For Ryan Ward, 17, the baseball diamond leads to much more than just a winning season in this exciting and moving novel from Deuker (Heart of a Champion, 1993, etc.). Until Josh Daniels and his family move in across the street during the summer, Ryan seems destined for mediocrity at Seattle's Crown Hill High. Eager for a friend, Ryan tags after the charismatic, athletically gifted Josh, a pitcher; while they play catch, Ryan realizes that he enjoys catching and thinks of trying out for the varsity team. But Ryan's plans are put on hold when autumn rolls around and Josh concentrates on the football team. Throughout the novel, his single-minded, nearly ruthless ambition is shown as the opposite of Ryan's nagging insecurities. The image of himself as Josh's toady drives Ryan to begin working out months before baseball season. Josh's careful maneuvering during practice shows Ryan at his best, and he makes the varsity cut; the team's unprecedented success is achieved largely through the symbiosis between the boys as pitcher and catcher. There the connection ends: Josh, master of high school politics, grows more arrogant while Ryan blossoms with newfound confidence. A championship season seems clinched until Josh, in a wolf mask, assaults a female classmate who has embarrassed him. Ryan interrupts the assault and recognizes Josh. Deuker, adept at capturing the thrills during the game, proves talented at dramatizing Ryan's torment in the face of his friend's deeds; the depiction of a boy coming into his own is resonant and inspiring.