“Hey, what are you doing here?”

The two old men at the mats behind me evidently know the young man in the tie-dyed hat who’s approaching with a bucket of balls.

“My wife is having a baby.”

The blue walls of Saint Joseph Hospital overlook the Diversey driving range.

“Is it your first one?”


“And you just happened to have your clubs with you.”

Even those of us who are just eavesdropping have to laugh at that.

“We got here at 5:30 and the doctor said it would be 14 hours. So I came out here.”

It is spring and a young man’s fancy turns to, oh, never mind.

The cashier was explaining the junior rates to two 17-year-olds. It’s cheaper from 7 AM to 3 PM Monday through Friday.

I laid out a five and the cashier handed back a bucket of balls and two quarters.

“Did it go up?”

“It’s $4.50 now. Kemper Sports quietly took over all the courses. The new rates are posted there on the wall.”

They’ve all gone up by a buck or so. The guy sees the shake of my head, so he adds, “They plan to make improvements. Compare it to what Phelan did to the county courses: it costs $31 to make a reservation on weekends.”

“I guess that’s the way it goes.”

“Your government works for you.”

We’re both smiling anyway. A lake breeze has kept the temperature on the range down around 45, but the sun is holding off the clouds.

I go through my usual warm-up. Pulling a club over my head and down my back like a baseball player loosening up pulls on muscles that haven’t been used in months. Inside my sweater and windbreaker, I begin to feel warm. I take off my hat and hope to add a little more color to the top of my head. Opening day at Wrigley Field started the summer browning.

“Watch out.”

The guy in front of me holds up just the shaft of his driver. The head has gone flying off somewhere. I am glad to determine it’s not embedded in me.

“That’s the second one I’ve busted.”

I establish my usual routine: five balls with my wedge to begin, then five with my four iron, then five off the tee with my driver, then start over. My first tee shot with my driver floats straight down the middle of the range. It will be my best drive of the day.

As always, I quickly find my stroke with my iron. I begin to take aim at the wooden 100-yard sign off to my left. On my second try, I just miss and land one foot in front of the sign. I look around, but of course no one has seen. They all have their own kinks to work out. I set down another iron shot five feet to the right of the sign. Nobody notices; this is starting to annoy me.

But then I remember Tuesday. One more out and I’d have had a scorecard to frame. Missing a stupid sign on the driving range is nothing. Missing a no-hitter with two outs in the ninth inning is something else. There I was leaning over the rail in the center-field bleachers clutching what I hoped would soon be a historical scorecard and Jose Guzman lifts that pitch up in the strike zone and Otis Nixon promptly whacks it into left field. Now that’s regret.

Somebody finally hits the sign. I refuse to look to see who. The sound is just as sweet as a good base hit: the substantial thunk of ball meeting wood.

“It’s time to break out a new club,” one of the old guys behind me says.

I should grab the Ravenswood el and go down to the White Sox and Yankees opener. But I have to help a friend move. Sometime while I am lugging a bed frame or a chest of drawers, Bo Jackson hits a home run in his first at bat since his hip replacement. You just can’t be everywhere when winter

finally lifts.