Connect the Dots...So Sure...So Wrong

This, too, shall pass… but probably not for quite some time. As regular readers of this column well know, this writer has been projecting a reunion of our beloved Philadelphia Phillies and its seeming prodigal son, Curt Schilling. Alas, the reality will be different than the dream. Thomas Wolfe was right in this case when he suggested, "you can't go home again." It seemed so right, I was so sure… and it turns out that I was so wrong.

In a harmonic convergence that hasn't been witnessed in Phil's annuals since Pete Rose signed as a free agent in 1979, the scenario promised a happy ending. The Phillies, a team on the rise, with almost all the puzzle pieces in place, needed to find the one missing piece, a top notch pitcher, a number one type to win the big games and keep the losing streaks to a minimum.

Enter Curt Schilling, pitcher extraordinaire, a player who wants the ball in a Game Seven type setting. One year removed from free agency and basically a lame duck pitcher on a team in retreat, he made it well known that his first choice was to return to the City of Brotherly Love, and his roots.

The signs couldn't have been clearer, not if Schilling had perched atop Independence Hall and rung the Liberty Bell for all to hear. Philadelphia was the city he treasured, the Phils - the team he loved. Certainly, this was a trade to be made in heaven, a situation that cried out for completion.

Yet, to the surprise of some and the dismay of others, Schilling has chosen to take his trusty right arm, and a possible Phillie World Series with him, to another city of historical reverence, Boston.

Few doubt that this was a decision made of conviction; the conviction that for whatever reason, the Phils, and particularly GM Ed Wade, did not value the same passion for Schilling, Act II, as many others did. In the end, it is likely that Schill did not share the same faith this writer professed. Having faith in a completed deal, with steadfast patience and perseverance being the orders of the day.

As in most mystery novels, the answers to the puzzle are not simple, and may never fully be understood. Wade has made it quite clear that re-signing free agent Kevin Millwood is his primary goal, and it is possible that his Plan B will meet with Phil fandom approval. Perhaps Wade never quite forgave Schilling for the unceremonious farewell that occurred when Schill was traded to the D'backs in 2000. Perhaps.

Perhaps the D'backs were never serious about trading Schill to a NL team that could come back to haunt them in a post-season contest. One simple fact stands above all others. This Phillie team, built with admirable stealth by Wade, Arbuckle and Company, is still one top pitcher short of being an elite team, and the stakes just got higher.

Boston. Not since the Tea Party has Boston prepared for such an outpouring of unrestrained euphoria, and with ample reason. Facing a rotation of Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Derek Lowe and Tim Wakefield will certainly cause many a team a headache as they realize there will be no rest for the weary.

Boston. In almost surreal fashion, not since Paul Revere's famous ride will the words, "Two arms, two arms" be repeated as often as when the opposition faces Martinez and Schilling, in back to back games. It is an opposing hitter's nightmare and a Beantown dream.

Make no mistake about one thing. For the Phils organization, Curt Schilling in Boston will be utterly unlike Curt Schilling in Arizona. Tucked away in the desert, a full three hours time difference apart, Schilling often pitched in relative anonymity as far as Philadelphia was concerned. West Coast games, with their late starting times, and even later finishes, were more often than not, merely an afterthought to an East Coast fan base that was often sound asleep by the first pitch.

Not so in Boston. Probably more often than Wade cares to acknowledge, Schilling will be tossing his first pitch on the precise moment that a Philadelphia hurler tosses his. The comparisons will be unavoidable, and possibly uncomplimentary. It will depend on who the Mystery Pitcher behind Phillie Curtain One happens to be.

If somehow, Wade's gamble for Millwood proves fruitful, and he pitches as many think he can, then all will be forgiven and life will go on as usual. If, however, Wade's gamble fails, and he ends up paying a pirate's ransom for a mediocre talent, the wails originating from the walls of Citizens Bank Park will be heard all the way from Philadelphia… to Boston.

Regardless of the spin placed on this story, most Phil's fans will not be quite so forgiving. In Curt Schilling - they saw a passion for winning - which few athletes in today's game possess. With the Phillies, Jim Thome certainly has it, Derek Jeter can be counted on the list, and maybe Ichiro, also.

Yet it is safe to say that only a handful of ballplayers have Schilling's passion for excellence, and no one had his love for Philadelphia. It is a love borne out of countless battles, some won, many lost, but always with full knowledge that the fan base cared as deeply as he did.

This is a rarity that perhaps Wade miscalculated. In a game often driven by bottom line economics, Schill was a throwback, a player from a different generation, a generation probably lost forever. It seemed likely that youngsters Wolf, Padilla and Myers would feel this passion and all would better for it. It was a dream that seemed based on reality… and I for one was quite sure of its perfection… until unknown factors shone out of nowhere, proving me wrong.

Needless to say, a Phillie fan, long faced with disappointment, is now preparing for more setbacks. The question becomes… what next? With Schilling Boston-bound and that dream lost forever, how do we go from Point A to Point Z?

If you believe the whispers and rumors, there is an offer on the table for Millwood to return to Philadelphia. Talk speaks of a contract, either two or three years in length, for approximately 10 million a year. There are also rumblings that Wade hopes that a tight market well might bring Millwood back for one year via the arbitration route.

Both scenarios are possible, and Millwood may decide that his Philadelphia stint has unfinished business that needs closure. Perhaps. But a more likely result with Schilling now Boston bound is a Scott Boras, now smelling blood, increasing the price tag on Millwood's services.

One can also expect that as the pitcher dominos fall… and Schill was the first, there will be more desperate suitors for Millwood's services. Pettitte is likely to reup with the Yankees, and Colon seems likely to either join him or go back to the White Sox. This leaves Montreal's Javier Vasquez… and Millwood.

Unfortunately for the Phils, there is no guarantee that Vasquez will be traded; and if he is, the chances of him being traded to a division rival, are slim. Another factor to play itself out is that to acquire Vasquez without first getting an agreement on a contract extension, is to face the prospect of losing him after one season.

Much like Millwood this year, Vasquez is a free agent after the 2004 season and the question of the day may be, "do the Phils want to revisit a Rent-A-Pitcher scenario?"… probably not.

So Boras will play the waiting game amid the possibility that every day he waits will only increase Millwood's value. This is the game that Wade has chosen to play, and it is a dangerous game, indeed. With certainty, Wade will be judged on how well he plays this game; it is a known fact that losing Schill already places him in jeopardy.

For a hopeful Schilling fan base, this day is one filled with remorse, a day they long saw coming but hoped would be derailed at the pass. For this Phillie fan, steeped in little but the faith that said it would be so, it is a day filled with sadness and reflection. How could something that seemed so right turn out to be so wrong?

For this writer, it is like Arthur losing Camelot, Quixote losing La Mancha. The truth of the day is the heartfelt acknowledgement of one simple reality about Schill the Phil. I was so sure… and I was so wrong.

Columnist's Note: I welcome suggestions, questions and comments. Please send them to connectthedots@earthlink.net and I will respond! CD from the Left Coast

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