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Sunday, June 6, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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`Battle Creek,' Like Its Baseball Team, Falls Short In Providing An Exciting Pitch

Special To The Seattle Times

------------------------------- "Battle Creek" by Scott Lasser Rob Weisbach Books, $24 -------------------------------

"You may glory in a team triumphant," Roger Kahn once wrote, "but you fall in love with a team in defeat." That's the appeal of Koch & Sons, the fictional amateur baseball team that every year goes to the national finals in Battle Creek, Mich., and every year falls just short.

This season, coach Gil Davison is determined to win at all costs. But is there a price to pay for such an attitude, and if so, who will pay it?

Gil himself, who is pilfering from his 98-year-old, bedridden father? How about Ben Mercer, a former big leaguer who, at 34, is pitching through pain and resorting to spit balls? Then there's 22-year-old hitting sensation Luke James, recently paroled from prison, whose past keeps yanking him back and literally smacking him in the face.

"Battle Creek" is Scott Lasser's first novel, and the young writer is remarkably adept at revealing the thought processes of men from youth to old age and even into death.

A character is "aware suddenly that the pressure had come off," Lasser writes of a death-rattle, "he feels a kind of giddiness, as once when he was brought in to get the last out of the game and the guy hit a grand slam. . . ." Lasser's clear and insightful prose, though, may be too light for his themes. The moral exhaustion we should feel at the end comes across like an ambivalent shrug instead.

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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