Curt Schilling, pitcher and Christian

Posted: Mar 17, 2005 12:00 AM

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Before Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling agreed to testify before Congress about steroid use in baseball, he decided to testify to the world about Christ.

 He wasn't always so faithful or so forthcoming. Late last month, over a meatballs lunch at the Red Sox spring training facility here, the 6 foot, 5 inch, 235-pound Schilling first 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.

 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."

 He never talked publicly about the changes going on inside him, which he summarized over lunch in this way: "I no longer have the desire to hate anybody. ... 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. ... I know now the difference between failure and non-success. ... You work as hard as you can with what God gives you. You fail only if you quit."

 He didn't tell reporters what was behind 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 four 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."

 At lunch, 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. He said, "We talk a lot about accountability at Baseball Chapel," which has Sunday services and Bible studies during the week. He discussed the regular Bible lessons he engages in by email and emphasized the importance of regular Scripture reading.

 All of that was private until the biggest Schilling lesson came last fall. Known only as an excellent pitcher and a charitable fellow who contributed big bucks to combat diseases (The Sporting News made him its "No. 1 Good Guy of the Year" for 2004), his public persona changed last October when 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.

 Each time, it looked as if it would be physically impossible for him to pitch effectively. Each time, he shut down the opposition. Each time, he announced to the world that "Tonight was God's work on the mound. ... God did something amazing. ... I went to the Lord for help, because I knew, again, I wasn't going to be able to do this myself." Each time, he explained that he had resolved not to pray to win (although he desired that), but for the strength to go out and compete.

 Late last month, eating dessert and thinking about going so public with his belief, Schilling said: "I've learned that you should never hide your faith. I had wasted seven years. People didn't know." Now that he has testified about what is most important, testifying before Congress is relatively easy.