When Curt Schilling takes his entourage of trainers, coaches, and doctors -- along with a funny-looking new shoe -- out to the bullpen, it's obvious he's taking a serious step in his comeback.
As the tarp covered the Fenway field and clouds were threatening above, Schilling threw out of the bullpen for a good 15 minutes, approximately 50 pitches. When he was done, he stopped to speak to Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, now an Orioles broadcaster, and then he did what he hadn't done in weeks: He spoke to the print and TV media.
Schilling said he has no idea what type of pitcher he'll be when he finally returns, no idea whether he'll be as dominant as he was last October. He has no idea when he'll be back from the surgery in November and subsequent bone bruise/stress reaction in his right ankle, though he was so encouraged by yesterday that it might be before the All-Star break.
Schilling said the new shoe, which basically provides a platform for balance and support, might be a godsend.
The shoe was designed by Scott Waugh, who has done a lot of work with the Bruins for situations such as this. Schilling had been continuing his normal long-tossing routine on the road, but wasn't able to take a next step until the shoe was ready.
Team physician Thomas Gill, who monitored yesterday's session, said Schilling came through with flying colors.
Schilling said he knew coming out of surgery that it would be 12-18 months before he had full strength back, but that didn't mean he couldn't pitch. The stress reaction was a result of the ankle not being properly supported, an issue that now has been addressed with the shoe.
''We had to find a way to artificially create some balance, and it's been a long way toward doing that," Schilling said. ''We're trying to lay some groundwork for the next 10-12 days. When we decide to make decisions, I'm sure everybody will know."
He said he'd able to wear the shoe in games when that day comes.
While timetables are somewhat of a sore subject in Red Sox Land these days, Schilling said he never used the 2-to-12-week frame that appeared in print recently.
''The 2-12 weeks is meaningless," he said. ''Who operates their life on a 2-to-12-week timetable? I've never used that. What I've said is it's day to day."
Gill also said that timetable never came from his lips.
''Today was, for me, a huge step," Schilling said. ''I understand there's a lot of things that have to happen before I pitch again. Pushing myself now isn't going to get me back faster. I have to get back on the mound and throw and get my arm strength up and my ankle strength up, and to do that, I've got to be able to be comfortable with my mechanics. And today was the first day I can balance it out like I did before I was hurt.
''My balance with this [shoe] is drastically different than it has been. It's an added dimension to create a platform to throw."
Schilling envisions no restrictions with the platform shoe; he says it's heavier, but ''it's not like I was light on my feet anyway. I'm not giving anything away here. We'll be able to work it and tweak it however we need to between now and whenever I come back. I might need it the entire season or through spring training. Might be a month, I don't know."
Schilling said he's been disappointed with how the ankle responded, but there's not much he can do now.
''The timetable isn't even close to what I thought it would be or hoped it would be," he said. ''There's nothing I can do about that. I told myself I'd like to be able to pitch before the All-Star break. That's how I'm operating now.
''What happened coming back was -- I don't think it was anybody's fault. It didn't work the way we thought it was going to work . It didn't come out the way we expected it to come out. I don't think anyone threw caution to the wind. I don't think anybody was overconfident. I thought I did what I felt I could do.
''If you look at what happened, I got strong at the end of spring training; velocitywise I kept getting stronger and then I regressed. I don't think anybody knew why and how. It just wasn't ready to handle what we were putting on it."
Schilling said this ordeal has consumed him.
''I've been thinking about this seven days a week, 24 hours a day, for six months now," he said. ''There's a lot of thoughts that go through your mind during that time. Good days, bad days. You look back what happened, what could happen. They've all crossed my mind at some point.
''My goal right now is to get back into game mode and pitching shape, and whatever stuff I have when I show up back here is what I'll have to win with. My stuff was good enough to win in April. It was more a mental adjustment I just couldn't or didn't make."
Gill said the next step is continuing to improve Schilling's conditioning and strengthening the ankle. There'll be options for that, including training facilities like the Athletes Performance Institute in Tempe, Ariz., that Schilling uses in the offseason.
Again, no timetables, no pressure.
But yesterday was one large step forward in a funny-looking shoe.