Curt Schilling’s life has been anything but quiet since he threw his last major league pitch, way back in the sixth inning of Game 2 of the 2007 World Series.
Where to begin?
Schilling started a video game company that had a very public collapse as it left the state of Rhode Island on the hook for millions of dollars in bond repayments.
Schilling, whose wife Shonda is a cancer survivor, was diagnosed with cancer. Schilling went through treatment and has since gone into remission.
Schilling took a job as a baseball analyst with ESPN.
Schilling dispensed a lot of opinions, including one where he said he thought part of the reason he was not elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame was because he’s a staunch Republican.
Yet, for as much as Schilling remained in the public eye, nothing got him as much attention as the events of early March. That was when Curt Schilling, Father, took center stage. In the eyes of many, it was more like Curt Schilling, Father of the Year.
After putting up a congratulatory message on Twitter that his 18-year old daughter Gabby would be continuing her softball career at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I., Schilling watched as a vile social media attack against his daughter unfolded. Actually, he didn’t watch for long.
Schilling not only defended Gabby on Twitter, he wrote passionately about it on his personal blog, outing some of the perpetrators along the way. In the process a man who, because of his strong opinions has more detractors than admirers, became one with many new admirers.
“I think three or four years ago it may have turned out differently,” Schilling said. “I likely would have reacted, and/or responded, much more emotionally. I have two jobs as a father: provide for my family, protect my family. If I can't do those why am I here?”
The experience was overwhelming for Gabby, though she said she was not surprised that her father went after those who attacked her online.
“I kind of tried to stay behind the door,” she said. “I didn’t really like all the attention it got. But I began to see what he was doing wasn’t just for me, but it was putting a spotlight on Internet bullying. I think he ended up getting a really good message out there.”
Schilling’s 20-year-old son Gehrig said, “You could see people reacting to my dad in a different way. This wasn’t sports or politics. This was a man showing what kind of father he is.”
The Schillings say it was just dad being dad. Gehrig, a pitcher at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass., said his father has always been around for him and calls him before games he can’t attend. Gabby pitched under her father when he coached the Apponaug Pride, an elite fast-pitch softball team that won a Rhode Island state championship.
“Sports was the bond my father and I shared from the day I came home,” Schilling said. “My mother told me my father had placed a ball and a glove in my crib. I was almost reluctant to participate early on, I wanted my kids to do what they loved to do, whether that was ballet or joining the Navy. Still do. The one lesson I tried to carry over from sports to their lives? If you are going to do something, why not be the best in the world at it, or try to?”
They are, indeed, trying.
“Our relationship was built a lot on our love of sports,” Gabby said. “He and my mom are my biggest fans, but my dad has always been my throwing buddy. Except when he had cancer.”
In February of 2014, Schilling was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, mouth cancer, which he believes was caused by a 30-year smokeless tobacco habit. He underwent radiation and chemotherapy, lost 70 pounds, had two bouts with pneumonia and a painful staph infection. The cancer diagnosis came after 38 Studios went bankrupt. Tough times, which Schilling painfully admitted were his own fault. He’d blown through his family’s life savings and was suffering from cancer because he wouldn’t stop dipping tobacco, even though he knew its harmful effects.
Schilling, who lost his own father, Cliff Schilling, in 1988, focused on family. In addition to Gehrig and Gabby, Curt and Shonda have two more sons, Grant (16) and Garrison (12). There have been challenges. Gehrig battled an eating disorder during his pre-teen years. Gabby has had some issues with her hearing. Grant has Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism.
“I went from being hands off, away nine months a year, to home 24/7,” Schilling said. “That caused some enormous adjustments on all sides. I do know I've never felt I did as good a job as I wanted to do. I certainly don't think, as much as I wanted it to be, that I am like my dad.”
Gabby described her Curt as “the kind of dad who’s just outside the dugout when he wasn’t coaching. Sometimes, I’d tell him, ‘This isn’t your team, go away!’ But, I’ve got to say, when he was my coach, he loved our team so much. I’ve never seen him have so much fun.”
Said Gehrig, “He loves to be involved. When I was younger and he was playing, my summer vacation was spent traveling with him. He was my best friend, by far, growing up.”
The Schilling kids are well aware of their dad’s place in the sports world, where he will forever be one of those “love him or hate him” guys. Which is why both look back proudly on that moment in March when the world got to see Curt Schilling, Father, on display.
“If you know anything about my dad, he’s not afraid to speak his mind,” Gehrig said. “But everyone got to see him speak his mind when one of his own was being mistreated. Everyone out there has family they love and want to protect. And I think my dad touched all of those people.”