Gentle, bighearted baseball novel in which The Game and A Good Woman waft new spirit into an old man's soul. Littlefield, who covers sports for National Public Radio, bathes his first novel in a great warm wash of baseball love and lore. His engaging mouthpiece for this baseball-philia is Pete Estey, a former big-league scout now squandering his final years at a Florida rest home--and here alternating first-person narration with Louise Brown, an elderly black woman who does volunteer work at the home. When a fire destroys Pete's room, feisty Louise, seeing in kindly Pete a man potentially younger than his years, invites him to move in with her, and proceeds--platonically--to fire him up. If she's the bellows, though, it's her nephew John Brown who's the spark that rekindles Pete's life: he's the prospect, the 20-year-old kid who, as Pete notes during the semipro game that Louise drags him to, can "hit like he was born to it." Fighting his fears of being a has-been and his doubts about penetrating the now-computer-dominated world of baseball scouting, Pete flies with John and Louise to the ballpark of the major-league Washington Lions. There, with some crotchety pushing from Louise, Pete gets John a tryout with a couple of old baseball vets, leading to a major-league contract and--after a bit of hankie-waving at Louise's untimely death--a star-spangled conclusion with Pete watching John run onto the big-league playing field, "whole and strong, as immortal as ever." Cocoon, baseball style: sentimental but not a bit condescending, as Pete and Louise walk through old age with heads high and eyes open. As nice a novel as you'd want to read this spring.