Tony Spain, the new boy on the team, is a super athlete and in fact, except for Bill, he's the only real ball player on the sad sack Miller's Laundry team. . . . He also is a nice guy who cooks great hot dogs and wants to be Bill's friend -- his first, really, since moving to Michigan from California. Then when Tony involves Bill in the theft of a baseball, Bill's naivete leads to their getting caught, and Bill, whose Dad happens to be a store manager with strong feelings about shoplifting, is sandwiched between two conflicting loyalties. For a while it looks as though we may slide home to an easy resolution, but Tony's elderly out of touch Dad packs him off to relatives in Kentucky and Bill is left alone to mold himself into the leadership role Tony had come by naturally -- a dramatic but not unsubstantiated transition. Slote himself may not be exactly an all-star, but his values -- particularly those father/son relationships -- are consistently strong and his line-ups packed with genuinely likable players. And here, as usual, he stays one pitch ahead of the formula hitters.