It's a kid's game, baseball is, and Joe DiMaggio knows it. The graying, distinguished salesman of coffee makers, once an outfielder of ineffable grace, looked at Willie Mays one day this July. They were honorary captains for the All-Star game, and the great DiMaggio said that was nice.

"There's still a lot of kid in me, and I know there is in Willie," he said.

We should all be so lucky. What a kid does is dream and have fun trying to make those dreams real. If DiMaggio went after a pitch from a wide stance, we'll try it, too. We'll throw a baseball straight overhead and catch it at waist level, the way Mays took in fly balls. You never know. Maybe you're the next DiMaggio, and maybe his wide stance is the key to hitting, and so you'll try it. You never know.

That's how we dream, and it's fun, and when the time comes, as it must, that melancholy reality reveals us as mediocrities, or worse, the thing in you die. Dream new dreams and thank your heroes for teaching you to dream.

At Baltimore on Sunday afternoon, in goings-on that lifted hearts in joy, 51,798 kids of assorted ages came to a baseball game and said thanks to a hero who, in the clubhouse, said, "I feel like a kid, but (smiling) my legs don't."

For 23 seasons, Brooks Robinson played third base for the orioles. In the field, he was a virtuoso, his performance lyrical in its beauty.They presented him a vacuum cleaner at the Sunday ceremonies, symbol of glovework that allowed no baseball to litter the left side of the diamond. At bat, he was mortal, but he earned a reputation for striking important hits in important games. He will be in the Hall of Frame in 1932, the first year he's eligible.

Gary Oliver's hair is so yellow it's nearly white. He's 13 years old and he's a catcher-pitcher-first-baseman in Clements, Md. Three hours before Sunday's game would start, Oliver bounced up the concrete steps of Memorial Stadium, smiling. He had Brooks Robinson's autograph.

"I liked him ever since I can remember," the kid said. "I like the way he gets out there and tries to do anything he can to stop grounders,"

It had taken Gary about 20 minutes, he said, to get the autograph. Standing on the field, Robinson reached into the third-base box seats to sign programs, pictures and even shirts decorated with photographs of the hero. For an hour, Robinson signed his name, and Gary Oliver, for one, thought that was nice.

"Someday, I'd like to be like him," he said, and when somebody asked if Gary thought he could really to like Robinson, the kid shifted his weight from foot to foot and thought about it and smiled. "I don't think so," he finally said, "but it'd be good to try."

Brian Wolf, 11, a pitcher from Randallstown, Md., knew a lot about Robinson and he knew why he like him so much.

"For one thing, he saved a lot of doubles and triples," the kid said. "For one thing, he's been in one World Series where he hit for a .500 average, with seven hits in 14 at-bats in the '66 Series."

Not quite, Robinson was nine for 21 in 1970, his best in four Series. Brian probably confused the leage championships with the Series, because Robinson was, in fact, seven for 14 in the '69 playoffs.

"And he's a very nice person, Brian said. "There's hardly anybody else like him. He's always nice and he always wins the game."

Section 8, Row AA, Seats 1, 2 and 3 - those seats are in the first row at field level, directly across from third base, maybe 75 feet from the spot where Robinson became a hero.

"Would you believe that when we bought season ticket 11 years ago, we asked specifically for these seats?" said Frances Nash, 64, "See this?"

And she pointed to he cap. where she had sewn the number 5 on the front. That's Robinson's number.

"See this?"

And she turned her back to you cold see a "5" on the black of her White House, right there with the word Orioles.

Wealter Nash, 73, and his wife, Frances, have been baseball fans in Baltmimore for 20 years. Their hearts belong to Brookie.

The such a human being," Frances said. "A lot of these players, let's face it, they're snooty. Not Brooks. He treats everybody the same, from little kids on up to us big kids. We go down to Florida every spring for spring training, and his boys sit with us, and Brooks talks to us all the time. And with us, and Brooks talks to us all the time. And you know something?."

Go ahead

"Well, I kiss Brooks and he kisses me."

Frances Nash blushed.

I love him, and his wife connie is as lovely as he is Nobody loves him more than I do."