By Vanessa V. Friedman
Updated June 04, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Imagine what Kevin Costner’s character in Bull Durham might have become if he had never met Susan Sarandon — a 60ish has-been, coach of an amateur team, estranged from his family. Imagine that all he wants — all he has left to want — is for his team to win the national championship, and then you’ll have a pretty good idea of what Gil, the protagonist of this novel about baseball, desire, and the inchoate friendships between men, is like. Helping Gil pursue his dream is Vince, his elderly assistant coach, currently dying of emphysema, and Luke James, a home-run wunderkind who spent a few years doing time for attacking his ex-girlfriend’s other boyfriend with a bat. You don’t have to love the sport to appreciate Battle Creek, as leisurely as an afternoon at the ballpark, and at times as satisfying as a hot dog and a pretzel. B+