just think I was involved in a fascinating year. I don't know exactly why she chose me. I was flattered, obviously. But the cool thing was, it was a chance to be able to recognize that group of guys again and what we did."
On landing in the No. 14 spot on the Sporting News' list of most powerful people in sports -- one position ahead of some guy named Steinbrenner:
"I did not know that. Sweet."
On why other people might think of him as "powerful":
"I'm opinionated. I believe in my opinions. And in the world of sports, that [ticks] a lot of people off. I haven't figured out why, other than, it seems like a lot of people think if you're opinionated and you have any kind of intelligence, you're rocking the boat.
"But I look at a world full of people who conform because they're told things have to be a certain way. And I've come to find out the last 18 years that's not how it is. Your life is what you make it. Your perceptions are shaped and changed by your actions.
"I haven't allowed people to tell me that things are going to be a certain way and then just have them be that way -- not if I can have a chance to change that. ...
"I think that's why I won't be in the baseball business when I'm done playing. I don't have it in me to kiss people's butt. And I don't have it in me to do things some way because that's the way someone tells me they should be done. I want things done the best way they possibly can be done."
On the people who think he was motivated by ego when he negotiated an incentive clause guaranteeing him another year (and another $15 million) if the Red Sox won the World Series:
"Yes. Absolutely. [But] that's another problem. People believe ego's a bad thing. They look at ego as conceit, almost. You look at anybody who is good at anything, and there's an ego. It might be hidden, or it might be on the surface. But you're not good at something unless you believe or have confidence in yourself. That, to me, is ego.
"The clause was put in there because I understood, from the minute they came there, why they wanted me to come here. ... I wanted to convey to them my priorities in coming to Boston. I was going to get paid an extraordinary amount of money, no matter what happened. But I knew why they wanted me here. They wanted me here to help them win a World Series. I wanted to make sure they understood that I understood that."
On why he welcomes that type of pressure:
"I don't have a problem with that kind of expectation. You know me. That doesn't bother me, because I don't see a lot of people stepping up on the biggest days of their life. People get too scared. They don't take the step. They don't even want to be in that situation. I want to every day because I'm going to walk away from that day, win or lose, and know something more about myself."
On what it is that makes him want to be in those situations:
"It's a combination, and it's hard to explain: an absolute utter fear of failure, and an absolute lack of fear of failure. I am not afraid to get beat. I hate it. But I also understand that I'm terrified of embarrassing myself. ... because that's all I have. That's what I am.
"I'll say it again. Other than the Lord and my family, I'm identified by what I do with the ball in my hand every fifth day. ... I take a lot of pride in what people say about me as a pitcher. I want to go out there every fifth day, and I want the other [team's] 25 guys to be saying, 'Aw, crap. Schilling's pitching.' And I want the 24 guys that I'm suiting up with to say, 'Today's win day. Schilling's pitching.'
"That comes through consistent achievement. Not monthly or weekly, but year in and year out. But that's what I strive for. And when I walk away from playing, that's what I want people to say. I want them to say that if I had to win a game -- life or death, one game -- that's the guy I want to have the ball."
The famous bloody sock.
On how the bloody sock from his World Series start came to be headed for the Hall of Fame:
"Initially, the sock from Game 6 [of the Yankees series] got thrown away, and it's funny it happened because I remember taking it off after the game and throwing it on the floor and thinking, 'You know, I should probably save that. But nah. No big deal.' But I saved the one from Game 2. ...
"I was actually going to auction the sock off ... and raise money for charity. The fans of Boston wanted the sock to go to the Hall of Fame, so they put together a program that they were going to pool up their money and buy the sock and donate it to the Hall of Fame. And I told them if they raised enough money, I'd just donate the sock to the Hall of Fame. Well, a bunch of stuff happened. But it's going to the Hall of Fame eventually."
On what it says, if the Hall of Fame wants his sock, about what he did while wearing that sock:
"To me it tells people how much that group of guys meant to me. I went through what I went through because of those people, because of my teammates, because of how [much] what we were going through meant to every one of us. And it was important enough to me, and all of the other things surrounding it, that I would have done anything to have been a part of it. That's what it says to me."
On whether he thinks he ever has a chance to join his sock in the Hall of Fame:
"I don't think I'm going to play long enough to win enough games. But you know what? I'm OK with that. I'm going to retire, and I want the people I played with to say, 'If I had to win a game, that's my pitcher.' And if I can do that, the other stuff is going to be pretty much inconsequential.
"And that's not to diminish the Hall of Fame. To be in the Hall of Fame, you have to be one of the greatest players to ever play the game. And I don't think I'm one of those. I think Randy Johnson is. I think Pedro Martinez is. I think Nomar [Garciaparra] will be. Manny [Ramirez]. I've played with some Hall of Famers. I don't have that kind of perspective on my career."
On whether he and his team could possibly write a better script in 2005 than they did in 2004:
"I don't think we have to do it any better. I just think we have to do it again. ...
"There will never be another year like that. And there shouldn't be. Last year was special because it was the first time in 86 years that it had happened. I expect it to be every bit as fun and exciting and unbelievable if we do it again. But it will never be like it was last year, and that's what makes last year awesome. ... It was fun, and it was a blast, and I'd love to live it over again. But it's done with. And now we go to 2005, and we have a chance to create a whole new set of memories."
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.