Thursday, December 9, 2010

Can’t Be Really Gone

Ah, the exciting life of a ballplayer. Here I am, not even 22 years old, and am I out on the town boozing it up, dancing the night away at some fancy club with a gaggle of sexy chicks hanging on my every word? Nope, not ol’ Tugger. I’m stuck in Jacksonville, Florida on a sweltering night, lying on my couch drinking warm Jack Daniels from the bottle and watching a Beverly Hillbillies rerun. Oh, the glamour!

Don’t get me wrong. The life of a baseball player has its upside, to be sure. And it is the swinging sixties, and girls do like athletes. There’s always one party or another to go to and there’s a lot of sleeping around. Even in a dead end city like Jacksonville, there are a lot of cute girls in bikinis hanging around the pool at the University Apartments, where me and some of my teammates are living during our stint in the minors. I’m just complaining because my arm hurts.

Back on that May night at Shea, after uncorking a pitch to Tommy Harper of the Reds, I heard a minor explosion like the sound you hear watching news coverage of Vietnam. I knew my arm was shot. Man, for a guy making his living off of his left arm, it’s just no good to have it so sore. My fastball stopped going fast, my screwball stopped screwing. The Mets sent me down to Florida to pitch for the Suns, hoping that with extra work my wing would pitch its way back to shape.

So far, rehabilitation has been pretty erratic. Some good outings, some bad. When I’m on, baby, I’m on top of the world. Everything’s good – I’m a star baseball player. Plus, I’m not in the Marines anymore. Just being out of the Marines felt great. That was a crappy winter, I can tell you.

On those good days, Seaver and I fool around by the pool, tossing a football around, missing on purpose to let the pigskin roll near the prettiest girl on a lounge chair. Then we saunter up and, while bending over to get the ball, strike up a conversation. Yeah, it’s a gimmick, but it always works. Especially for Seaver, who’s a handsome guy with the talent sure to make him a star in the big leagues. It even works for me, a goofy looking Irishman with a huge chin. It’s how I met Betty.

Betty’s pretty cute, alright, especially in that tiny bikini she struts around in. She told me she’s 18, but I’m not so sure. She’s still in high school, Terry Parker High, I think she told me. She’s hard to resist though – kind of petite with brown hair. I could go for her. I like how she laughed that when I told her I was baseball player. She thought that was kids’ stuff. She giggled when I told her my name was Tug. Hey, she laughs at me a lot! Not sure I like that, come to think of it.

Anyway, she’s supposed to come down pretty soon from her apartment upstairs. Her mom doesn’t mind that she visits and that we yell to each from our balconies. Right now, I’m not in the mood to see her. Another shelling on the mound today; nothing was working. I just want to wallow in self-pity. When I saw Betty this morning at the Laundromat, where I was bleaching my uniform, and she was doing the family wash, we made a date, but now I wish we hadn’t.

There’s the bell. Gotta answer it. I open the door and there she stands, in a little tank top, mini-skirt and, as usual, barefoot. She looks great, but the throbbing pain in my arm is all I can think about.

“Hey Tug!” She leans over for a kiss, which I return without enthusiasm. She doesn’t notice.

We sit on the couch.

“You want a drink?” I ask.

“Tab, if you have one,” she says. No beer, no whiskey? She’s not eighteen, no way.

As I go to the fridge to see what I have for her, she looks at some of my baseball trophies and pictures, and makes idle chit chat, not really interested in the game. In fact, she seems a little upset.

“What’s up Betty?” As soon as I ask, she starts to cry. She told me her dad had dropped by the apartment and they got into a fight. Betty’s mom had already gone out with her new boyfriend. Her folks aren’t divorced – yet. I could relate since my parents were already splitsville.

We sat together on the couch, really close, and talked for a while about family and friends. Betty was pretty shaken up and, I think she felt vulnerable. We kissed and I held her, but it was clear she wanted more. Things were started getting pretty heavy; clothes were starting to come off. Now, I’m not against having sex whenever and wherever it’s available, but she was so emotional that it felt like I’d really be taking advantage of her when she was most vulnerable. It just didn’t feel right, you know?

I gently pushed her away. “Betty, listen, I really like you, you’re a swell kid, but I think going any further is a pretty bad idea right now, you know?”

She immediately sat straight up. Her expression changed from lust to anger. “You do? You don’t want to go further? You think it’s a ‘pretty bad idea’ do you?”

She stood up, putting her shirt back on. I think she was embarrassed also. That didn’t mix well with how furious she was.

“You should have thought about that before you led me on Tug. Really. You men are all alike.”

She turned to leave.

“Betty, wait a minute,” I said, but to tell you the truth, I didn’t really care. I wasn’t too attached to her, just another girl. Once I get back to New York she’ll be forgotten.

I took another swig of Jack as the door slammed loudly behind her, and turned the dial to the local news.

Tug McGraw, future relief pitching legend for the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies, was doing a stretch during the summer of 1966 in Jacksonville, Florida. It was there he met Betty D’Agostino. They saw each other frequently and Betty would become pregnant (after the one time they had sex), giving birth on May 1, 1967 to Samuel Timothy McGraw. That baby would become Tim McGraw, one of the biggest stars in country music. When Tim was eleven years old, Tug found out he was the boy’s father, although he denied it for seven years. They would become close after Tim’s 18th birthday, remaining so until Tug’s death from brain cancer on January 5, 2004, in Nashville.

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