Lester Chadwick.

Baseball Joe in the Central League; or, Making Good as a Professional Pitcher online

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the carriage. One of the wheels was broken.

"Here's a pickle!" cried Joe. "A whole bottle of 'em, for that matter. I
can't get her home that way, and she can't very well walk. I can't carry
her, either. I guess the only thing to do is to get her to the nearest
house, and then go for help - or 'phone, if they have a wire. I'm in for
the day's adventure, I guess, but I can't leave her."

Not that he wanted to, for the more he was in the girl's presence, the
more often he looked into her brown eyes, the more Joe felt that he was
caring very much for Miss Varley.

"Come, Matson!" he chided himself, "don't be an idiot!"

"Well?" she questioned, as he came back to her.

"The carriage is broken," he told her. "Do you think you could walk to
the nearest house?"

"Oh, I'm sure of it," she replied, and now she smiled, showing two rows
of white, even teeth. "I'm feeling ever so much better. But perhaps I am
keeping you," and she hung back.

"Not at all. I'm glad to be able to help you. I suppose I had better tie
your horse."

"Perhaps."

As Joe turned back to the grazing animal there was the sound of a motor
car out in the road. He and the girl turned quickly, the same thought in
both their minds. Then a look of pleased surprise came over Miss
Varley's face.

"Reggie! Reggie!" she called, waving her uninjured hand at a young man
in the car. "Reggie, Prince bolted with me! Come over here!"

The machine was stopped with a screeching of brakes, and the young
fellow leaped out.

"Why, Mabel!" he cried, as he came sprinting across the field. "Are you
hurt? What happened? Dad got anxious about you being gone so long, and I
said I'd look you up in my car. Are you hurt, Mabel?"

Joe made a mental note that of all names he liked best that of
Mabel - especially when the owner had brown eyes.

"Only a sprained wrist, Reggie. This gentleman hit Prince with a stone
and saved me from going over the cliff."

"Oh, he did!"

By this time the youth from the auto was beside Joe and the girl. The
two young men faced each other. Joe gave a gasp of surprise that was
echoed by the other, for the youth confronting our hero was none other
than he who had accused Joe of robbing that odd valise.




CHAPTER VIII

A PARTING


"Why - er - that is - I'm awfully obliged to you, of course, for saving my
sister," spoke the newcomer - his name must be Reggie Varley, Joe rightly
decided. "Very much obliged, old man, and - er - - "

He paused, evidently quite embarrassed.

"You two act as though you had met before," said Miss Varley, with a
smile. "Have you?"

"Once," spoke Joe, drily. "I did not know your brother's name then." He
did not add that he was glad to find that he was Mabel's brother, and
not a more distant relation.

"How strange that you two should have met," went on Mabel Varley.

"Yes," returned Joe, "and it was under rather strange circumstances. It
was while I was on my way down here to join the ball team, and your
brother thought - - "

"Ahem!" exclaimed Reggie, with a meaning look at Joe. "I - er - you'd
better get in here with me, Mabel, and let me get you home. Perhaps
this gentleman - - "

"His name is Joe Matson," spoke the girl, quickly.

"Perhaps Mr. Matson will come home with - us," went on Reggie. Obviously
it was an effort to extend this invitation, but he could do no less
under the circumstances. Joe felt this and said quickly:

"No, thank you, not this time."

"Oh, but I want papa and mamma to meet you!" exclaimed Mabel,
impulsively. "They'll want to thank you. Just think, Reggie, he saved my
life. Prince was headed for the cliff, and he stopped him."

There were tears in her eyes as she gazed at Joe.

"It was awfully good and clever of you, old man," said Reggie, rather
affectedly, yet it was but his way. "I'm sure I appreciate it very much.
And we'd like - my sister and I - we'd like awfully to have you come on
and take lunch with us. I can put the horse up somewhere around here, I
dare say, and we can go on in my car."

"The carriage is broken Reggie," Mabel informed him.

"Too bad. I'll send Jake for it later. Will you come?"

He seemed to wish to ignore, or at least postpone, the matter of the
valise and his accusation. Perhaps he felt how unjust it had been. Joe
realized Reggie's position.

"No, thank you," spoke the young pitcher. "I must be getting back to my
hotel. I was just out for a walk. Some other time, perhaps. If you like,
I'll try and put the horse in some near-by barn for you, and I'll drop
you a card, saying where it is."

