Magazine article USA TODAY

Game Ball

Magazine article USA TODAY

Game Ball

Article excerpt

THERE WAS NO NEED for a camera, for the image never will leave my mind--how could it? Along the third base line at the North Street Field--score sheets, lineup cards, and clipboards in hand--stood the Yankee braintrust: their stubble-faced manager and his four veteran coaches. Behind them, players buzzed around the bat rack, hoping that this would be the inning they finally broke through. In the first base dugout, meanwhile, stood the Indians skipper and, just 48 hours removed from the hospital, my eight-year-old son, designated by "Coach Joe" as co-manager for this, the Little League championship game. Minutes before, Alex had received a warm welcome-back from his teammates and a big league hug from his mentor. Little wonder. With his easygoing, friendly manner toward peers, undivided attention given to coaching instruction, and determined, studious approach to all of his athletic endeavors--soccer, hockey, basketball, swimming, and baseball--Alex is the prototype player and teammate (and now I envisioned him as the next Tony LaRussa.) Forgive a father's effusiveness; it's just that only a few days earlier, I was wondering if I'd ever see him in a baseball uniform again.

He had started mentioning that his legs ached some weeks before; his mother and I figured it was growing pains. When his complaints persisted and his play on the diamond deteriorated--usually he's a crackerjack first baseman, a pretty decent hitter, and a so-so lefty reliever--we still put it off to growing pains, and maybe his flat feet. (Still clueless as to what was unfolding, I lectured him more than once about his--to me, totally out of character--seeming indifference on the playing field. If not to his rooting-too-hard dad, I scolded, then to his teammates, he owed 100%.) One Friday morning, Alex woke up sick to his stomach, but could only crawl to the bathroom because of the pain in his legs. Later, when he tried to get up from his nap, several of his joints were severely swollen and discolored--and he had a rash.

A trip to the doctor's office was followed quickly by a visit to the emergency room. A couple of hours later, Alex was admitted--to an isolation room. They didn't know what he had, but they were going to make sure no one else got it. Although our son hadn't eaten in three days, he continued to get sick. He looked so pale and weak, and now we really were starting to worry. The testing had gone on and on, but still no answers. …

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