Al Lopez Field is the desolate province of the Cincinnati Reds, the Little Dead Machine that lost 101 games last season.

At third base, Johnny Bench makes a sorry spectacle of himself trying to field grounders.

At first, Dan Driessen, who thinks life is one long excuse for laughter, stands morosely alone.

In the cage, Dave Concepcion's attempts at jokes fall flat. He kisses Cesar Cedeno on the cheek; Cedeno isn't amused.

Seven years ago, the Reds looked just as they do today: ugly low-stirrup socks, the least-fashionable uniforms in baseball.

Then, however, the players inside those uniforms made them an emblem of excellence. The angel of history stood on their shoulder.

These days, it's no longer fun to be a Red, except, perhaps, for a few hours when you play the Phillies and get to remember.

On Sunday morning, the Reds discovered a tiny welcome harbinger in their dugout. He was Petey Rose, wearing his father's blue No. 14 Phillies road uniform.

Cocky as his dad, the lad strode into the Reds' dugout and gave Concepcion a left-handed soul shake.

"Hey, Petey," said Concepcion as the boy left, "you better lose a little weight." The kid ignored him; he knows how this works. The game was afoot.

Next, Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez wandered onto the field. All are in Philadelphia now; all may be in Cooperstown some day. Once, they were the core of the Reds' earthy being. One white, one black, one Latin, they were the closest of friends, the fiercest of warriors; Charlie Hustle, Little Joe and Big Doggie bound the Reds in their hours of battle, then blended them in their hours of peace.

Maybe Bench was the best player and Sparky Anderson the manager, but they were the Reds.

Like filings to a magnet, the old Reds were drawn to the expatriot Reds. First Driessen, then Bench, then Concepcion meandered across the grass until they were engaged in flagrant fraternization.

Their current uniforms mean nothing; their present status--like Perez's role as an aged pinch hitter--is forgotten. When they're together, they are once more what they've faithfully remained in their own minds: the Big Red Machine.

Bench, and his embarrassments as a third baseman, are the topic of the day. Morgan, a pull hitter, says, "As far as I'm concerned, third base is in foul territory. But I'm bunting, so you better stay on top." Perez warns of the maiming smashes he'll aim at Bench. "My top hand feel tremendous," he says.

Perez calls everyone "Ugly," in Spanish slang. Rose knows everybody's vulnerable statistic and inserts his needles. Morgan is so delighted he seems in danger of swallowing his gum. Driessen, a marginal player in the glory days, is jubilant, too; now a 10-season veteran, he's almost their equal.

Bench, whose dignity demands that groups form around him rather than the other way 'round, is the first to meander away after offering his greetings.

Concepcion, at 34, remains the gentle, sensitive one, needing approval. He takes his hat off to prove to Perez that he isn't going bald, then hustles to get a fungo bat so Rose can hit grounders to Morgan.

"Hey, Peter," Concepcion asks, "can I get a picture of the old infield together?"

Rose, the one with the sense of history, wants them all in the Hall of Fame. "Bench, Morgan and I will walk in," he says. "Well, I'll run in. Doggie has the stats--2,500 hits, 1,500 RBI and nearly 400 homers (363), but you don't know if he'll get the votes 'cause he never got the ink he deserved. Concepcion's like Mike Schmidt. He's workin' on it. He needs a few more good years."

What delights and unites these old comrades is their sense that they proved the patriarchal Reds wrong.

One by one, the Reds traded, fired or failed to re-sign Perez ('78), Rose ('79), Anderson ('79), Morgan ('80), Cesar Geronimo ('81), George Foster ('82) and Ken Griffey ('82).

All are still in the majors, most prospering, though this season Rose will be 42, Perez 41, Morgan 40.

Though Rose's hair is turning gray, though Morgan is balding, though Perez has a spare tire, none of the three has forgiven the Reds for breaking them asunder.

"If the Reds had just kept us, paid us our market value, they'd still be drawing 2.5 million, instead of 1.3," says Rose. "We'd be very competitive.

"They thought they'd save money, but it looks the other way now . . . I heard (Manager) Russ Nixon say, 'I think the Reds can play .500 ball,' " says Rose. "You think those people in Cincinnati are going to be satisfied with .500 after what they're used to?"

"Trading Perez probably cost us world titles in '77 and '78. That's what happens when you take people away from a perfect chemistry," says Morgan, acquired by the Phils from San Francisco in a December trade. "We never found out how great we could have been. The Reds thought the organization was everything, not the individuals . . . No telling what we could have done."

For Rose, Morgan and Perez, a World Series for the Phillies would be doubly sweet.

"We're good for each other," says Perez, who came to Philadelphia from Boston as a low-budget January free agent. Adds Morgan, "This year, we're gonna thrill 'em. I expect an awesome season . . . I still think our '76 team was the greatest that ever played."

"Aw, horsefeathers," said an ancient man near the batting cage. "We'd beat you in four straight." The 83-year-old standing in perfect position to hear all this was Waite Hoyt, Babe Ruth's roommate and ace of the '27 staff.

"Hey, Waite," cackled Rose, knowing Hoyt got married last week, "how was the wedding night?"

"You guys couldn't hit the curve ball. (Herb) Pennock would strike out Foster 18 times," persisted Hoyt. "Here's the only one who would have hit us," he adds, tapping breaking-ball hitter Rose in the chest.

"What are you talkin' about, 'Beat us four straight?' " asks Morgan in a high-pitched voice. "We'd give you your game, but we'd win the other four. Why I'd a beat that little right field fence in Yankee Stadium down."

"That fence wasn't there then, you fool," says Hoyt.

"Doesn't matter," says motor-mouth Morgan. "We could handle any park, any surface, any pitcher right- or left-handed. We were balanced. We could beat you more ways than any team that ever was--power, speed, defense. You guys made a lotta errors. I know, 'cause I looked it up. And you couldn't run like us."

"We had five pitchers who could have beaten you," retorts Hoyt.

"We were the best ever. Gimme some, Doggie," squeaks Morgan, spinning to slap some skin with Perez. All, including Hoyt, hoot their approval.

Once, Rose, Morgan and Perez would take an early out and split for the beach. Now, in the late innings, wrapped in blue rubber suits, they are distant specks running along the warning track, outlined against the billboard fence.

Evening is coming. They seem so far away that, at any moment, you might look and find they'd disappeared entirely, evaporated into the Florida dusk.

Perhaps it seems that way to them, too. So they run together. One last time.