When former Red Sox All-Star pitcher Curt Schilling looks back on the highlights of the historic 2004 World Championship season his thoughts always includes Boston fans. In a recent interview at his home in Medfield, MA, he says, “Every important memory I have of that season, and I have a lot of them, includes Red Sox fans.
“I can never repay in kind the way fans welcomed me and my whole family to the area and made us feel a part of the community. The fans were just unbelievable. That means so much to all of us.”
He adds, “And every time I took the mound in Fenway Park that season I could feel 35,000 fans pulling for me from the first pitch. I went 12-1 at Fenway during the regular season and the crowd played an important part in every win.
“And when we celebrated the Championship at the duck boat parade my family and I could feel the love from three million fans. My oldest son Gehrig was nine at the time, old enough to understand the moment, and I will never forget the way he soaked it all in.
“At that moment the team—and that includes every member of the Red Sox organization—and the fans were truly connected.”
When Curt Schilling agreed to a trade that would make him a key part of the 2004 Red Sox it was actually a homecoming so it was appropriate that it came to fruition over the 2003 Thanksgiving holidays. His professional baseball career began with the Boston Red Sox, signing as a second round draft choice in 1986, and he was in his third season in their minor league system when he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles in July, 1988.
When the Red Sox front office team of Larry Luchino, Theo Epstein, and Jed Hoyer arrived at Schillings home in Paradise, AZ, fifteen years later, the big right-hander was a five-time All-Star who had won 162 big league games, and he had been named co-MVP of the World Series for the 2001 World Champion Arizona Diamondbacks.
“I was very impressed by their preparation and presentation,” Curt remembers. “I was concerned about pitching in Fenway Park and they brought data from Bill James that showed that my pitching in Fenway wouldn’t be a problem. They had a good response to every issue I raised.”
Larry Luchino was heading to San Diego for Thanksgiving Day so the Schillings invited Theo and Jeb to join them for dinner. “When we picked up discussions on Friday I said to Shonda [Curt’s wife], ‘If we don’t reach an agreement today, the Yankees will come by tomorrow so it is a win-win.
“We need to decide whether we want to go to New York and help them win their 20-something World Championships or go to Boston and help them win something no one alive there has ever seen before.’ Once we worked the money out it was easy to pick Boston.”
NG TRAINING 2004
“What I remember most about my first spring training with the Red Sox is our first workout,” Curt says. “When we went out to the fields there were hundreds of fans waiting. It was 7:30 am, and it was already hot and muggy, and there were fans everywhere. I couldn’t believe it!”
Spring training reunited Schilling with new Red Sox manager Terry Francona who had been his manager with the Philadelphia Phillies for four years. “A lot was said about how I picked the Red Sox because they were going to hire Terry. That wasn’t true,” he says. “But I did know Terry well and after I spent time with the Red Sox I knew he would be a perfect match, and the ideal choice.”
Schilling’s 2004 teammate Kevin Millar remembers how seriously Curt took spring training. “He told us he had tape of all the hitters” Millar says. “So I asked him if he had tape of my big blast against him that went 330 feet and barely cleared the fence,” Kevin says chuckling.
Curt provided his response the next day when Millar stepped into the batting cage against Schilling. His first pitch fastball whistled behind Millar’s neck. “My heart dropped,” catcher Jason Varitek told the media. “I didn’t know he was going to do that and it scared the crap out of me.”
Schilling told reporters it wasn’t any big deal. “Hey, this is what I do for a living,” he said, adding, “Did I hit him?”
Asked how he felt about his new team’s prospects when spring training ended, Curt says, “I had been to the World Series twice, and each time our team felt we were special. We all knew that the 2004 Red Sox were special.”
AN HISTORIC SEASON BEGINS
Curt Schillings’ first win in a Red Sox uniform came in the team’s second game of the season. He pitched seven strong innings in Baltimore defeating the Orioles 4-1. It was the first time the Orioles had seen Schilling because he had convinced manager Francona not to pitch him against East Division rivals in spring training.
His first exposure to Red Sox fans came on Opening Day at Fenway Park when he was announced in the pre-game ceremonies. “You read about the intensity of Red Sox fans for their team and you hear about it but until you experience you have no idea how moving it is. I’ll never forget their response.”
Schilling opposed the Yankees for the first time on April 17, 2004, at Fenway Park and he was the winning pitcher in a 5-2 Red Sox victory. When he was relieved by Mike Timlin in the seventh inning with a 4-1 lead he received a prolonged standing ovation from the sellout crowd.
“That was a great feeling,” he says looking back. “I had been brought to Boston to beat the Yankees and I had done it.
“I would tell any Major League ballplayer that if you don’t play for the Red Sox, you don’t get the full experience”