Ryan threw open the front door. “Mom,” he shouted, racing down the hall to the study, “I struck out three men at practice today, and one of the guys walked home with me.”
Mother looked up and smiled into the brown eyes glowing with enthusiasm. “I knew it wouldn’t take you long to make a friend,” she said. “And if you keep on pitching like that, you’ll soon be the star of the team.”
Ryan grinned, tugging at a strand of hair that had escaped his cap.
“By the way, I made some friends today, too,” Mother continued. “Go wash up. You can help me put a pizza together for dinner while I tell you about them.”
Ryan joined his mother in the kitchen a few moments later and started rolling out a ball of dough.
“While you were at practice, a neighbor, Sister Krein, and her eleven-year-old son, Joey, came to visit me,” Mother said. “They brought us some honey wheat rolls fresh out of the oven.”
“You see—there are advantages to being the new family in town.” Mother paused to enjoy Ryan’s smile before she went on. “After visiting with them, I agreed to let Joey stay with us during the day this summer when Sister Krein can’t be home with him.”
“But you said that he’s eleven! Can’t he stay by himself?”
“No—you see, he was born with Down’s syndrome.”
“You mean he has a mental handicap?”
“Yes. He does some things quite well, but he has to have help doing other things, and he can’t be left alone for very long. He needs more supervision than other children his age.”
“Well, I guess it will be OK,” agreed Ryan, “as long as I don’t have to miss playing baseball with the guys.”
Mother popped the pizza into the oven and set the timer. “I’m sure Joey won’t keep you from ball practice. He loves sports, too, and plays on one of the city teams himself.”
When Ryan answered the door the next morning, Joey was standing on the porch with a baseball cap on his head, a glove on his hand, and a big smile on his face. “Hi,” he said enthusiastically. “I’m Joey.”
“Hi, I’m Ryan. Come on in.”
“Do you want to play ball?” Joey asked, smacking his fist into his glove.
Ryan laughed. “You love baseball as much as I do, don’t you?” he said, picking up a bat and glove. He and Joey headed for the backyard.
“Can I bat?” asked Joey.
“Sure,” said Ryan, “but I think you’ll do better if you hold it a little higher.” He shifted the bat in Joey’s hands, then positioned himself near the back fence. “Swing straight into it,” he called, and made a gentle pitch.
“I can’t believe how patient Joey is,” Ryan told his mother a few days later. “I’ve never seen anyone who keeps trying the way he does.”
Mother smiled. “Joey never seems to want to quit playing, once you two get started. It’s a good thing you both like baseball.”
The boys played together every minute they could spare from practicing with their own teams. Then one afternoon they both realized that Joey was hitting the ball almost every time. “I hit it again!” he shouted, jumping up and down with glee as Ryan thumped him on the back.
He was even more excited the next day. “My team is going to play your team,” he announced.
Ryan pulled his schedule out of his desk drawer, and both boys bent over it.
“See,” said Joey, pointing. “Thursday. Pitch slow, Ryan. I want to get a hit. Please, Ryan, pitch slow—like when we practice.”
What should I do? Ryan wondered to himself after Joey had gone home. I want Joey to get a hit, but I want to help my team win the game too. What will they think of me if I don’t do my best pitching?
Ryan’s anxiety increased as the day of the game approached, but Joey grew more and more excited. “Pitch slow so I can get a hit,” he told Ryan over and over again.
Thursday arrived. Ryan had already struck out two boys and gotten six others on easy ground balls or pop flies, when Joey picked up the bat and ran over to home plate. Ryan glanced at his teammates. He knew they expected Joey to be an easy out.
Ryan was suddenly very hot, and not just from the blistering sun overhead. Pulling off his cap, he took his time wiping the sweat from his forehead. Then he smiled at Joey, wound up, and pitched a slow ball with great care over the plate. Crack! Joey’s bat connected solidly, but Joey was just standing there, exulting.
“Run, Joey, run!” Ryan looked around in wonder as he heard his own teammates take up the cry.
By the time Joey’s foot landed on first base, the whole ballpark was alive with cheering. Joey’s freckled face beamed as players from both teams pelted his back with pats of approval. Ryan thought he had never seen a bigger smile than Joey’s.
Ryan smiled, too, as he thought, There’s more than one way to win!