Brian took a deep breath. Three balls, two strikes—full count. He squinted at the pitcher and tightened his grip on the bat. Fast ball, he thought. No doubt about it. The pitcher wound up and let loose. Brian planted his right foot and swung hard. The ball curved smoothly around his bat—thwack—into the catcher’s mitt. “Strike three. You’re out!”
Brian watched the ground as he walked back to the dugout. Andrew jogged past on his way to the plate. “Good goin’, Brian. Why don’t you just go on back to the tee-ball league so they can teach you how to play?”
Brian clenched his fists. “Oh, be quiet, Andrew. Just play, OK?”
On the way home after the game, Brian sat slumped in the back seat.
“What happened out there today?” his mom asked. “The team looked pretty good in the first inning, but after that you fell apart.”
“It’s Andrew,” Brian mumbled. “He’s really good, and he knows it, so he tries to make the rest of us feel stupid. Nobody likes him.”
“You like him, don’t you?” his dad asked, looking at him in the rearview mirror.
“I guess so,” Brian answered, but mostly because he knew that’s what his dad wanted to hear.
“Good. The Savior teaches that we should love everyone, even people who are mean to us. Maybe if you showed Andrew a little love, he wouldn’t act that way.”
Brian sighed and looked out the window. His dad was always saying stuff like that. But his dad didn’t have to play on the same team with Andrew. How could anyone possibly love him?
“You know,” Mom said, “there was a girl on my basketball team in high school—Sarah—who had the worst attitude. She was always yelling at everybody and making us feel terrible when we made mistakes.”
“She must be related to Andrew.”
Mom laughed. “Well, I got pretty fed up with Sarah’s bullying. So one day I decided to show her what real team spirit was all about. Every time somebody made a mistake, I jumped in before Sarah had a chance and said, ‘Good job, Karen,’ or ‘Nice try, Susan.’ And if somebody did something really great, I jumped up and down and yelled and screamed and really whooped it up.”
“So did Sarah stop being so mean?” Brian asked hopefully.
Brian looked out the window again. “I didn’t think so.”
“But everyone else was too busy watching my spirited pep shows to notice her anymore,” Mom said with a smile. Brian smiled, too, in spite of himself.
That night during family prayer, Dad prayed that Brian would find a way to show love for Andrew. Brian didn’t have much hope, but he said “amen” anyway, just in case.
The next day at practice, Brian decided to try out Mom’s idea. When Ryan let an easy grounder slip under his glove, Brian started clapping wildly and shouted, “All right, Ryan! Nice try! Go get ’em, dude!” Ryan busted up laughing so hard that he didn’t hear Andrew call him a name. The other guys laughed too.
Hey, what do you know? Brian thought. It works!
It worked through the next two practices too. “Go get ’em, David!” “All right, Jason!” Brian was becoming a regular expert in whooping and hollering, and it was contagious. Pretty soon, all the boys were too busy clapping, giving high-fives, and laughing to notice Andrew’s insults.
By Saturday’s game, the boys were starting to play like a team again, and they were having a good time doing it. At the end of the fifth inning, the score was tied, 8–8.
Then, with two out in the top of the sixth, it happened: Andrew misjudged a pop fly ball, and it dropped behind him in the grass. The runner scored from second, and Andrew was so flustered that he overthrew the second baseman, and the batter took third base. The score was now 9–8.
At first, Brian wanted to scream at Andrew. How could he be so stupid? But just as Brian was about to open his mouth, he saw Andrew’s face. A small, quiet voice seemed to whisper in his ear, “Andrew could use a little love right now.”
Brian ran over to Andrew and slapped him on the back. “Nice try, Andy. It’s OK—don’t worry about it.” Then he shouted to the whole team, “All right, Pirates! Let’s go!” and clapped all the way back to third base.
When Brian turned around, Andrew was staring at him in astonishment. Brian socked his glove and grinned at him. “Let’s play ball!” he shouted, and Andrew turned away.
The pitcher struck out the next batter, and the Pirates came to the plate down a run. The first two batters struck out, but the next three singled, so Brian stepped up to the plate with two outs, the bases loaded, and the winning run on second.
The first pitch whizzed over the plate. “Strike one.” The second pitch looked high, but dropped into the strike zone at the last second. “Strike two!” Brian’s lips drew tight as he took his stance for the next pitch. The pitcher let it fly and Brian swung with all his might. The ball thwacked into the catcher’s mitt. “Strike three! You’re out!”
The Pirates had lost, 9–8.
Brian kicked the dirt and started walking slowly back to the dugout while the other team jumped up and down and gave each other high fives.
When Brian reached the dugout, a pair of cleats blocked his way. Brian looked up into Andrew’s face and waited for the usual insults. But this time, it was Brian’s turn to be surprised.
“Good game,” Andrew said slowly. “We’ll get ’em next time.”