"Will you really, old man?" asked Reggie, eagerly. "It will be awfully
decent of you, after - well, I'd appreciate it very much. Then I could
get my sister home, and to a doctor."

"Which I think would be a wise thing to do," remarked Joe. "Her wrist
seems quite badly sprained. I'll attend to the horse. So now I'll say
good-bye."

He turned away. He and Reggie had not shaken hands. In spite of the
service Joe had rendered he could not help feeling that young Varley
harbored some resentment against him.

"And if it's her jewelry that is missing, with his watch, and he tells
her that he suspects me - I wonder how she'll feel afterward?" mused Joe.
"I wonder?"

Mabel held out her uninjured hand, and Joe took it eagerly. The warm,
soft pressure lingered for some little time afterward in his hardened
palm - a palm roughened by baseball play.

"Good-bye," she said, softly. "I can't thank you enough - now. You must
come and get the rest - later."

"I will," he said, eagerly.

"Here is my card - it has our address," spoke Reggie holding out a small,
white square. "I trust you will come - soon."

"I shall try," said Joe, with a peculiar look at his accuser. "And I'll
drop you a card about the horse."

Reggie helped his sister into the auto, and they drove off, Mabel waving
a good-bye to Joe. The latter stood for a minute in the field, looking
at the disappearing auto. Then he murmured, probably to the horse, for
there was no other sign of life in sight:

"Well, you've gone and done it, Matson! You've gone and done it!"

But Joe did not admit, even to himself, what he had gone and done.

Prince seemed tractable enough after his recent escapade, and made no
objection to Joe leading him out to the road. The young pitcher soon
came to a farmhouse, where, when he had explained matters, the man
readily agreed to stable the animal until it should be called for.

And, as Joe Matson trudged back to the hotel he said, more than once to
himself:

"You've gone and done it, old man! You've gone and done it!"

And a little later, as Joe thought of the look on Reggie's face when he
recognized the youth he had accused, our hero chuckled inwardly.

"He didn't know what to do," mused Joe. "I sure had him buffaloed, as
the boys say."

Joe was welcomed by his fellow players on his return to the hotel. It
was nearly meal time, but before going down to the dining room Joe wrote
a short note giving the name of the farmer where he had left the horse.

"Let's see now," mused our hero. "To whom shall I send it - to
him - or - her."

When he dropped the letter in the mail box the envelope bore the
superscription - "Miss Mabel Varley."

Practice was resumed Monday morning, and Joe could note that there was a
tightening up all along the line. The orders from the manager and his
assistant came sharper and quicker.

"I want you boys to get right on edge!" exclaimed Gregory. "We'll play
our opening game in Pittston in two weeks now. We'll cross bats with
Clevefield, last season's pennant winners, and we want to down them. I'm
getting tired of being in the ruck. I want to be on top of the heap."

Joe, from his study of the baseball "dope," knew that Pittston had not
made a very creditable showing the last season.

The practice was sharp and snappy, and there was a general improvement
all along the line. Joe was given several try-outs in the next few days,
and while he received no extravagant praise he knew that his work
pleased. Jake Collin still held his enmity against Joe, and perhaps it
was but natural.

Wet grounds, a day or so later, prevented practice, and Joe took
advantage of it to call on the girl he had rescued. He found her home,
her wrist still bandaged, and she welcomed him warmly, introducing him
to her mother. Joe was made to feel quite at home, and he realized that
Reggie had said nothing about the articles missing from the valise - or,
at least, had not mentioned the accusation against Joe.

"Will you tell me how, and when, you met my brother?" asked Mabel, after
some general talk.

"Hasn't he told you?" inquired Joe, with a twinkle in his eyes.

"No, he keeps putting it off."

"Then perhaps I'd better not tell," said Joe.

"Oh, Mr. Matson, I think you're horrid! Is there some reason I shouldn't
know?"

"Not as far as I am concerned. But I'd rather your brother would tell."

"Then I'm going to make him when he comes home."

Joe was rather glad Reggie was not there then. For, in spite of
everything, Joe knew there would be a feeling of embarrassment on both
sides.

"I have come to say good-bye," he said to the girl. "We leave for the
North, soon, and the rest of the season will be filled with traveling
about."

"I'm sorry you're going," she said, frankly.

"Are you?" he asked, softly. "Perhaps you will allow me to write to
you."

"I'd be glad to have you," she replied, warmly, and she gave him a quick
glance. "Perhaps I may see you play sometime; I love baseball!"

