Saturday, February 19, 2011

On Spring Training and Tug McGraw

7841369 As the temperatures here in the Northeast drop back into the 40s today and wind sweeps the remaining fall leaves across the yard, baseball teams are stretching and throwing under cloudless blue skies in Florida.  While I would love to make the trek down to see the Boys of Summer getting ready to come North, such a trip is just not in the budget this year.

last week, to try to get ready for baseball season, I picked up Tug McGraw's 2004 memoir "Ya Gotta Believe!"  "The Tugger" was a larger than life figure in Philadelphia during my childhood.  The screwball pitcher who saved the final game of the Phillies 1980 World Series victory by striking out Willie Wilson, McGraw was known as a funny guy and the life of the party. 

About this time of the year in 2003,Tug McGraw was diagnosed with brain cancer.  He died just before the book was published.

I met "The Tugger" a few times in the late 1990s.  I was living back in Delco -- in Media, PA -- at the time and had a post office box at a store at the end of the street.  Tug somehow knew the older Irish gent that owned the store and I talked with him a few times over the years.  He was just what he appeared to be, funny, friendly and never at a loss for words.

But the wide smile hid some personal demons.  A brother who was a convicted murderer, a disastrous personal financial situation, a serious of painful personal relationships.  At that time he had finally accepted country music superstar Tim McGraw as his son, but had spent nearly two decades denying paternity.

Still, you could not help but love the guy.

So I was looking forward to the book arriving and spending a few days reading old stories about being a ball player in the wild and crazy 70s, maybe getting some inside dirt on that 1980 Phillies championship team or some insights on moving up though the Mets organization.  But the book doesn't start there.

The book starts at the end.  With Tim McGraw telling us that Tugger didn't pull this one out.  With the diagnosis and the cancer and the sadness.  I knew Tug had died, but I really wanted to celebrate his life, not re-live the loss.

And so I put the book back on the shelf.  I'm not going to finish it right now.

I've lost three grandparents to cancer.  My brother is a survivor.  Its marks are all over my life and my past and there is nothing funny about it.

As much as I wanted to read Tug's life story, the shadow of his death was too much for me.  Maybe another time.

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