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On, off the mound, Schilling makes his pitch

Is he the pitcher or the pitchman?

Two months into his first season in Boston, Curt Schilling is already the most public face of the Red Sox. He's in a series of ads for New England Ford Dealers, including one starring his wife, Shonda, and their four children. He's on a Reebok billboard near Fenway Park that will soon also appear in other parts of the city. And in an ad for Dunkin' Donuts, he practiced his Boston accent between bites of the chain's maple cheddar breakfast sandwich.

He's on WROR radio each week with morning DJs Loren and Wally. And as if all that weren't enough, he was all over the television news two weeks ago after he called police to report a suspected drunk driver.

Bothered by ankle, Schilling could be sidelined. C11.

The 37-year-old ace right-hander seemed so ubiquitous that actor and former Cambridge resident Ben Affleck roasted him about his burst of advertising at an April luncheon for the Boston Red Sox Foundation.

"Curt, I think there are one or two things you're not currently promoting yet in town," Affleck said. "Are there?"

Schilling takes the ribbing in stride. He said he even got sick of seeing himself on television. The irony is that right now he's only shilling (pun intended) for two companies since the Dunkin' ad went off the air in April.

"I really made a conscious effort not to overdo the ads," he said. "But the ads were on the air so much that it left people with the impression I've done a lot of different things."

That's because, at least as far as the Red Sox go, Schilling is unusually public. Other top Sox players lack Schilling's "it" factor. Nomar Garciaparra, known as one of baseball's hardest-working players, so zealously guards his privacy that it's difficult for fans to relate to him. Pitcher Pedro Martinez can be temperamental -- just ask Don Zimmer. Last year Martinez threw the then-72-year-old New York Yankees coach to the ground after Zimmer charged him during a bench-clearing melee that erupted during Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.

And left fielder Manny Ramirez's lackadaisical attitude and expressed desire to be in New York don't always endear him to New England fans. They chide him for not hustling enough on the field, recalling his refusal to pinch-hit against Philadelphia last year because he felt "too weak."

"Schilling is a proven winner, a workhorse who wears his passion on his sleeve," said Daniel Ladik, assistant professor of marketing at Suffolk University in Boston. "There's no question; he wants to be here, and he wants to win. He's an extrovert to the nth degree. I can't name another Red Sox player like that."

To be sure, other Red Sox players have struck advertising deals. Right fielder Kevin Millar is pushing KFC fried chicken in TV ads. Outfielder Johnny Damon starred in ads for New England Ford Dealers last year. He also shaved his beard last month to promote Gillette Co.'s new M3Power razor, donating his fee to charity. Garciaparra has appeared in advertisements for Fleet Bank and Dunkin' Donuts. Former Red Sox third baseman John Valentin plugged for New England Ford Dealers.

But few have generated the kind of public response Schilling has.

"We do hundreds of commercials every year, and very few of them get talked about," said Scott Kavanagh, regional account director for J. Walter Thompson, the ad agency for New England Ford Dealers. "The hitchhiker spot with Curt got more positive feedback than any spot we've been associated with."

The Red Sox are paying Schilling $12 million this year, and though neither he nor the companies will disclose how much he earns as a pitchman, it seems unlikely that he needs the extra money.

Schilling has embraced public life wherever he's played. He engages fans in chat rooms, and e-mails back and forth with them. He doesn't shy away from the press. He shares the limelight with his family, too. In fact, Shonda and their four children steal the show in a spot for the Ford F-150 truck, ordering him to do push-ups and gently casting him aside when it's time for cool, tall glasses of lemonade for the children.

His public persona -- that of a devoted husband and father, a hard-working pitcher, a generous donor to charities, and an all-around good guy -- is what advertisers love about Schilling. He's no bad boy of baseball who might sully a brand's reputation. He also doesn't take himself too seriously. As one Dunkin' Donuts executive noted, not every player would trot out a bad Boston accent for all the world to hear.

Schilling argues that his on-field performance is what matters to fans. And though that may be true, ad professionals say that performance alone doesn't sell products.

"I don't know how you put your finger on exactly what it is," said Jerry Chase Jr., owner of Framingham Ford and a member of the advertising board for New England Ford Dealers. "Schilling just comes across as real and genuine."

Born in Anchorage, Schilling was the second-round draft pick for the Red Sox in 1986. He made his major-league debut two years later with the Baltimore Orioles. His longest stint was with the Philadelphia Phillies, where he played until 2000, when he was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks. A year later, he helped pitch Arizona to a World Series championship over the New York Yankees.

Schilling is bombarded by requests from companies seeking his endorsement. He says he holds the companies he promotes to two criteria. One, the companies must be of good repute. Two, they must support the Schilling family charities.

He and his wife founded Curt's Pitch for ALS to fight amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease (their oldest son is named Gehrig after the Yankees player who died from the neuromuscular disease) and The Curt and Shonda Schilling Melanoma Foundation (Shonda is a skin cancer survivor). WROR aims to raise $100,000 by the end of the season for the ALS Association. Dunkin' Donuts held a breakfast fund-raiser with Schilling for ALS.

Oddly enough, Schilling said, the more public he and his family are, the easier it is for them to lead a normal life. In Philadelphia, where he played from 1992 to 2000, he says, he was asked to sign fewer autographs than any place he's lived as a major league baseball player, because people knew him and they knew Shonda. Fans inquired about his family rather than asking for his autograph. They weren't mobbed when they went out in public.

"I'm not different from everybody else, except for my ability to throw a baseball and my paycheck," Schilling said. "By letting people see you and your family, they see that, and they become more comfortable around you."

Naomi Aoki can be reached at naoki@globe.com.

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