In the world of Red Sox-less baseball, the school befitting the brilliant helped host the scene for the only must-see event in town (at least in my mind), that of Curt Schilling speaking to a room of 200 computer-obsessed geniuses (once again, at least in my mind).
All you have to realize is that in the entire classroom there was one person wearing a Red Sox hat. One!
Forget facing Derek Jeter with the bases loaded and nobody out. If Schilling came away from this two-hour showdown intact, whatever legend he had already built would surely go up at least one level. This wasn't Fenway Park, it was MIT. This wasn't a pitcher's mound, it was a table full of CEOs, CFOs, and general managers from places like Etherplay Premium Games, the Utix Group, and Nephin Games.
Most importantly, this wasn't anything remotely baseball-related. It was MIT's Enterprise Forum of Cambridge most recent symposium - Tomorrow's Games: Mobile, Casual, and Massively-Multiplayer Online Games.
As I sat in the furthest reaches of the auditorium, I looked down at Schilling at approximately the same angle I usually view him from the Fenway press box, but hardly in the same light. Two years ago, to the day, he was delivering an air of confidence while leading the Red Sox to a Game 2 World Series victory over St. Louis. This night, he seemed more like the rookie nobody knows quite what to make of.
That would change in a hurry.
There Schilling sat, wearing a gray suit jacket with a black shirt underneath, showing no signs of his baseball-playing profession other than the blue wrist band many of the Red Sox took to wearing in honor of Jon Lester, the teammate who continues to undergo treatment for cancer. As the eclectic crowd (I had a patent lawyer sit next to me) settled in, the Boston hurler made idle chatter with one of his fellow speakers, Jason Booth, the technical designer for Harmonix Music Systems who was there to talk about a game designer's overview of massively-multiplayer online games. Pitch-count discussions would clearly have to wait for another day.
Up to the podium came a relatively normal looking man (a description used for those reading this with preconceived notions of this kind of gathering) named Dan Scherlis. He subsequently introduced the night's first speaker, a man he referred to as a "rookie CEO" and someone who was helping bring the "nerd quotient down," the founder and president of the newly-formed Green Monster Games, Curt Schilling.
Stop it right here.
Now even if Schilling went on to chant "Go Red Sox" 10 times and spend the rest of the night signing baseballs, he had accomplished a feat bestowed to a select few. Here I was, a proud graduate of Springfield College, feeling like I had actually crept up a notch on the social ladder by stepping foot in a MIT classroom. How must this guy feel, having gone from Yavapai Junior College to the pinnacle of higher education all because he started playing a game called "Wizardry" on his Apple Computer 20 years ago, in between mastering the art of throwing a baseball.
Yet when he began to speak, there was no disconnect from his audience. Schilling let loose with the same confidence, tone and directness he does in the Fenway interview room after any of his starts. In fact, if it wasn't for a quick mention of the obvious, saying, "I'm at MIT for crying out loud. If any of my math teachers could just see me now," picking out the professional baseball player might have been at least a bit of a challenge.
Schilling went on to talk with his usual bravado, speaking of forming a business model which would blow the industry away, his theories on the emergence of micro-transactions and the disappearance of retail space in computer games, and other stuff.
He would eventually take a seat and defer to the other speakers, listening to such interesting historic items as the evolution of the gaming industry, from Pong to arcades, to the current mind-boggling topics of the day. Schilling took notes, he nodded, he only yawned once, and continued to chime in when appropriate, one time responding to a question from a MIT instructor who taught the studying and playing of video games by blurting out, "Sweet! Now I know why everybody wants to go to MIT."
Then it became clear - this was the next step in Schilling's career. He didn't need to hang around pitching symposiums to prepare for life after next season. His next clubhouse was to be made up of these kinds of people. There was one more year of baseball before their online/video brethren took over.
"I think it would have been (daunting) if I was trying to achieve something. But I came in very comfortable with what I'm doing with the business, I know the subject, and I know the company," Schilling said after the event. "I believe in what I'm doing, so it wasn't uncomfortable at all."
And just for good measure, Schilling conquered his latest goal just feet from "Steinbrenner Stadium," the MIT complex paid for by the owner of the New York Yankees. (You didn't think the night was going to finish without some sort of baseball irony, did you?)