By the time Steve was 8 years old, 17 summers ago, he had been on first-name terms with Newk and the Duke, Willie and Whitey. He has exchanged grunts with Mickey and Yogi. His favorite baseball player was Hobie Landrith.

David, two years younger, was friends with Frank Robinson, Aaron and Mathews. And he was a one-kid Don Blasingame Fan Club.

Those kids had to be nuts, right? Blasingame batted 258 lifetime, Landrith .233. Between them, they laboured 26 years for a dozen teams in both league, with downward mobility that made them ultimately - what else? Senators, a document that sent Blasingame off to Japan and Landrith back to carpetry.

But Steve had got to pound his fist in Willie May's glove because Landrith lifted him over the box seat railing in Philadelphia and sat him down in the Giant's dugout, breaking several rules and annoying Mays. It was not a forgettable thing.

Dave rooted for Blasingame through all the scorn fifth-graders can dish out. The big-league had remembered his name, and kept a date for breakfast with a little boy. There was nothing else to know.

Now, in another time, there is another youngster, an 11-year-old who lives in a town where there is no baseball. He observes a rising star on television and asks, "Is he a good guy?"

The star is very good player, the boy is told. "You mean we wouldn't want to have him a dinner," the boy says, applying a household cliche.

You've got to be carefully taught to appreciate earned-run averages, third-down conversions, offensive rebounds and penalty-killings, the measurements of our prime-time paradigms. Nothing succeeds except success, chides the Greek chorus of grownup pragmatisms to the 60-pounder in shoulder Pads, cajoling the fun out of his game. Blessed are the prepubescent winners, for their future is now.

Yet does childish deceny - unadulterated, so to speak - reach out for decency? Could kindnes and sincerity be criteria for a role model, even in this age of insidious imagery? Is a helping hand as admirable, in its way, as a foreman shot?

What about good-guy bubble-gum cards? "Cussed out fewest kids of any 240 hitter in Texas League history." "Fewest times denigrated mother of official scorer, one season: none." "Most consecutive times not ducking out to dressing room to avoid media, life-time: 168."

The complications compound. Suppose attention is paid to the 11th man on an NBA team. If he is making appearances at things like Little League parades and Communion breakfasts without commanding the standard fee . . . well, that sort of thing gets around, and there will be dissents, if not retribution.

No, it'll never float. The only people in sports whose agents will allow them to show up anywhere for free are the Don Blasingames and Hobie Landriths. And who cares about them?