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Fanning flames

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  February 22, 2007 05:17 PM

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The message to the Red Sox front office from the fans is clear: Sign Curt Schilling.

The Red Sox ace was the talk of camp at the minor league complex in Fort Myers today, when Schilling announced that Theo Epstein informed him the team would not award him a $13 million extension, and that he will test the free agent waters following this season.

“That’s a bad thing,” said 44-year-old Kevin Cloutier of Westford, who was enjoying spring training with his family. “I would have hoped if it took $13 million to get a guy like Curt Schilling, we would have done that. People are paying $17 million for a Barry Zito. You’ve got to get a Curt Schilling for 13. That’s going to be a problem for us. You can’t get too cocky because you have a lot of pitchers. You never know what happens.”

Last spring, there was talk of the Red Sox having a surplus of starting pitching, sparking the trade of Bronson Arroyo. But injuries and a lack of depth resulted in a third-place finish.

“He’s really in a key spot in that pitching rotation right now. It would be really hard to lose that No. 1,” said 16-year-old Chris Tommila of Belchertown. “It comes down to Theo I guess.”

Epstein had a three-minute chat with Schilling last night when he informed the pitcher that there would be no deal this spring, which is probably three minutes longer than the GM has spoken with his absent left fielder.

Manny Ramirez continued to be a no-show today, after Epstein yesterday confirmed his arrival on March 1, due to a family matter. The Boston Globe reported, however, that Ramirez was scheduled to attend a classic car auction in Atlantic City Saturday. Epstein said today that Ramirez's agent told him that his client would not be attending the auction.

Still, fans continued to shrug their shoulders at this annual drama.

“Just because he’s done it in the past I kind of have mixed feelings on that,” said 18-year-old Jessica Tommila of Belchertown.

And if he had indeed planned to attend the car show this weekend?

“Oh, that, I don’t know,” she said. “I think that’s a little sketchy. If he’s with his family then I think that’s fine. But I think this is where he should be if he’s not doing that.”

Cloutier, clad in a Ramirez T-shirt, defended the player, saying his absence didn’t bother him at all, unless the rumors of his weekend were true.

“That’s probably not the greatest thing,” he said. “He doesn’t need money right? He could skip that. If his Mom is ill, that’s fine. If he’s trying to make money, that’s ridiculous.”

Twelve-year-old Steven Jepeal had similar thoughts.

“If it’s true I’m going to kind of be disappointed, but he’s Manny,” he said. “I definitely think he should try to be more of a team player, but I guess it’s not really him though. Sometimes people make too big of a deal about what he does.”

Still, no matter what lingering frustrations, the same response continued to ooze from fans when asked if they were bothered about Ramirez not being there: .300, 40, 120.

“Red Sox Nation is fanatic about baseball,” Cloutier said. “So I think they’ll be down on him until early April, and then he bangs out four or five home runs or wins a game, does the phenomenal things he’s done. You know how people have short memories.”

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