It was one big event after another in Yountville Saturday.
There was a graduation ceremony for the Pathway Home program, a residential recovery and treatment center created for service members returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There was a groundbreaking for the new headquarters for the Tug McGraw Foundation. The Foundation was established in 2003 to enhance the quality of life of children and adults with brain tumors, and in 2009 expanded programs to include post-traumatic stress disorder and trauma brain injury. The Foundation collaborates and partners with other organizations in order to accelerate new treatments and cures to improve quality of life in areas of physical, social, emotional, cognitive and spiritual impact of those debilitating conditions.
There was also a sold-out benefit concert and awards program that drew 1,200 to the Lincoln Theater on the grounds of the Veterans Home of California, featuring Grammy Award-winning Country music superstar Tim McGraw and his band, the Dancehall Doctors.
“My name’s Tim McGraw. You might know that already,” McGraw said, just a few songs into a 90-minute performance that had the crowd on its feet, clapping and singing the lyrics that he has made famous for years and years.
“I’m married to Faith Hill — you probably really know that,” McGraw said.
Earlier in the evening, there was an invitation-only meet and greet with McGraw and Hill in the Barrel Room at the Villagio Marketplace in the downtown area. Guests had their photos taken with the couple, who couldn’t get over the spectacular beauty of the Napa Valley and the weather, with temperatures in the high 70s for the middle of November.
“It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world out here,” said McGraw, one of the biggest names in all of music today who during his career has sold over 40 million albums, dominating the charts with 30 No. 1 singles. Since the release of his debut album in 1993, he has won three Grammys, 14 Academy of Country Music Awards, 11 Country Music Association Awards and 10 American Music Awards.
McGraw has been in the area a few times before. His father, the late Tug McGraw, grew up in Vallejo and pitched in the major leagues for 19 years (1965 to 1984), compiling a 3.14 career ERA in 824 games, winning World Series titles in 1969 (New York Mets) and 1980 (Philadelphia), and earning 180 saves.
“It’s awesome, we’ve been lucky and blessed to be put in a position to be able to do things like this,” McGraw said before the concert. “Our careers have given us these opportunities, as Tug’s career, an opportunity for everybody to know his name and to be able to come back to where he grew up, to be able to do things like this. It’s a pretty cool thing to do.”
Tim McGraw’s 2004 hit, “Live Like You Were Dying,” was recorded in his father’s honor. The song reached No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard country music charts, and held that position for a total of seven weeks. It was named as the No. 1 country song of 2004 by Billboard for seven consecutive weeks.
“An Evening with Tim McGraw & Friends, Honoring Those Who Make a Difference,” was presented by the Tug McGraw Foundation. The beneficiaries of the event, which included silent and live auctions, were the Tug McGraw Foundation, Tug McGraw Foundation Brain Complex and Brain Food Garden in Yountville, The Pathway Home Program at the California Transition Center for Care of Combat Veterans, Team McGraw (TMF’s national endurance sports training program) and the Collegiate Athlete Pre-Medical Experience program at Duke University.
The Tug McGraw Foundation’s annual event, now in its fifth year, raises awareness for individuals battling brain tumors and other neurological conditions.
“Tug was a person who was full of life, he was a character, he was a giver,” said Hill, who sang a duet with McGraw. “He loved this community, so to have the headquarters located here in the valley, it’s a testament to Tug and his love for this community. So it’s an honor for us to be here, to celebrate him.”
Tug McGraw was a relief pitcher who passed away in 2004 in Brentwood, Tenn., at the age of 59. He was inducted into the Philadelphia Baseball Wall of Fame in 1999.
“To be at that level, to not only play in the major leagues, but to be one of the elite that’s ever played the game, I know the work and the effort that went into that,” said Tim McGraw. “To be good at anything that you do, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication. That’s what he did, and he had a great talent. He completely took it to the maximum that you could take it to.”
On March 12, 2003, Tug McGraw was working as an instructor for the Phillies during spring training when he was hospitalized with a brain tumor. When surgery was performed to remove it, it revealed the tumor was malignant and inoperable. Given three weeks to live by doctors, he managed to survive nine months. McGraw lost his battle with cancer on Jan. 5, 2004.