"I'm very glad," returned Joe, and, after a while - rather a long while,
to speak the truth - he said good-bye.




CHAPTER IX

THE FIRST LEAGUE GAME


"All aboard!"

"Good-bye, everybody!"

"See you next Spring!"

"Good-bye!"

These were some of the calls heard at the Montville station as the
Pittston ball team left their training grounds for the trip to their
home city, where the league season would start. Joe had been South about
three weeks, and had made a few friends there. These waved a farewell to
him, as others did to other players, as the train pulled out.

Joe was not sure, but he thought he saw, amid the throng, the face of a
certain girl. At any rate a white handkerchief was waved directly at
him.

"Ah, ha! Something doing!" joked Charlie Hall, with whom Joe had struck
up quite a friendship. "Who's the fair one, Joe?"

"I didn't see her face," was the evasive answer.

"Oh, come now! That's too thin! She's evidently taken a liking to you."

"I hope she has!" exclaimed the young pitcher, and then blushed at his
boldness. As the train pulled past the station he had a full view of the
girl waving at him. She was Mabel Varley. Charlie saw her also.

"My word!" he cried. "I congratulate you, old man!" and he clapped Joe
on the shoulder.

"Cut it out!" came the retort, as Joe turned his reddened face in the
direction of the girl. And he waved back, while some of the other
players laughed.

"Better be looking for someone to sign in Matson's place soon, Mack,"
remarked John Holme, the third baseman, with a chuckle. "He's going to
trot in double harness if I know any of the symptoms."

"All right," laughed the assistant manager. "I'll have to begin scouting
again, I suppose. Too bad, just as Joe is going to make good."

"Oh, don't worry," advised our hero coolly. "I'm going to play."

The trip up was much more enjoyable than Joe had found the one down,
when he came alone. He was beginning to know and like nearly all of
his team-mates - that is, all save Collin, and it was due only to the
latter's surly disposition that Joe could not be friendly with him.

"Think you'll stay in this business long?" asked Charlie of Joe as he
sank into the seat beside him.

"Well, I expect to make it my business - if I can make good."

"I think you will."

"But I don't intend to stay in this small league forever," went on Joe.
"I'd like to get in a major one."

"That isn't as easy as it seems," said the other college lad. "You know
you're sort of tied hand and foot once you sign with a professional
team."

"How's that?"

"Why, there is a sort of national agreement, you know. No team in any
league will take a player from another team unless the manager of
that team gives the player his release. That is, you can quit playing
ball, of course; but, for the life of you, you can't get in any other
professional team until you are allowed to by the man with whom you
signed first."

"Well, of course, I've read about players being given their release, and
being sold or traded from one team to another," spoke Joe, "but I didn't
think it was as close as that."

"It is close," said Hall, "a regular 'trust.' Modern professional
baseball is really a trust. There's a gentleman's agreement in regard to
players that's never broken. I'm sorry, in a way, that I didn't stay an
amateur. I, also, want to get into a big league, but the worst of it is
that if you show up well in a small league, and prove a drawing card,
the manager won't release you. And until he does no other manager would
hire you. Though, of course, the double A leagues can draft anyone they
like."

Joe whistled softly.

"Then it isn't going to be so easy to get into another league as I
thought," he said.

"Not unless something happens," replied his team-mate. "Of course, if
another manager wanted you badly enough he would pay the price, and
buy you from this club. High prices have been paid, too. There's
Marquard - the Giants gave ten thousand dollars to have him play for
them."

"Yes, I heard about that," spoke Joe, "but I supposed it was mostly
talk."

"There's a good deal more than talk," asserted Charlie. "Though it's a
great advertisement for a man. Think of being worth ten thousand dollars
more than your salary!"

"And he didn't get the ten," commented Joe.

"No. That's the worst of it. We're the slaves of baseball, in a way."

"Oh, well, I don't mind being that kind of a slave," said Joe,
laughingly.

He lay back in his seat as the train whirled on, and before him, as he
closed his eyes, he could see a girl's face - the face of Mabel Varley.

"I wonder if her brother told her?" mused the young pitcher. "If he did
she may think just as he did - that I had a hand in looting that valise.
Oh, pshaw! I'm not going to think about it. And yet I wish the mystery
was cleared up - I sure do!"

