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The big lessons Andrew Stevenson learned from his little brother

Andrew Stevenson, a middle child in his family, shares a close bond with his younger brother Matt. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

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Some 23 years ago, at a hospital in Lafayette, La., Stephanie and William Stevenson made a promise to themselves, their family and their infant son: Matthew, born days earlier with Down syndrome, would be treated like everyone else.

Matt had two brothers waiting for him at home. Will, the oldest, was 6. Andrew, now the middle child, was 3. In time, as they grew under the same roof, their parents explained the situation to Andrew: Matt may walk a few steps slower than you. It may take him a bit longer to read or wash his hands at the sink. But never, ever assume he can’t do something if offered a bit of patience.

That last part stuck with Andrew. It still does.

“He actually pushed Matthew to do things, and then Matthew would push him, too,” Stephanie recalled in February. “I think in a lot of ways they wanted to be like each other.”

When Andrew played peewee soccer, so did Matt. When Andrew started Little League baseball, Matt joined his own team. When Andrew went to St. Thomas More Catholic High, becoming a star in football and baseball, Matt was again set on following. It didn’t matter that St. Thomas More didn’t have classes for him. The boys’ grandfather caught wind, linked up with other parents and donated for a program that could serve a teenager with Down syndrome. Andrew kept shining in the outfield. Matt was later named prom king.

And once Andrew went to college, logging three years at LSU, Matt had the same goal. Stephanie and William were nervous. They tried to temper Matt’s expectations. But this spring, he will graduate from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Andrew, meanwhile, will keep trying to stick with the Washington Nationals.

“It makes those days when you go 0 for 4, um …” Andrew, 26, trailed off on a call in early February. He sniffed back one tear, then another, then couldn’t hold them in. He apologized for no good reason. He was surprised that the question — of what Matt has meant during his climb through the minors, his scattered chances in Washington, the long bus rides or when he has felt a sprint away from his dream — broke him up like this.

“Man, I didn’t think I’d cry,” he said with a laugh. “He just means so much to me. Those days when you go 0 for 4, when you’re down, you forget about it and realize what’s important in life. He’s there to give you a hug. That’s what he’s taught me.”

‘How many 12-year-olds would do that?’

Stephanie and William weren’t sure whether they had heard Andrew correctly. But Andrew, then in seventh grade, did take a breath from his dinner to say, yes, “I’ll switch schools and look after Matt.”

Andrew was already playing football, basketball, baseball and soccer at his school. He was excelling in the classroom. He had a lot of friends. But a few mean kids were bullying Matt on the bus, and Andrew wouldn’t have it. That’s why he volunteered to change midyear, just when Stephanie and William were low on solutions. And they were shocked.

“How many 12-year-olds would do that?” William asked. “He not only suggested it, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer. That’s their relationship in a nutshell.”

It didn’t stop there. Andrew and Will, the oldest, helped Matt learn to walk. One brother held Matt’s arms, the other backpedaled in front to keep him from falling, and Matt was soon stomping around their Lafayette home. When Josh was born, rounding out the family, they would have a group to play H-O-R-S-E or two-on-two basketball in the driveway.

The biggest mistake they could make was letting Matt get open from the free throw line. Andrew says he always sinks that shot.

“Put him in his spot, man, he’s 70, 80 percent. He can knock them down,” Andrew said. “And when we play normal games, if he’s losing, his defense gets more aggressive. He tries to ‘D’ you up since he doesn’t like to lose. None of us do.”

‘There’s a lesson for me there’

Matt’s role in Andrew’s career is both obvious and subtle. They FaceTime throughout each season. At LSU, Matt was a Dance Cam regular and often joined the pregame huddle. After Andrew was drafted in 2015 and the Tigers invited him back to throw the first pitch, he accepted on one condition: They would need to have two baseballs. Matt was coming, too.

But what has lasted is a patience that has defined Andrew. Nationals Manager Dave Martinez has referred to him as “3-2” because he works so many deep counts. Scott Barber, Andrew’s longtime agent with the Ballengee Group, said Andrew has never called for a late-night venting session. He could be promoted one day, demoted the next and remain even-keeled. Then it happens again, and he won’t change.

That’s partly why, after surging in September, Andrew could very well make the Opening Day roster as a fourth outfielder. He is the baseball cliche of same guy in every situation. When asked why he’s like that, even when the minors can beat you down, Andrew told a story from this winter.

He and his wife, Michelle, visited Matt at his internship with the university bookstore. Matt was placing tassels in the graduation boxes, and everything was perfectly laid out. It reminded Andrew of Matt’s neat handwriting, of how he meticulously makes his bed, of how Matt has accomplished all that he has — one win, then another — while moving at his pace.

“We sometimes get too caught up in: How fast can we get this done?” said Andrew, who has now spent three years fighting to stay in the majors. “That might not suit how Matt does things, but he’s going to do it right and have fun in the process. There’s a lesson for me there.”