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Schilling checks in with a progress report

Curt Schilling, speaking via satellite last night to the crowd at the Boston Baseball Writers Dinner, was asked about his surgically repaired right ankle by master of ceremonies Don Orsillo.

Schilling teased the audience, saying, "It should be ready on or around April 3. Hopefully."

That, of course, is the night the Red Sox open the season against the Yankees in prime time.

Schilling, reached by phone at home in Arizona later last night, was asked the same question. Will he be ready for Opening Night in the Bronx?

"I don't know," Schilling said. "Beyond speculating, which everyone is doing, I can't do more. I feel good. Things are going well. [General manager] Theo [Epstein] is right; I think my ankle is going to be OK [for Opening Night]. I need to see if my arm will be ready."

Because of the surgery, Schilling is a month behind in beginning his offseason workout routine. While the righthander was throwing 94 miles per hour by early March last year, that is unlikely to be the case this spring.

"There are more reasons than I can name," Schilling said, when asked what he needs to do to get his arm in regular-season shape.

Schilling received added motivation this week to return on time when Randy Johnson, his fellow MVP in the 2001 World Series, was at long last traded to the Yankees.

"I'm excited for him," Schilling said. "I think it's going to be a phenomenal situation. It's great for baseball. As sad as it is that the rich get richer, it's good for baseball. Randy being in New York will be an electrifying thing."

Schilling and Johnson reside in the offseason in the same neighborhood in Paradise Valley, Ariz. Despite their shared success and similar offseason coordinates, there has been widespread speculation that the two do not get along.

"We're friends," Schilling said. "I thought he made it pretty clear, as I have in the last couple months. We're friends."

Charity work
Bostonians? Friendliest people in the nation. Just ask Tony La Russa.

"I got a standing ovation as soon as I walked into the airport," said the St. Louis manager, back in Boston for the first time since his Cardinals were swept by the Sox in the World Series.

La Russa, who admitted he was exaggerating a bit, said numerous people did, in fact, come up to him to say, "Hey, thank you. Thank you."

Given time the last few months to consider the Cardinals' unceremonious playoff end, La Russa said the blame belongs with him.

"The biggest thing was I worked with the pitching the first two games and the hitting the second two games and the base running throughout," La Russa said. "So my philosophy has always been whenever we [stink] it's because I [stunk] first.

"They just beat us to the punch. Every time we tried to get something going they scored first, made the best pitch. I just wish we would have won a couple games to make it look as if we'd competed a little better. It's a little embarrassing to get swept.

"We were on the wrong side of history. For the rest of baseball and the Red Sox, it's a great thing."

La Russa's reason for coming to town was charity. In 1988, he and his wife, Elaine, founded the Animal Rescue Foundation. Each year they auction off Cardinals lineup cards. Following the Series he decided to put up for bidding the four St. Louis lineup cards from the World Series. "We just got to thinking, `We just lost four games in the World Series, it's probably more valuable to somebody who's a Boston fanatic,' " La Russa said.

Asked how much he'd like to get for the items, La Russa cited the only comparison he could find. The Red Sox lineup card from Game 4 alone sold for $165,000, he said.

Contact the Cardinals for more information.

La Russa, who managed new Sox shortstop Edgar Renteria, said no Cardinal "was respected and liked, loved, more than Edgar. He was a great teammate. The Boston fans, they'll fall in love with him."

Asked whether the transition to the cauldron that is Fenway Park would be difficult for the Colombian-born shortstop, La Russa said, "That's an interesting question. He now has a lot of experience. But he doesn't like front-and-center publicity. That will be a little adjustment. He's a private guy. He likes to be the guy in the background. If he gets pushed out there he can't escape. So my suggestion is to give him a little room."

Fogged out
Dense fog forced manager Sox Terry Francona to fly into Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth, N.H., yesterday and prohibited principle owner John W. Henry from attending the dinner.

"Fog and weather were such that we could not land," Henry said via e-mail. "Very disappointing."

Henry, quite literally, had been somewhat anxious about showing his face here.

"I'll look a little funny since I have had a skin cancer prevention treatment on my face," he said Wednesday night. "No cancer, just preventative measures that produce temporary skin discolorations."

Table for one
Tim Wakefield was the only Sox player to attend the dinner. Apparently, there was a mix-up with the invitations that delayed them getting to the players. But many players turned down the offer, saying they'd already spent so much time in Boston following the Series win . . . Wakefield said he's ready for the season to begin so he and his teammates can shelve the rock star lifestyles and get back to work. "I keep telling my wife I can't wait for the season to start so I can relax," Wakefield said . . . In an unprecedented occurrence, Francona, Epstein, and Wakefield all received standing ovations during head table introductions . . . The writers issued a number of awards, among them: Red Sox MVP (David Ortiz), Executive of the Year (Epstein), Red Sox Fireman of the Year (Keith Foulke), Red Sox Minor League Player of the Year (Earl Snyder), Jackie Jensen Award for spirit and determination (Johnny Damon), Manager of the Year (Bobby Cox), Pitcher of the Year (Curt Schilling), Ted Williams Award to baseball's leading hitter (Barry Bonds), Tony Conigliaro Award (Tampa Bay's Dewon Brazelton), and Red Sox Rookie of the Year (Kevin Youkilis) . . . The club gave special achievement awards to Francona, Manny Ramirez, and Peter Gammons. Cartoonist Eddie Germano received the Dave O'Hara Award. 

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