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`Great hands,' I say to the mother seated next to me

I sit on steps beneath the 59th Street bridge in New York City on a sunny Saturday morning in spring. Before me cavort the Little League Expos in warm-ups before playing that league's version of the Baltimore Orioles. Balls hop around the infield, raising puffs of dust, smacking into mitts. There is the banter of pep and activity. For me, it is infield practice at Yankee Stadium in an earlier era. I watch a small shortstop move to his left for a ground ball and I see Phil Rizzuto in embryo. ``Great hands,' ' I say to the mother seated next to me. She is reading Jane Austen's ``Sense and Sensibility'' and doesn't hear me. My eye shifts to the outfield and there is great calm. There the class poets, the cross-multiplication experts, and the nature enthusiasts idly throw balls to each other or stand with weight on one foot and glove on shoulder, awaiting the turn of events. My son, Christopher, is one of these. At nine years of age, he dwells with knights and dragons, spaceships and kings. His school compositions tell of blood and dented armor in the struggle for honor, noble purpose sustained in battle. He is aware of the

St. Louis Cardinals and he knows of the great DiMaggio and he loves to hear tales of these. But, standing on the turf beneath the bridge, he is not stirred to action by them.

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The game begins and Christopher is in center field. His teammate in left stands quietly with black-rimmed glasses and a new yellow glove, looking like Bennett Cerf. Few balls reach the outfield in the early innings. From my seat, I motion to Christopher to back up the infielders on ground balls; as DiMaggio would have done, as Winfield would do. He does not see me.

The game progresses and the Expos pull ahead. A succession of hitters, each dragging an oversize bat, march to the tee and swipe at the stationary ball. A series of hits, fumbles, errors, and overthrows brings the Expos their lead. Christopher's bloop single contributes. Not bad, I say. Needs more power, but the timing was good.

Then, in the next-to-last inning, with runners on base, someone from the Orioles hits a line drive toward Christopher and his left-field teammate. They watch, frozen in bas-relief. From their stiff stance and calm countenance, I imagine a conversation something like this:

Christopher: ``Oh, Timothy. I believe the ball is coming our way.''

Timothy, squinting like an aircraft spotter: ``Yes. Yes, Christopher, I think you're right. But is it yours or mine?''

``It will pass three feet from me, Timothy. So I think it's yours. Take it, will you?''

``No, no, I think you should take it, Christopher. It is your right, you know.''

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``Yes, of course. Go ahead now. We haven't much time.''

Christopher, hesitatingly: ``Well, the ball fast approaches. Something must be done.'' The ball bounds between them and rolls to the fence while they seem to bow in courtly deference. ``I'll go and gather it. Stand watch, will you?'' Christopher trots to retrieve the ball as the runners score, leaving the Expos just one slim run ahead. In a league where runs come by the bushel, the Expos are in trouble.

In the last inning, it happens again. I close my eyes in hope as a fly ball arcs high toward Christopher. I open my eyes and gulp with anxiety at what I see. He is standing passively with his glove at his side as the ball comes directly toward him. Runners scamper around the bases. The ball is dropping. I gasp as, at the ultimate moment, he twists defensively and spears the ball as he would eliminate an insect. It sticks, although it is precariously perched on the webbed rim of his Robin Yount mitt. He holds tightly. His teammates cheer him as I slump. One of the parents slaps my knee. Expos win!

On the way home, I turn toward Christopher. ``What happened on that line drive?'' I ask.

``I saw it was coming toward me,'' he says, between gulps of a victory soda. ``So I just reached out and caught it. It was easy.''

``No, I mean the other one.''

He frowns for a moment, trying to recall. ``Oh, that,'' he says. ``We just couldn't decide, that's all.''

``Two mooring posts in the waters,'' I say, laughing. ``I thought sea gulls were going to perch on your heads.''

He throws his head back and laughs. ``I thought you were going to say Vladimir and Estragon again,'' he says.*

``That too,'' I say.

``But they never got any better,'' he says. He drops his empty soda bottle into a trash basket and we go home. * Vladimir: ``Well? Shall we go?''

Estragon: ``Yes, let's go.''

They do not move.


(Samuel Beckett, ``Waiting For Godot,'' Grove Press Inc., 1954. Page 61.)

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