Loopy, bittersweet send-up of a boozing, over-the-hill suburban Chicago baseball team whose members can't get used to growing old. After he's beaned on the brain by a pop fly that he ought to have caught, Hank Lingerman, the 40-year-old second baseman of the Shopalot Sharks (their team logo is a speeding supermarket shopping cart), walks off the playing field in dark disgust. A gas station mechanic by day, Lingerman clings to a childhood memory of playing a game of catch with Chicago White Sox second basemen Nellie Fox, during which Fox had assured him that he had talent. Since then, Lingermans played in a series of hapless minor-league farm teams, hoping for a shot in the majors that has never come. Now a divorc (his baseball-fan ex-wife said she left him because she was bored), even abandoned by his pet dog, and despised by his girlfriend Karen's ten-year-old brat Brian, Lingerman falls for a young barfly, who steals his TV set and autographed Nellie Fox picture, thus hurling him into a drunken despair. Lingerman's teammates, all of whom are also experiencing some variety of menopausal meltdown, comically fail to bring him out of his stupor. He proposes marriage to Karen and resolves to read an encyclopedia from beginning to end, though continued failures on the playing field, and difficulties with Brian, plague himuntil he forces the boy to play catch with him. While his friends either ignore or succumb to their own frustrations, Lingerman eventually accepts that baseball isn't life and life isn't fair, but that by lightening up one can get by anyhow. Slight, meandering, and beer-soaked, Manderino's sunny second novel (Sam and His Brother Len, 1994) will have aging baseball fans believing that sandlot fellowship and a woman's tender love really can save men from cynicism, bad marriages, and dead-end dreams. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.