The training had done all the players good. They were right "on edge"
and eager to get into the fray. Not a little horse-play was indulged in
on the way North. The team had a car to itself, and so felt more freedom
than otherwise would have been the case.

Terry Blake, the little "mascot" of the nine, was a great favorite, and
he and Joe soon became fast friends.

Terry liked to play tricks on the men who made so much of him, and late
that first afternoon he stole up behind Jake Collin, who had fallen
asleep, and tickled his face with a bit of paper. At first the pitcher
seemed to think it was a troublesome fly, and his half-awake endeavors
to get rid of it amused Terry and some others who were watching.

Then, as the tickling was persisted in, Collin awoke with a start.
He had the name of waking up cross and ugly, and this time was no
exception. As he started up he caught sight of the little mascot, and
understood what had been going on.

"You brat!" he cried, leaping out into the aisle. Terry fled, with
frightened face, and Collin ran after him. "I'll punch you for that!"
cried the pitcher.

"Oh, can't you take a joke?" someone asked him, but Collin paid no heed.
He raced after poor little Terry, who had meant no harm, and the mascot
might have come to grief had not Joe stepped out into the aisle of the
car and confronted Collin.

"Let me past! Let me get at him!" stormed the man.

"No, not now," was Joe's quiet answer.

"Out of my way, you whipper-snapper, or I'll - - "

He drew back his arm, his fist clenched, but Joe never quailed. He
looked Collin straight in the eyes, and the man's arm went down. Joe was
smaller than he, but the young pitcher was no weakling.

"That'll do, Collin," said Jimmie Mack, quietly. "The boy only meant it
for a joke."

Collin did not answer. But as he turned aside to go back to his seat he
gave Joe a black look. There was an under-current of unpleasant feeling
over the incident during the remainder of the trip.

Little Terry stole up to Joe, when the players came back from the
dining-car, and, slipped his small hand into that of the pitcher.

"I - I like you," he said, softly.

"Do you?" asked Joe with smile. "I'm glad of that, Terry."

"And I'll always see that you have the bat you want when you want it,"
went on the little mascot. Poor little chap, he was an orphan, and Gus
Harrison, the big centre fielder, had practically adopted him. Then he
was made the official mascot, and while perhaps the constant association
with the ball players was not altogether good for the small lad, still
he might have been worse off.

Pittston was reached in due season, no happenings worth chronicling
taking place on the way. Joe was eager to see what sort of a ball field
the team owned, and he was not disappointed when, early the morning
after his arrival, he and the others went out to it for practice.

It was far from being the New York Polo Grounds, nor was the field equal
to the one at Yale, but Joe had learned to take matters as they came,
and he never forgot that he was only with a minor league.

"Time enough to look for grounds laid out with a rule and compass when I
get into a major league," he told himself. "That is, if I can get my
release."

Joe found some letters from home awaiting him at the hotel where the
team had its official home. But, before he answered them he wrote to
Mabel. I wonder if we ought to blame him?

The more Joe saw of his team-mates the more he liked them - save Collin,
and that was no fault of the young pitcher. He found Pittston a pleasant
place, and the citizens ardent "fans." They thought their team was about
as good as any in that section, and, though it had not captured the
pennant, there were hopes that it would come to Pittston that season.

"They're good rooters!" exclaimed Jimmie Mack. "I will say that for this
Pittston bunch. They may not be such a muchness otherwise, but they're
good rooters, and it's a pleasure to play ball here. They warm you up,
and make you do your best."

Joe was glad to hear this.

The new grounds were a little strange to him, at first, but he soon
became used to them after one or two days' practice. Nearly all the
other players, of course, were more at home.

"And now, boys," said Manager Gregory, when practice had closed one day.
"I want you to do your prettiest to-morrow. I've got a good team - I know
it. Some of you are new to me, but I've heard about you, and I'm banking
on your making good. I want you to wallop Clevefield to-morrow. I want
every man to do his best, and don't want any hard feelings if I play one
man instead of another. I have reasons for it. Now that's my last word
to you. I want you to win."

There was a little nervous feeling among the players as the time for the
first league game drew near. A number of the men had been bought from
other clubs. There was one former Clevefield player on the Pittston
team, and also one from the pennant club of a previous year.

That night Joe spent some time studying the batting averages of the
opposing team, and also he read as much of their history as he could get
hold of. He wanted to know the characteristics of the various batters if
he should be fortunate enough to face them from the pitching mound.

