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Bowa and Franco in an alpha-omega moment

Poignant isn't a word used often when discussing Larry Bowa. But it fit perfectly the little moment that the TV cameras captured Wednesday night in Atlanta.

Poignant isn't a word used often when discussing Larry Bowa.

But it fit perfectly the little moment that the TV cameras captured Wednesday night in Atlanta.

Debuting Phillies rookie Maikel Franco had just collected his first big-league RBI. Bowa was among those awaiting his return to the Phillies' Turner Field dugout.

As he congratulated the 22-year-old September call-up, something like a pensive smile fleetingly pushed aside the wizened bench coach's perpetual smirk.

Bowa's hair is gray now, his face lined and liver-spotted, his legendary energy calmed by time. He's 68, and his career with the Phillies has spanned five decades, four roles, three ballparks, and now two super-prospects named Franco.

There was a perfect baseball equilibrium in that brief but touching instant, a meeting of young and old, of wide-eyed and wistful, of dreams both fresh and faded.

Once - can it really be 44 years ago? - Bowa was the eager rookie bounding down a dugout's steps. Now he was an end-of-the-line baseball lifer. But unable to run, catch or hit, he could still watch, imagine, and remember.

I'd like to think that in those brief seconds when the start of one career intersected with the twilight of another, he saw himself in Franco.

The short-lived scene brought welcome relief from a dull September game in a sparsely populated stadium in a city that so rarely seems excited by sports.

It was, I guess, why I still watch sports.

What appeals most to me these days are first and last chapters. The middles, the routine meat of the stories, don't interest me nearly as much.

I'm not sure why. It's probably because beginnings and ends are fueled by real emotions and not simply adrenaline. To paraphrase the Beatles' "Hello Goodbye":

I like high. I like low. You say why, and I say I don't know, oh no.

There's something intensely fascinating about watching a ballyhooed kid such as Franco arrive. You can't help but wonder if one day he'll ride in Broad Street parades, make it to Cooperstown or, like Bowa, stay in the game so long that decades later he'll be the one resting his chin on a dugout railing and smiling at another Phillies phenom.

On the other hand, it's even more intriguing and affecting to watch a farewell, "the little death that awaits athletes," writer John Updike termed it so famously in describing Ted Williams' last game.

That's probably because by the time you're 64, you've learned to better appreciate saying goodbye to something you've loved. You've been there. Too often.

Beginnings and ends not only appeal to me now, they've stayed with me in a way that details of the games I've watched and sometimes written about often have not.

I can recall so well the first time Buddy Ryan sent Randall Cunningham sprinting toward an Eagles huddle to replace a flummoxed Ron Jaworski; Chase Utley's grand slam in his second major-league at-bat; Andre Agassi's tearfully waving to the crowd at the 2006 U.S. Open; John Elway's hoisting the Lombardi Trophy after winning the '99 Super Bowl; and, of course, Cal Ripken's victory lap.

And I'm sure I'll be watching when, sometime soon, Derek Jeter wraps up as praiseworthy a baseball career as anyone can recall.

The retiring, 40-year-old shortstop is on the cover of this week's New Yorker, his pinstriped likeness doffing his cap in a Yankee Stadium that, as undoubtedly will seem to be the case in 2015, is ominously dark.

Inside the magazine, in his brief Talk of the Town piece on Jeter, writer Roger Angell, another New York treasure at the end of a long and splendid run, had this to say about the Yankee captain's goodbye:

"It's sobering to think that in just a few weeks Derek Jeter won't be doing any of this anymore," Angell wrote, "and will be reduced to picturing himself in action, just the way the rest of us do."

That's what Bowa was doing Wednesday night.

In contemplating Franco's future, he was picturing himself in action, reliving, through the eyes of a rookie, his own youth and career.

If his baseball lifetime did in fact flash before those blue eyes, Bowa must have seen himself running onto a major-league field for the first time on April 7, 1970, for Connie Mack Stadium's final opening day. (He led off and went 0 for 3 in a 2-0 Phils win.)

He must have heard himself being introduced before five 1970s All-Star Games, including the 1976 game in Philadelphia.

He must have recalled hopping joyfully, and seemingly uncontrollably, across Veteran Stadium's rock-hard infield when his 1980 Phillies finally won a World Series.

And he undoubtedly saw his final game as an active player, on Oct. 6, 1985, looking so out of place at second base and in a New York Mets uniform.

After congratulating Franco, Bowa turned and found his familiar spot next to Ryne Sandberg along the dugout rail. The smile was gone, the moment passed, the routine resumed.

Should Franco be as good as many believe, he'll have a long and fruitful career. And at its end, some other young hotshot will arrive.

If so, maybe he'll recall that long-ago moment in Atlanta when he and Larry Bowa shared a smile.