FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It was one of those days, Terry Francona said, he'd find himself enjoying the game, then his thoughts would drift to a man known universally to the baseball world as "Vuk": John Vukovich, the Phillies coach who died yesterday at age 59 of complications connected to an inoperable brain tumor.
"I don't think I could do a very good job to talk about the way I feel," Francona said. "It's confusing. You stand out there on the field doing the job you love, thinking that you wish time could stand still for a minute. It's just hard to figure out. He's a unique person you had to be around. He affected so many people in the game, myself included, and our hearts certainly go out to [his wife] Bonnie and her family."
Vukovich was Francona's third base coach the four years he managed in Philadelphia. He also was a coach with the Cubs when Francona played there. A couple of days before spring training, Francona slipped into a hospital in Philadelphia to see his old friend.
"I was absolutely the worst player on that team," Francona said. "He treated me like I was not the worst. If you were willing to work, he'd be willing to outwork you. He liked having an effect on players."
One of the players he affected most profoundly was Curt Schilling, who achieved stardom in Philadelphia.
"He was kind of a surrogate father to me," Schilling said. "My father died, and I did not have a dominant male figure in my life. He made an effort to get involved. There's no question in my mind I would not have stayed in the big leagues."
Schilling said he called Vukovich a month ago to leave a message and Vukovich unexpectedly answered and they spoke for a few minutes. "He was very close to my kids and my wife," Schilling said. "He was an incredibly integral part of my life and my career."
Schilling gave up a run in the first on Joe Mauer's two-out single and a double by Torii Hunter over Wily Mo Peña's head, the only two hits he allowed. The most notable feature of his outing? "I threw 15 changeups," Schilling said. "Despite the fact it felt horrendous, I threw some good ones." Schilling said he has been refining the pitch and plans to add it to his repertoire this season. His worst pitch, he said, was a 3-and-2 changeup to Hunter for ball four after an extended at-bat, but otherwise he was satisfied with his outing.
Schilling's next two starts are not likely to come in exhibitions, given that they fall on days the Sox have road games against division opponents: Toronto (Dunedin) next Tuesday and Baltimore (Fort Lauderdale) a week from Sunday. Minor league games don't begin until next Friday, but Francona said they'll "invent" some kind of game for him to pitch in Tuesday.