There was the blare of a band, roars of cheers, and much excitement. The
official opening of the league season was always an event in Pittston,
as it is in most large cities. The team left their hotel in a body,
going to the grounds in a large 'bus, which was decorated with flags. A
mounted police escort had been provided, and a large throng, mostly
boys, marched to the grounds, accompanying the players.

There another demonstration took place as the home team paraded over the
diamond, and greeted their opponents, who were already on hand, an
ovation having also been accorded to them.

The band played again, there were more cheers and encouraging calls, and
then the Mayor of the city stepped forward to throw the first ball.
Clevefield was to bat first, the home team, in league games, always
coming up last.

The initial ball, of course, was only a matter of form, and the batter
only pretended to strike at it.

Then came the announcement all were waiting for; the naming of the
Pittston battery.

"For Clevefield," announced the umpire, "McGuinness and Sullivan. For
Pittston, Matson and Nelson."

Joe had been picked to open the battle, and Nelson, who was the regular
catcher, except when Gregory took a hand, would back him up. Joe's ears
rang as he walked to the mound.

"Play ball!" droned the umpire.




CHAPTER X

BITTERNESS


Joe glanced over to where Gregory sat on the bench, from which he would
engineer this first game of the season. The manager caught the eye of
the young pitcher, and something in Joe's manner must have told the
veteran that his latest recruit was nervous. He signalled to Joe to try
a few practice balls, and our hero nodded comprehensively.

The batter stepped back from the plate, and Joe thought he detected a
smile of derision at his own newness, and perhaps rawness.

"But I'll show him!" whispered Joe fiercely to himself, as he clinched
his teeth and stung in the ball. It landed in the mitt of the catcher
with a resounding thud.

"That's the boy!" called Gregory to him. "You'll do, old man. Sting in
another."

Joe threw with all his force, but there was a sickening fear in his
heart that he was not keeping good control over the ball. Nelson
signalled to him to hold his curves in a little more, and Joe nodded to
show he understood.

"Play ball!" drawled the umpire again, and the batter took his place at
the plate.

Joe looked at the man, and reviewing the baseball "dope" he recalled
that the player batted well over .300, and was regarded as the despair
of many pitchers.

"If I could only strike him out!" thought Joe.

His first ball went a little wild. He realized that it was going to be a
poor one as soon as it left his hand, but he could not for the life of
him recover in time.

"Ball one!" yelled the umpire.

"That's the way!"

"Make him give you what you want!"

"Wait for a pretty one!"

"That's their ten thousand dollar college pitcher! Back to the bench for
his!"

These were only a few of the remarks, sarcastic and otherwise, that
greeted Joe's first performance. He felt the hot blood rush to his face,
and then, as he stepped forward to receive the ball which the catcher
tossed back to him, he tried to master his feelings. The catcher shook
his head in a certain way, to signal to Joe to be on his guard. Joe
looked over at Gregory, who did not glance at him.

"I'll do better this time!" whispered Joe, fiercely.

He deliberated a moment before hurling in the next ball.

"Here goes a home run! Clout it over the fence, Pike!" called an
enthusiastic "fan" in a shrill voice and the crowd laughed.

"Not if I know it!" muttered Joe.

The ball clipped the corner of the plate cleanly, and the batter, who
had made a half motion to hit at it, refrained.

"Strike one!" yelled the umpire, throwing up his arm.

"That's the way, Matson!"

"Two more like that and he's a dead one!"

Joe caught the signal for a drop, but shook his head. He was going to
try another out. Again his catcher signalled for a drop, but Joe was,
perhaps, a trifle obstinate. He felt that he had been successful once
with an out, and he was going to do it again. The catcher finally nodded
in agreement, though reluctantly.

Joe shot in a fast one, and he knew that he had the ball under perfect
control. Perhaps he was as disappointed as any of the home players when
there came a resounding crack, and the white sphere sailed aloft, and
well out over centre field.

"That's the way, Pike! Two bags anyhow!"

But the redoubtable Pike was to have no such good fortune, for the
centre fielder, after a heart-breaking run, got under the fly and caught
it, winning much applause from the crowd for his plucky effort.

"One down!" called Gregory, cheerfully. "Only two more, Joe."

Joe wished that he had struck out his man, but it was some consolation
to know that he was being supported by good fielding.

The next man up had a ball and a strike called on him, and Joe was a bit
puzzled as to just what to offer. He decided on a swift in, and thought


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