If you dial 426-6843, your call will be answered by a helpful soul whose job is to take reservations for softball fields that are under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.

However, when you dial the softball number, you will sometimes reach another number by accident. It's exactly the same except for one digit. At the second number, the call will be answered by a woman who tells me she's nearing the end of her rope.

She doesn't want her name or number published because she's had enough telephonic grief to last a lifetime. Hundreds of times, over the years, she'll say hello, only to hear a telltale pause, followed by an insecure voice asking if um, uh, say, can you help me reserve a field?

Our gentle victim has asked the phone company to try to figure out why a person dialing the softball number gets her instead. Officials say they don't know. It might be the automatic switching equipment. It might be a quirk in the woman's phone. It might be any number of things.

The phone company hasn't been unsympathetic about the problem. They've urged the woman to change her number to avoid further travail.

But the woman doesn't want to do that. "People come to town, they've known my number for years, I don't want to confuse them," the woman says. Because of that stance, however, the woman has learned more about spikes and steals and shoestring catches than she ever thought possible.

This is a plea: If you're booking a softball diamond, and the voice on the other end of the phone doesn't answer by saying, "Good Morning, National Park Service," just hang up. The woman on the other end will understand what's just happened--and she'll be grateful for the silence.