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You can hear the crack of the bat

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In one sense, baseball is a game of numbers, numbers involving runs batted in, earned run averages, singles, two-baggers, homers, attendance. My late friend Dave Goldsmith subscribed to Baseball Digest, several baseball newspapers and even flunked out of a college because he spent his entire freshman year memorizing baseball statistics.

Yet he seldom went to a game.

He once told me he thought it would be simpler to have a computer located centrally, possibly in Kansas that would spit out the statistics for the year, which would be reported daily by the country's sports pages.

And there's another sort of baseball, which involves the battle for first place, the roars of the crowd, the phenoms who come and go, the logic of the game and its finer points, plus the fanatic enthusiasm of this most American sport.

WCCO's Ray Christensen was such an enthusiast, who told me that when he was a kid he and the neighbor boy played the patented old baseball game in his attic every day and kept records of their players that appeared on cunning discs you worked by spinning the pointer.

The neighbor boy was another WCCOer, the late Dave Moore.

I'll bet novelist John Grisham would have liked to join them. That's obvious from Grisham's 24th novel, "Calico Joe" (Doubleday, $24.95).

Unlike his earlier thrillers ("The Client," "The Firm") Grisham's new book is about baseball, focusing on the Chicago Cubs' 1973 season. Grisham peppers his book with famous Cub names, games and high points of the season.

But there's more to this book than raw statistics, for Grisham has added several fictional characters, which get at the heart of baseball and of life.

First, there's the narrator, Paul Tracey, a baseball fan and Little Leaguer whose father Warren Tracey, a Mets pitcher and proto-sociopath, who drinks, womanizes, beats his wife and kids.

Add to that Joe Castle, a phenom from Calico Rock, Ark., who has signed with the Cubs for 1973. In supporting fictional roles are Joe's older brothers and an old small town Arkansas sports writer, Clarence Rook.

In his first several games, the young phenom tears up the league, batting .750. Fans flock to see him wherever he appears.

One day, he bats against Mets pitcher Warren Tracey, in the waning days of his career. Warren beans the kid, who ends up paralyzed and back in Calico Rock, Ark.

Meanwhile, Paul the narrator grows up, alienated from his father, who is dying from cancer. Paul, now a writer, has an idea.

He travels to Arkansas and tells Clarence Rook, the town's editor that he wants to talk to Calico Joe Castle. The editor's reply:

"Indeed I do (know the Castle family), and I know them well enough to tell you that Joe doesn't talk to strangers, and he sure as hell won't talk to the son of Warren Tracey."

Guess what happens? Just remember the part about "the heart of baseball and life."

While New York City publishing languishes, Lerner publications in Minneapolis keeps growing and branching out into different activities.

I've mentioned their new graphic line of books and also an expanded role in publishing sophisticated novels for adolescents.

Recently, I received a box from Lerner to discover several books not published by the Minnesota firm.

Instead it was by a company called Andersen Press USA, which is an imprint of Andersen Press Ltd. 20 Vauxhall Road, London, England.

The frontispiece informed me that "I Want My Mom!" by Tony Ross (16.95 Cloth) was originally published in 2004 in London and in Australia by Random House.

It's part of Andersen's Little Princess Series that has sold a whopping 3,500,000 copies worldwide and has been translated into 31 languages.

Other Andersen books distributed in the Midwest by Lerner, are Michael Foreman's "Friends;" John Fardell's "The Day Louis Got Eaten;" David McKee's "Elmer and the Big Bird."

These books are aimed at readers 4 to 9 years old, are hardbound and beautifully mounted and all cost $16.95.