WASHINGTON - Given that we are living in what author Stephen L. Carter has termed "The Culture of Disbelief," this story of a small believer may be of little consequence in the crush of modern lives. The story has nothing to do with congressmen like Dan Rostenkowski treating perks as a birthright. No instant defenses of such deeds from Beltway scribes. No behind-the-scenes tales by Bob Woodward of President Clinton's indecision. No partisan bickering in Congress on this or that crisis. However, the story served as an early Father's Day present for me, and perhaps it may for you. It came unsolicited and unexpected, without condition, and with the earnest passions of a 9-year-old. It reaffirmed the essentiality of pure belief - both as an ingredient of the soul, and as a primary glue of a nation. The 9-year-old is left-handed, freckled, a quiet, diminutive second baseman on a Little League team called the George Mason Pirates. As the smallest guy on the team, probably in the whole league, he had endured mighty struggles. Three-quarters of the way through the season, he had not gotten a hit. At the previous game, tears were fought off after each strikeout. There was silence on the ride home. If you've ever seen a Little League game, you know this scene. Yet there had never been a moment's contemplation of giving up, even when it looked like the whole year would be an oh-fer. Teammates, bless them, never got down on him. And his play at second base and right field steadily improved. The day before the little Pirates were to face the best team in their league, a trip to Camden Yards in Baltimore for a Yankees-Orioles game changed the whole picture. The 9-year-old sat patiently along the railing during batting practice and infield drills. He clutched glove, program and pen like his life depended on it. When Yankee first baseman Don Mattingly ambled over to deliver autographs, the 9-year-old was perfectly situated. A crush of fans, many of them boorish adults willing to run over anyone to get to Mattingly, descended along the first-base railing. Mattingly patiently moved down the line for 20 minutes, talking and smiling. He cut to shreds the stereotype of pampered, aloof superstar. One of Mattingly's final autographs was given to my son. He smiled the smile borne from heroes to a 9-year-old's eyes. Throughout the game, he kept pulling the program out of his bag to look at it. When Mattingly got two hits that night, the excitement increased. The 9-year-old talked about the experience at breakfast the next day with the childlike devotion that the Bible often describes. There are certain things to believe in and this was a moment to do just that. Don Mattingly had given an autograph, and gotten two hits. Like the 9-year-old, Don Mattingly was left-handed, too. It all made sense. The boy would get his hits, too. Call it the karma of the left-handers, if you will, but this was belief. That night, facing one of the best pitchers he would see all year, the 9-year-old quickly found himself down two strikes. As Yogi would say, deja vu all over again. But then - two outs, a runner on third - PING! A bloop infield single. A smile as wide as the backstop. An RBI! "Hey, Don Mattingly! That's Don Mattingly out there!" the head coach yelled over bench cheers. Later, with two outs in the last inning, the 9-year-old got another hit, this one a ground-ball double to left center, one of the best-hit balls of the night. On the way home, there was no quiet in the kid. That night, I picked up Carter's book off the nightstand. His well-received tome focused on how American politics and law trivialize religious beliefs in public lives. The screaming matches from the right and left on values and culture and religion have so polarized discussion that public life proceeds mostly in a vacuum of beliefs. "We have sharp divisions over values in America," Carter writes. "But that does not mean that no values are better than others." Expunging the values debate, as we did in the 1992 campaign, leads to a fuzziness of beliefs. Two consecutive presidents - Clinton and George Bush - have been subject to serious questions on just what their core beliefs are. For Bush, many concluded his core belief was simply to be president. For Clinton, critics and even some friends say his core belief is a passionate desire to be liked. Woodward's new book on Clinton, "The Agenda," has a scene in which presidential adviser James Carville takes a piece of paper, draws a square on it, and asks of Clinton: "Where is the hallowed ground? Where does he stand? What does he stand for?" Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton have attempted to move the values debate back to front and center. They have met with modest success. Supporters say they should not shy away from talking more about their beliefs, or as Democratic chairman David Wilhelm puts it: "how their faith informs them." But this happens while Clinton's moral ground suffers the undertow of Whitewater and Paula Corbin Jones. All those controversies seem so far removed from second base. The best heroes are those who show the value of believing in themselves. My hero on Father's Day is a 9-year-old.
RAASCH, CHUCK, A STAR, A LAD, A FATHER'S DAY PRESENT., Gannett News Service, 06-16-1994.