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Public profession

Baseball is a sport in need of heroes, and Curt Schilling fits the bill. In this exclusive spring-training interview, he describes how his faith grew last year under championship pressure

Issue: "Curt Schilling: Never hide," March 19, 2005

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As Boston native Bob Kirk stood watching the Red Sox celebrate last October after winning the World Series for the first time in 86 years, he talked about his father who died of cancer the previous December. Mr. Kirk said, "His last words to me were, 'have they signed Schilling?'"

Schilling is Curt Schilling, and yes, the Sox in signing him to a contract obtained not only one of baseball's top hurlers but a man who showed physical and spiritual courage during 2004 while tens of millions watched. He pitched two crucial playoff and World Series games with his own blood-from an experimental suture of a torn ankle tendon-leaving a stain on his sock, and he announced to the world that he recognizes the power of Christ's blood.

Over a meatballs lunch in the Red Sox spring-training facility in Fort Myers, Fla., the 6-foot-5-inch, 235-pound Schilling described how he became a Christian eight years ago: "I had gone to church, like a lot of fringe Christians, when I needed help with something or felt bad about something, but never just to go to listen to the Word." His wife Shonda had faith and they had recently had their first child-they now have four-but he thought of God as the cosmic bellhop.

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In 1997, though, after five generally successful seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, he asked for one big thing. "I was driving home from the ballpark and thinking about how tired I was of waking up every morning with no real aim in my life. We had our first kid and I also wanted a foundation for my family. . . . While I was driving I said the Lord's Prayer. I waited for thunder and lightning"-he smiled-"and that never came, but my outlook on the world changed."

Asked about indications of change, the pitcher recounted, "I no longer have the desire to hate anybody" and "I'm not sinning as much. . . . I realize the lessons in everything, even losing, and can take away something about better preparation or the need for humility. . . . It becomes a lot easier to live with yourself. The losses are no less painful-I have a miserable four days after a bad game-but I know now the difference between failure and non-success. . . . A pitcher who has 35 starts and wins half of them is a very good pitcher. . . . You work as hard as you can with what God gives you. You fail only if you quit."

He described one specific alteration in habit: "I had dipped [tobacco] for a long time and tried to quit, but never came close. I seriously prayed hard for assistance to stop. One night I said a prayer before going to bed, and the next day, at 4 in the afternoon, I realized I hadn't dipped all day. You need to understand that on all the other days, first thing in the morning, I'd have a dip. . . . It was as common as putting on my pants. So at 4 p.m., when I realized I had prayed and hadn't dipped all day, I had chills."

Mr. Schilling scraped up his mixed vegetables and noted that players, especially on the road, need to pay particular attention to the "Lead us not into temptation" verse of the Lord's Prayer: "We talk a lot about accountability at Baseball Chapel," which has Sunday services and Bible studies during the week. The pitcher praised his church at home in Arizona, Phoenix Bible Church, and conversations he has with its pastor and with Bob Riconda of Hope Church in Pine Hill, N.J., who e-mails him Bible lessons "and then we talk it out over the phone."

Pastor Riconda, from his home in New Jersey, said that he and the pitcher had been doing that for about five years. He first sent a "survival kit for young Christians-how to read the Bible, how to be accountable." He recently sent sermon notes concerning a study of marriage. But the biggest Schilling lesson came last fall. He was known in baseball as a charitable fellow who contributed big bucks to combat Lou Gehrig's disease and other terrible ailments-The Sporting News made him its "#1 Good Guy of the Year" for 2004-yet he did not talk publicly about his faith in Christ.

Then came the first game of the American League championship series, with the Red Sox up against their Moby Dick, the dreaded New York Yankees. The pitcher had torn an ankle tendon in his previous start, but he thought he could gut it out. He was wrong, and his loss of that game sent the Red Sox careening to a 3-0 deficit in a series to be won by the first team to win four games.

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