FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Curt Schilling will stride to the mound tonight at City of Palms Park for his first spring training outing with the full knowledge that the weight of his comments, the weight around his midsection, and the weight of the stuff he'll bring in the wake of the Red Sox declining to extend his contract will subject him to a hefty amount of scrutiny.
No one should be stunned by the fact that Schilling is delighted with that.
In fact, even though he reported to camp with extra girth, Schilling said he's already shed the unwanted pounds and sees a 20-win season (something no one in the majors accomplished last season) in his future.
"Absolutely," he said. "Why can't I?"
The optimism stems, in part, from a new pitch -- a changeup -- that Schilling says he has been systematically refining and plans to unveil tonight against the Twins.
"I've been working on it for three years," he said. "That, along with 21 years of playing the game professionally, is going to work to my advantage.
"I threw it about 15-20 times last season. I threw some good ones, too. I'm not going to tell you who I've used it against, or when, because I'm not giving that away. But it's a pitch I plan to break out consistently."
Schilling practiced his new pitch on members of the Medfield High School baseball team over the winter. He said he threw every day during the offseason.
"I pitched more at home than I have here," he said.
The big righthander has been a daily news machine since announcing that he would like to play another season beyond 2007. Schilling anticipated that the Red Sox would extend him for another year at his present $13 million price tag, but after initially indicating they would likely do so, the Sox instead decided to gamble and perhaps allow the veteran to wade into free agency at season's end. General manager Theo Epstein cited Schilling's age (40) as one of the primary reasons the ball club decided to adopt a wait-and-see attitude.
Left unspoken was Schilling's disappointing physique when he showed up at Fort Myers. He was clearly overweight, and members of the front office took note.
"In 2004, I came into spring training at 242 pounds, and it felt like 210," he said. "This year I came in at 248 and it felt like 310."
Last season, Schilling was listed at 235 pounds in the press guide. He said his ideal weight this time of year is around 242 or 243.
"It's on me," he said. "No excuses -- and I haven't made any. I came to camp a couple of pounds heavier than I wanted to. A lot of things came to a head in the last 7-10 days [before camp] from a time-management situation. I was trying to get things set with my company before I came down here."
His company, Green Monster Games, has a $60 million operating budget and 38 employees. Schilling said he recently hired someone from EA Sports to run the day-to-day operations for him.
Schilling's weight is a larger issue than it would be for other players for two significant reasons. First, he's 40 years old, and as anyone who has hit that milestone can attest, it's harder to maintain your metabolism and harder still to lose poundage at that age.
Equally significant is the fact that the added weight puts more pressure on his knees, back, and the surgically reconstructed ankle, the one that turned Schilling into a cult hero in 2004. Asked specifically about the state of his ankle, he answered, "It's different. I'm a much better weatherman than I was a couple of years ago. There's a little hole in the bone where I had [my surgery]. When the bone dies, they have to take the damaged part out. That's why I was on the Marcaine. It was for the pain."
Schilling insists his weight is no longer an issue because he's been "grinding" his way down to where he wants to be. He said he arrives at the ballpark between 7 and 7:15 a.m. and does cardio work and lifting. He participates in the team workouts, then does additional work in the evenings.
"I'm getting to a good place," he said. "I'm disappointed in how the period of time before this went. But it's done. As long as I learn from it.
"I don't wear [extra weight] as well as other people. It looks different on me. I'm never going to look the way some people think I should."
According to Schilling, manager Terry Francona, who spoke with him throughout the winter, said nothing about the extra pounds. "He didn't have to," Schilling said. "I knew."
Schilling remains peeved about what he perceives to be media leaks concerning his conditioning. He held Francona blameless and quickly exonerated Epstein as well, leaving the finger squarely pointed in the direction of CEO Larry Lucchino, everyone's favorite piñata. If Lucchino is indeed the subject of his ire, then why not name him?
"I don't need to name anyone," Schilling answered. "The person knows that I know. I don't care if the rest of you know, too."
Before the Red Sox declined to extend his deal, Schilling insisted that even if he did become a free agent, he would never sign with the Yankees. He reiterated that position yesterday.
"People made a big deal out of that when I said it," Schilling said. "But when Mariano Rivera says it [about Boston], no one blinks an eye. There's just way too much history there.
"I'm probably one of the worst hated opposing players for their fans. I doubt they'd want me there. It's got nothing to do with [GM] Brian Cashman. I love that guy. And I love Mr. Steinbrenner. But if I went to the Yankees, it would be me walking out of Boston and putting my finger up to the fans.
"I won't do it. And the dollar value will not tip the scales. If they gave me $25 million to pitch one season in Yankee Stadium, I'd still say no."
Such sweeping declarations can come back to haunt a player (see: Johnny Damon). The fact of the matter is, situations can change dramatically -- for Schilling and the Red Sox.
But for now, Boston's Opening Day pitcher says that scenario holds no weight.
Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.