How the Game Is Played - and Dreamed

IF he were alive, you could easily imagine Norman Rockwell holding this book while rocking on his front porch the first warm evening in spring and muttering to himself: ``I'll paint this one... and this one... and this one....'' Collins Publishers of San Francisco, publishers of the ``Day in the Life'' series, sent 50 international photographers to record the game of baseball in all its contemporary flora and fauna. The 218 images chosen show how the game is played and dreamed in America. This book is the face of a nation held up to the mirror of baseball - the game played on manicured grass, sandlot diamonds, and asphalt parking lots. In one deep breath it exhales ``Baseball is America.''

Printed and bound in Italy, where publishers take the word ``lush'' seriously, there is a riot of color, from the burnt-red sand as background to a game played on the Navajo reservation to the blue-white glare of snow in Minnesota where baseball sometimes happens on snowshoes. Try to find more intensity in an expression than that of the southpaw on the mound as she bears down on the batter; or a more communal cityscape than a summer stickball game on a steamy New York City street.

Editor Karen Mullarkey (director of photography at Sports Illustrated) had the good sense to divide the book into five sections - sagas, really - in the life of America's game: ``The Dream Begins,'' ``The Road to Success,'' ``Reaching for the Top,'' ``The Major Leagues,'' and ``The Game Endures.''

From the noses, faces, and legs of youngsters in the opening shots to looks that wander off into memories linking young and old at the end, wonder brackets this story.

Individuals and teams steel themselves for play. The game becomes more than just a game, and winning becomes very, very important. We see the sharp line between fan and player. Individuals play for fun, for money, or scholarship. It's a serious, serious game to everyone.

And then there are the glorious shots of the big leagues, the majors. Americans are bound, like tides to the moon, to a major league ballpark (and we're all expecting that certain woman to break the barrier and play for a major league team) where young men, muscular and intent, swing sweet, throw hard, run fast - play baseball.

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