“Napa was home to Tug. This year’s event and the opening of TMF’s new headquarters is a coming home celebration,” said Tim McGraw, honorary chairman of the Tug McGraw Foundation. “I’m impressed by the accomplishments and impact TMF has made in the lives of those affected by these illnesses and honored to be part of this event and the organization.”
Warren Brusstar, a Napa High School graduate who was a relief pitcher on the World Series champion Phillies in 1980 with McGraw, recalled getting the call to the major leagues in 1977. It happened due to an elbow injury to McGraw.
“He’s how I got to the big leagues,” said Brusstar, the pitching coach for the Napa Valley College baseball team who is in the Napa High Athletic Hall of Fame. “He got hurt and they called me up to replace him. I was in Oklahoma City watching the game on TV. Tug went down in about the seventh inning and grabbed his arm.”
Tug McGraw was a phenomenal talent who had outstanding mechanics, said Brusstar. “He had a great career,” Brusstar said.
Jennifer Brusstar, Warren Brusstar’s wife, is the president and CEO of the Tug McGraw Foundation. A former Napa Little League president, she was Tug McGraw’s caregiver during his illness.
“Jen Brusstar has done incredible work,” said Tim McGraw. “She’s one of the hardest working people I’ve ever seen and she’s constantly making things better. I don’t know what our family would have done through that time without her.”
Tim McGraw took time to visit with some of the members of the Pathway Home program Saturday, talking with them and hearing their stories.
“It’s one thing to put your life on the line and go out and protect and serve our country,” he said. “But to come back and to man up and face your problems and face your demons is another kind of inspiration. These guys are just the top of the line.”
Tim McGraw’s band, the Dancehall Doctors, includes lead guitarist Darran Smith, steel guitarist Denny Hemingson, acoustic guitarist Bob Minner, bassist John Marcus, fiddler Dean Brown, keyboardist Jeff McMahon, drummer Billy Mason and percussionist David Dunkley. The Dancehall Doctors have been with McGraw for more than a decade, with the newest member having joined the group in 1996. Several members were also friends of Tug’s and have contributed to carrying on his legacy.
This was the fifth year of the Tug McGraw Foundation event. It had been in other parts of the country before this year.
“It feels good to bring this project home and I hope it stays here for many years to come,” said Jennifer Brusstar. “During Tug’s battle, he believed in something better for people going through similar situations. He knew, as do we, that quality of life is such an important factor when struggling with illness. The Tug McGraw Foundation has worked devotedly and tirelessly to support research and programs and improve quality of life.”
There were six award recipients during the program:
• Gary Rose, a local Realtor, received the “Good Guy Award.” Rose is a former Justin-Siena teacher and coach who is with Rotary. He has been a board member of Queen of the Valley Medical Center Foundation and the executive director of the Wine Valley Cycle for Sight/Rotary Ride for Veterans. “I want to thank the Napa Valley community, who have really embraced and adopted these guys with the Pathway Home and made them their own,” said Rose. “It’s a really, really special community that we have here in Napa. We’re lucky to live here.”
• Fred D. Gusman, executive director of The Pathway Home, received the “Partners in Progress Award.”
• Dr. Philippe C. Bishop, vice president of development, Angiogenesis franchise head for Genentech, received the Outstanding Research Award.
• Brandi Jocelyn Pack of Jocelyn Lonen Winery received the “Unsung Hero Award.”
• Kate Burke, a six-year GBM survivor, received the “Ya Gotta Believe” award.
• Dr. Henry Friedman, deputy director of The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke, received the “Visionary Award.”
John Kruk, a studio analyst for ESPN’s Baseball Tonight, was the evening’s emcee. Asked by KTVU-Channel 2 sports anchor Mark Ibanez about San Francisco Giants rookie catcher Buster Posey, Kruk said: “When you bring up a rookie catcher that takes over a staff as good as that team, and they don’t miss a beat, and they’re getting better and he supplies offense in the middle of the lineup, to me, in just a short time, he’s the best catcher in the National League. Young players, when they come up, they can’t do the things that he did offensively. It takes a while, they struggle a little bit. But he took the pitching staff and ran with it. He solidified what was a shaky offense and he took them into world champions.”
A private strolling dinner at Michael Chiarello’s restaurant, Bottega, preceded before the concert.
The Silverado Pickups, a band made up of Napa Valley vintners, also performed Saturday night.