The prospect of a long, unpleasant summer improves instantly when Josh discovers that Slug Smith, his favorite baseball player, is living next door. Back in San Francisco, Josh's fellow sixth graders booed him off the baseball team, so he has decided to spend the next year with his recently remarried father in Wisconsin. Josh and new stepsister Wendy take an instant dislike to each other--or to their parents' remarriage--and there's plenty of friction. But soon after Josh discovers the identity of their reclusive neighbor, all three are working out together with bat, ball, and glove--with the ultimate result that each works through a personal fear: Wendy, her fear of change; Josh, his fear of the ball; and Slug, the fear of growing old and useless. As a character, Josh is neither consistent nor believable: he doesn't show a shred of jealousy when Wendy turns out to be a better baseball player than he is, and, depending on which chapter you're reading, he either does or doesn't mind lying to adults. The aging Slug, facing the end of a pro career, comes across more realistically, but young readers aren't likely to care much about his problems. There's some baseball talk, but not much action--the concentration is on personal problem-solving. A pop fly.