The basketball hoop standing in a Youngsville, La., driveway can’t begin to tell the story.
It’s seen puddles of sweat, mostly from the four Stevenson boys who have called it their own. It’s seem some smiles after a victory. It’s surely seen some tears after defeat.
But what’s happened on that pavement extends far beyond victory and defeat.
It’s where 16-year-old Matt Stevenson matches wits with his brother — and hero — 18-year-old LSU freshman outfielder Andrew Stevenson.
Born with Down syndrome, Matt brings an unmistakable glow to any field, seat or room. It’s an aura Andrew can feel, even hundreds of feet away in center field.
“He brightens my day up any time I see him. [He’s] always got a smile on,” Andrew said. “I like seeing that whenever I’m out here.”
Matt made a confession about those basketball games before Wednesday’s LSU baseball game against Tulane: “Andrew wins.”
But those losses make Matt smile. Anytime he’s with Andrew, it’s almost impossible for him to contain his excitement, as the mention of Andrew’s name elicits a full-tooth grin no one can ignore.
The Stevenson matriarch, Stephanie, can’t help but smile as she sees the bond her two middle boys have formed — and how her whole family has grown since Matt’s journey began 16 years ago.
No one, including Stephanie and her husband William, had any inkling about Matt’s diagnosis, let alone the inspiration he’d bring.
“It was a fluke,” Stephanie said. “We had no clue until he was born. They did ultrasounds and never detected anything.”
But shortly after delivering Matt, Stephanie realized something was awry. Nurses whisked him away instead of immediately bringing him to his mother.
Two weeks passed. Doctors told the Stevensons they suspected Down syndrome, but ran further tests to be sure.
With a mother’s intuition, however, Stephanie knew.
“I can remember where I was at the exact moment when [Stephanie] called,” William said. “It was sort of like OK, here it is. Let’s deal with it.”
For the Stevensons, “dealing with it” was simple. Two-year-old Andrew set the example.
“There was absolutely no difference,” Stephanie said. “He treated him like a regular brother.”
When the duo began school, though, the differences came to light. It didn’t change the attitudes, but the realizations started.
As Andrew chased the classic Louisiana boy’s dream of pulling a purple and gold jersey over his head, he knew in the back of his head Matt would never have that chance.
“I have an opportunity that he would never get,” Andrew said. “It makes me grateful and gives me the drive to do what I can to give it everything I got — because I know he can’t.”
Matt followed in his brother’s footsteps in one regard, traveling to Williamsport, Pa., to play with his team of special needs children in the Challenger League — a division of Little League Baseball.
The boys’ father had previously traveled to Williamsport with Andrew when he played on the Lafayette Little League team, but he said his second experience there opened his eyes much wider than the first. The second time, he soaked in Matt’s moment on the diamond instead of wrapping himself up in competition.
“I feel like I’ve succeeded in a way,” William said. “The dream for Andrew to come here is every baseball player’s dream, and now he’s got his biggest supporter here.”
Matt can hardly contain his excitement to get to Alex Box Stadium, with a calendar in his room counting down the days and his purple and gold wardrobe meticulously laid out on the eve of Andrew’s next game. While Andrew’s away at school, Matt enjoys his days in Ms. Price’s class at St. Thomas Moore High School and occasional basketball games when Andrew is back at home.
Lounging in section 213 with his mom, dad and 11-year-old brother Josh, Matt makes sure Andrew knows he’s there, throwing his hand in the air for a high five as Andrew — or “Beezer” as Matt knows him — runs out to the field for him to imitate.
Although he bounces in and out of the starting lineup in an ever-changing outfield landscape, Andrew has kept his situation in perspective, realizing baseball is just a game.
But when Andrew does find his name in the starting lineup, fans won’t have to guess it’s him — they can just listen for Matt’s catchphrase.
“That’s my brother.”