In The Middle, fall is a time for corn mazes, football booster clubs and, of course, the Birchwood Avenue block party. The biggest event of the block party is always the Birchwood 500, a three-lap race around the block on a riding mower. You’ve probably seen highlights on ESPN. But the block party is still a week away. And a lot can happen in a week when it comes to Frankie Heck and family.
The school counselor is concerned because Brick has a hard time making friends. Mike thinks sports would be a good way to help his boy socialize and Brick says he likes basketball. Time to hit the hardwood. Brick is a natural on the basketball court. A natural disaster. He doesn’t dribble. He doesn’t shoot. He doesn’t pass. What Brick does do is take a seat in the stands (during the game) to ask Mike if he can take him to a book signing.
Mike hastily promises to take Brick to the book-signing as long as he gets back to the game. When Mike orders Brick to take his hands out of his pockets, he sees that his son is clutching ketchup packets. They’re his security condiments. They soothe him. Brick later tells his dad that he said he likes basketball because he likes all words with three syllables, like pineapple...hypnotize...lacerate... Well, you get the idea.
Mike decides to work on something he understands: the lawn mower. He has to get it ready for the Birchwood 500, as he has a bet with a neighbor. The loser has to mow the winner’s lawn for an entire year. Sadly, Mike doesn’t understand the lawn mower any more than he understands his youngest son. But when Brick rattles off the instruction manual, Mike is more than a little impressed by Brick’s photographic memory.
School tennis tryouts are next week and Sue is very excited. She’s a longshot to make the team, but our girl Sue has a solid shot at becoming a ball girl. She practices around the house by swooping in whenever an orange accidentally rolls out of the refrigerator. It happens more often than you’d think.
At a booster function, the football team is honoring the moms who helped raise the funds to get them new uniforms. As a token of gratitude, each player gives his old jersey to his mom. Except for Axl. He gives his jersey to a hot cheerleader. Frankie is crushed by her son’s insensitivity, but promises silently not to cry until she gets to the car.
Back home, Frankie discovers that Sue didn’t get the ball girl gig and the hot cheerleader isn’t into Axl. Frankie is bummed by Sue’s news but happy to hear she might be getting Axl’s old jersey after all. But he still can’t see how much it would mean to her.
The day of the block party arrives. Frankie is upset when she sees some other moms wearing those old football jerseys. She sees the hot cheerleader who dissed Axl and tells her she wants that jersey. But the cheerleader says Axl already took it back because he wanted to give it to someone else. There’s still hope!
Axl tells his mom that he already gave it to another girl. Frankie is livid until she finds out that the girl he gave it to was Sue. He felt bad that she didn’t make ball girl. This makes Frankie so happy. Her oldest son really is a sweet kid who’s merely hiding in the shell of a hideous teenager.
Mike regales the neighbors with the story of how Brick helped him repair the lawn mower. Brick impresses everyone by quoting the instructions word for word whenever anyone yells out a page number. In the final laps of the Birchwood 500, Mike leads all other lawn mower riders until Brick steps into the middle of the street to remind him that it’s time to go to that book signing.
Mike doesn’t want to lose the race. Brick dejectedly walks over to the curb and Mike catches him pulling out a handful of comfort condiments. With that, Mike pops the mower in reverse and plops Brick on his lap. Father and son head off to the bookstore in style, taking a shortcut across their neighbor’s from lawn. After all, Mike’s going to have to mow it now anyway.