AMERICAN SCENE;THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME

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The Tornado hit Philadelphia and was downgraded to a tropical storm.

Daria, my 11-year-old daughter, wrote the "lead" for this story, an account of the two of us attending a Phillies-Dodgers game. The tornado she is referring to is Hideo Nomo, the Dodger rookie pitching sensation, the Japanese phenom with the devastating fork-ball and the unorthodox windup that inspired his nickname. Nomomania hit Veterans Stadium Aug. 25, Nomo's first appearance against the Phillies.

Although we've been to countless games before-Daria and I have a Phillies season ticket plan-the difference today is Nomomania and we're swept up in the hype.

Pregame newspaper and TV reports praise Nomo for his virtues and greatness, and convey a sense of pity for his pitching opponent, Jeff Juden. Juden has been brought up recently by the Phils and has only one win to Nomo's 10. It hardly seems to be a fair matchup.

As we take our seats and review the lineups, Daria's eyes fill with wonder and hope. Daria is a baseball freak. She can rattle off statistics in a way that rivals any fan of any age. Daria is my only child, and maybe because I'm a single parent, we are especially close.

A small but growing number of mothers and daughters are attending games together. There are many families in attendance. And many fathers and sons. Tonight, Daria and I see two other mothers and daughters alone together enjoying the game. It is inspiring.

Appealing to mothers and daughters is one way baseball can generate new customers and grow the fan base. Women loving sports is definitely not new, but it is certainly an underserved market. Despite today's politically correct environment, sports is still essentially male-driven. Just watch ESPN every morning (as Daria and I do) and witness the stereotypical jock ads.

It's easy to see where Daria inherited her love for baseball. In what now seems like a past life, I worked for the Phillies, for six seasons-five years as an usherette and one season as the right field ball girl.

It must be in the genes-while growing up, I remember my mother (along with my father) had a passion for the sport. In our home, Mom always had the game on TV or on the radio.

My mother, one of eight children born and raised in Connecticut, recalls that her brothers and sisters rooted for the Yankees. "Not me. I just took a tremendous liking to the Boston Red Sox. It caused a rivalry within the family," she chuckles now, enjoying her role as the family rebel.

Mom's love of baseball was further fueled by her brother, Sonny, an excellent shortstop who was scouted by the Cardinals right before he was drafted into the military. A severe war injury at age 18 ended his major league aspirations, but not his desire. Even today, Mom and Uncle Sonny get into spirited sports discussions.

Sadly, Mom never got to attend a major league game until she was in her 20s. And, she admits, it never would have occurred to her to take me or my sister to a game alone. When we went to Veterans Stadium, only four times during my en-tire childhood, we went as a "family."

Some say boys develop a love for baseball while playing Little League and imitating their favorite major leaguers-and that as more girls are playing baseball, they too are becoming more passionate fans. Part of that is true.

But Mom and I never had the chance to play Little League, or even softball, and we are fervent fans. To me, you don't have to be an art student to appreciate Monet, or a dancer to appreciate Baryshnikov, or a former Little Leaguer to appreciate Greg Maddux.

Still, girls are daring to dream the dream. When I was ball girl, a beautiful little girl, with Phillies cap and T-shirt, approached me for my autograph. Despite my feminist streak, I asked, "Would you like to be ball girl when you grow up?" She looked at me with a distorted expression and said, "No way. I'm going to be a pitcher!"

Daria herself is a groundbreaker. For the last three summers she has attended Phillies baseball camp. The first year, Daria was one of only two girls with 200 boys. This year, 10 girls attended, and Daria won her first-ever award. While it was not for MVP or best defense, it was for best camper. The coach wrote: "Daria tried the hardest out of everyone. She is definitely the best camper." I'm still beaming.

Baseball has been muddied by the antics of a few individual players and by the prolonged strike, which left an impression of a pervasive sense of greed. But to me, the game itself transcends it all.

There's nothing quite like the adrenaline-producing game-saving catch, game-winning home run, outstanding throw to the plate to nab the runner and the rare but unequaled suicide squeeze. I personally love the mystery of not knowing how each particular game will unfold-and then, slowly and meticulously, filling in the scorecard to forever preserve the details.

There is baseball's sacred tradition and rich history. The togetherness and the memories. Daria and I benchmark our life by baseball's yardstick. "Remember how I brought my Christopher Columbus homework to the World Series game," she recalls.

Tonight will spawn new memories. Daria studies Nomo's delivery through her binoculars. In the first inning, Nomo already shows frailty when Phillies first baseman Gregg Jefferies smashes a home run. There is more of that to come. Nomo falters, completing just the third inning, giving up seven runs, five of them earned, on six hits.

Not only do the Phillies score a season high 17 runs, but starter Juden gets his first major league hit, a grand slam no less, and Gregg Jefferies hits for the cycle: a single, double, triple and home run.

Daria informs me that Jefferies is the first Phillie to hit for the cycle since Johnny Callison in 1963. I am temporarily rendered speechless-more by her knowl- edge of the fact than by the feat itself.

Between innings, talk turns to the strength of Nomo's fork-ball and the fact that, in his last few starts, he reportedly has lost some zip off his fast-ball. Still, his story is one of this year's greatest triumphs. "Nomo was 6-1 with a 1.99 ERA and 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings-dazzling numbers-as of mid-July," Daria quotes from the program.

The fans behind us, two men in their 30s, join in our discussion. One of the fans asks if Daria wants Nomo to win rookie of the year. She says she favors Atlanta Brave Chipper Jones. There is an instant camaraderie-he loves the Braves, too!-which solidly proves maternal influence can only go so far. How did I, a lifelong Phillies "phanatic," ever raise a Braves fan?

To me, baseball's greatness lies in its symbolism. Its lessons-though obvious-are timeless. The concept of a team, of sportsmanship, of the individual superstar (Nomo, who today fell short) and the proverbial underdog (Juden, who unexpectedly pulls off the impossible). Juden retaliates against Nomomania with a grand slam and a complete game victory, 17-4.

Metaphorically, I love what that says to Daria. About limitless possibilities. About winning when everyone says you can't. About the excitement of pure talent and skill. About the power and strength of heart.

But even more, I love that she learns about losing with grace. Nomo, despite being roughed up, tips his cap when he leaves the mound, and in an opposing stadium, after that gentlemanly gesture, we all become his fans. Even the guy in the upper deck with the "NOMO-NO WAY" sign.

Daria won't remember the intricacies and details of all the games we've attended. But Daria will remember, in a larger context, that I introduced her to a sport she will love all of her life. And maybe Daria will pass that love down to her own daughter, should she be so blessed.

As Daria finishes tallying her scribbled, fully filled scorecard, our friendly fan turns to me and says, with a touching sincerity, "You two make a beautiful family."

I am somewhat flustered and taken aback. A few moments pass before I can thank the fan. But he has shown me a greater truth-that through our love of baseball, Daria and I have formed an even more special bond. And that two can be a family, indeed.

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