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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Two years ago, my two sons each sent a number of their best baseball cards to big-name professional players, asking for their autographs. They spent hours creating personal letters and precious, individual drawings. They enclosed self-addressed, stamped envelopes and a note asking the player to return the card if, for any reason, he was unable to sign it.

Only one athlete, Orel Hershiser, responded by autographing and returning the children's cards. Mr. Hershiser was in the midst of pitching the World Series for the Indians when the cards were mailed.

There was a time when athletes felt a certain responsibility to be role models for their young fans and were appreciative of their adoring public. Many of today's sports stars have done a 180-degree turn. One other player did return his card, although it was unsigned. However, none of the others responded at all. Surely, major league players can afford to hire someone to handle their mail!

So, to Orel Hershiser I say, "Thank you" -- for setting a good example in both your personal and professional life. You'll always hold a special place in our hearts as the one big-leaguer who cared enough to take a moment of his time to make a kid's day. -- LITTLE LEAGUE MOM, FRUITLAND PARK, FLA.

DEAR MOM: I'm pleased to pass along your message of thanks to Orel Hershiser. In a time when professional athletes regard themselves as products to be marketed, Orel Hershiser seems to regard himself as a traditional sportsman and gentleman.

There's an old saying, "Don't give away what you're selling." Perhaps in some cases it should be amended to, "Don't sell what you should be giving away."

DEAR ABBY: My husband, "Greg," and I dated five years before we married two years ago. Greg is Catholic and I am Southern Baptist. His family was aware of our religious differences from the beginning. We were completely candid that neither of us would convert from our religions, and that our children would be raised Baptist until they were old enough to decide otherwise.

On our wedding day, no one from Greg's family showed up, and I watched tears stream down my husband's face on what should have been the happiest day of his life. It has been very difficult ever since. His parents christened our child at their home without Greg's or my consent. There have been other problems -- too numerous to mention.

The last straw came three months ago. Greg's older sibling was also married in a non-Catholic church. This time, the entire family, including us, attended.

The problem with Greg's parents has caused a major strain on our marriage. We have invited them over on numerous occasions to hash out our differences, but they have never showed up. After our last attempt, they said they had nothing else to talk to us about.

Abby, I feel no love lost because of their absence, and my toddler really doesn't know them anyway. However, I am concerned about my husband's feelings. He and my child mean the world to me. I don't want my marriage to suffer. I'm worried that if this continues much longer, I'll lose my temper with the situation. Can you help us? -- LOSING MY COOL IN GEORGIA

DEAR LOSING MY COOL: For your in-laws to have baptized your baby behind your back was wrong. I find it interesting that both children of these staunch Catholic parents have married out of the faith.

If there is a parish priest in your husband's background with whom he is comfortable enough to discuss this situation, he should ask the priest to serve as a bridge to his parents. If that isn't possible, there may be other factors besides the religious differences that have led to their estrangement. Should that be the case, you and your husband must face the fact that YOU are each other's family. "Shake off the dust from your feet," and walk away before any further damage is done.

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