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Now teammates, McGraws in harmony

By LOGAN NEILL Times Pop Music Critic

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 28, 1998

There's a simple familial perfection of seeing a father and son meeting on a baseball diamond. In the final scene in the film, Field of Dreams, a mere game of catch between Kevin Costner's character, Ray Kinsella, and the ghost image of his father provides a solid bond between them and eases the distance and differences of long before.

Tug and Tim McGraw have come to treasure their own special father-son relationship, a kinship that over the years overcame rocky feelings of bitterness and abandonment.

So, both will share in the enjoyment of common ground when Tug, the former New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies All-Star pitcher, and son Tim, now one of country music's top stars, step out on Tropicana Field today for the Major League Baseball Players Alumni legends game.

"We both learned a long time ago that you have to put events in your life into a proper perspective," said Tim McGraw by phone recently. "There were times that what he told me wasn't always what I wanted to hear, but I realized that's just the way things are sometimes."

Tim was pretty much typical of the other young boys in his small hometown of Start, La. He was infatuated with baseball. He played sandlot ball, collected baseball cards and followed his favorite teams.

But when he was 11, the youngster discovered by accident something that would forever change his life -- he was the son of big league pitcher Tug McGraw. It was a mixed blessing. McGraw had fathered the boy, but didn't want to stick around to be his dad.

In her 1996 book, Tim McGraw: A Mother's Story, Betty Trimble told of her brief affair with the baseball player while he was playing for a minor league team in Jacksonville. Tim's mother eventually married, but she decided she would not tell her son about his real father until she felt he was old enough to accept it.

Shortly after Tim discovered his father's identity, Tug arranged for a meeting between the two, and told him, "I can't be a father to you, but I can be a friend."

Over the ensuing years, Tim's resentment and bitterness for his father's abandonment of his mother and him melted.

Tug agreed to finance Tim's college education, and when his son steered his attention toward a music career, Tug gave that his full support as well.

"I went and listened to him sing, and I knew that was where his heart was," recalled Tug in an interview from his Philadelphia home.

Since then, Tim's star as a singer has risen to impressive heights. He has recorded four platinum albums and and scored nearly a dozen top-10 hits.

Tug, who retired from baseball in the early 1980s and now heads up a business consulting firm, is proud that his son made smart decisions on his own.

"It wasn't easy for him," he said. "But Tim's learned a lot in his life, and what it's added up to is a fine human being."

Today's alumni game is a fund-raiser for local charities, and will include appearances by Hall of Fame legends Bob Feller, Gaylord Perry and Brooks Robinson, as well as celebrities such as rock guitarist Joe Walsh, Chicago Hope actor Mark Harmon and NYPD Blue star Nicholas Turturro. It offers Tim and Tug a rare opportunity to hit the ball field together.

"It's the first Major League Baseball event we've ever done together," says Tug, who says he's made sure that his son plays on his side. And there's good reason, says the famous reliever who used to put away hitters with an aggressive screwball. Tim was a talented player in his college days.

"By having him on my team, it'll eliminate any possibility that he will embarrass me by getting a hit off me," joked Tug, who added another consideration: "It'll also maintain peace in the family."

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