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THE INSIDE TRACK | SUNDAY SCENE

They Say Estranged Tale Shouldn't Be Strange One

September 27, 1998|DIANE PUCIN

Kathy Williamson and Mark McGwire have agreed to tell you their story. It is a story of a man and a woman, college sweethearts, and the marriage that didn't work out.

It is the story of a little boy who knows the love of two men, one a baseball superstar and one a collision repair specialist, neither more or less important in his life.

Please tell our story, Kathy and Mark say, because maybe this will make sense for other divorced parents, for the children, for the new spouses.

People tell Kathy and Mark that their story is weird, is odd, is unbelievable. But this family doesn't think so.

Kathy Williamson, former wife of Mark McGwire, proud mother of McGwire's 10-year-old son Matt, happy wife of Tom Williamson and equally proud mother of their new daughter, Shelby, had decided she would do no interviews. She planned to avoid talking about the juggling act she has done while trying to let Matt revel in the glory of his father while trying to keep the shy 10-year-old away from the magazine covers, the TV interviews, the autograph hounds who for some reason want Matt's signature "just because he was born," Kathy says.

But as the summer has progressed, Kathy says, as Mark has heard people wondering how it is he can be friends with his ex-wife and as Mark has realized over the years how many children of divorce are deprived of a relationship with one parent or the other, "Mark and I decided it would be good for me to talk about this."

On this final weekend of a most fantastic baseball season, McGwire is battling Sammy Sosa to see who will finish 1998 as history's single-season home run record holder. Home in Huntington Beach, Matt will play his own baseball game, will maybe go to the roller rink, will tell his dad over the phone to have fun and that he'll see him Monday. Which is OK with everybody.

"All three of us have tried very hard to keep things normal for Matt, to keep him out of the spotlight and to make him happy," Kathy Williamson says. "Matt gets things from Mark he can't get from Tom and things from Tom he can't get from Mark. And together I think Matt is a very loved little boy."

With all the wonderful feelings that have come to the family while Matt has celebrated Mark's breaking Roger Maris' record, there also has been worry for Kathy and Mark.

"We don't want Matt too much in the spotlight," Kathy says. "People have started asking for Matt's autograph and Mark and I told Matt to say no, that his parents won't let him sign autographs."

Then there was the older man at the roller rink.

"He kept asking Matt what his name was, who he was," Kathy says. "Can you imagine? What are adults thinking? Matt's a shy kid anyway and doesn't want anybody to notice him."

On the day the news of the controversy over Mark's use of androstenedione broke, Kathy and Tom sat Matt down, explained that some people were saying Mark was wrong but that Matt should tell people that his father would not do something he thought was harmful or wrong.

"Matt just looked at us like we were crazy and said, 'OK.' It was no big deal."

Mark and Kathy met when Kathy was a bat girl for the USC baseball team and Mark was the star. Kathy was there for the minor league stops in Modesto and Huntsville, Ala., when the living wasn't always great, when the times were tough.

Kathy and Mark were divorced when Matt was not much more than a year old. Mark, Kathy says, had been rookie of the year, had maybe gotten a head a little too large, had joined a hard-living baseball lifestyle too easily.

When Kathy and Matt moved back home with her parents, "there were days when I didn't want to get out of bed," Kathy says. "There were times, years, when I wasn't happy with Mark and he probably didn't like me very much either. It was a divorce, after all. There was anger.

"But through it all, I never didn't want Mark to see Matt and know Matt, and Mark never didn't want to be a big part of Matt's life. When people think our relationship is odd and when they don't understand how we can be friends, I just want to tell them that what we did is for Matt.

"And the thing is, I think Mark has turned into a great person. Matt is absolutely the most important thing in his life."

For now, Matt is excited to be back at school and eager for Mark to get home. It is from now until spring training, Kathy says, that Mark and Matt can really spend time together. Kathy's fear is that Mark's accomplishment will make this impossible, that like Michael Jordan, Mark will never be left alone.

"Will Mark be able to go to Matt's Little League games this winter?" Kathy wonders. "Will he and Matt be able to go out to dinner? Mark loves to take Matt to dinner. You can't go back, I know that, and none of us know what to expect now."

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