Lester Chadwick.

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

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it was going to make good, but the batter was a crafty veteran, and
managed to connect with the ball. He sent a swift liner which the
shortstop gathered in, however, and there was another added to the list
of outs.

"One more and that'll be about all!" called the Pittston catcher. Joe
threw the ball over to first for a little practice, while the next
batter was picking out his stick, and then came another try.

"I've got to strike him out!" decided the young pitcher. "I've got to
make good!"

His heart was fluttering, and his nerves were not as calm as they
ought to have been. He stooped over and made a pretence of tying his
shoe-lace. When he straightened up he had, in a measure, gained a
mastery of himself. He felt cool and collected.

In went the ball with certain aim, and Joe knew that it was just what he
had intended it should be.

"Strike!" called the umpire, though the batter had not moved. There was
some laughter from the grandstand, and the batter tapped the plate
nervously. Joe smiled.

"Good work!" called Gregory from the bench.

Again the ball went sailing in, but this time Joe's luck played him a
shabby trick, or perhaps the umpire was not watching closely. Certainly
Joe thought it a strike, but "ball" was called. Joe sent in the next one
so quickly that the batter was scarcely prepared for it. But it was
perfectly legitimate and the umpire howled:

"Strike two!"

"That's the boy!"

"Good work!"

"Another like that now, Joe!"

Thus cried the throng. Gregory looked pleased.

"I guess Mack didn't make any mistake picking him up," he said.

The batter knocked a little foul next, that the catcher tried in vain to
get. And then, when he faced Joe again, our hero sent in such a puzzling
drop that the man was deceived and struck out.

"That's the boy!"

"What do you think of our ten thousand dollar college pitcher now?"

"Come on, Clevefield! He's got some more just like that!"

The home team and its supporters were jubilant, and Joe felt a sense of
elation as he walked in to the bench.

"Now see what my opponent can do," he murmured.

McGuinness was an old time pitcher, nothing very remarkable, but one any
small club would be glad to get. He had the "number" of most of the
Pittston players, and served them balls and strikes in such order that
though two little pop flies were knocked no one made a run. The result
of the first inning was a zero for each team.

"Now Joe, be a little more careful, and I think you can get three good
ones," said Gregory, as his team again took the field.

"I'll try," replied Joe, earnestly.

He got two men, but not the third, who knocked a clean two-bagger, amid
enthusiastic howls from admiring "fans."

This two-base hit seemed to spell Joe's undoing, for the next man
duplicated and the first run was scored. There were two out, and it
looked as though Clevefield had struck a winning streak, for the next
man knocked what looked to be good for single. But Bob Newton, the right
fielder, caught it, and the side was retired with one run.

Pittston tried hard to score, but the crafty pitcher, aided by effective
fielding, shut them out, and another zero was their portion on the score
board.

"Joe, we've got to get 'em!" exclaimed Gregory, earnestly.

"I'll try!" was the sturdy answer.

It was heart-breaking, though, when the first man up singled, and then
came a hit and run play. Joe was not the only player on the Pittston
team who rather lost his head that inning. For, though Joe was hit
badly, others made errors, and the net result was that Clevefield had
four runs to add to the one, while Pittston had none.

They managed, however, to get two in the following inning, more by good
luck than good management, and the game began to look, as Jimmie Mack
said, as though the other team had it in the "refrigerator."

How it happened Joe never knew, but he seemed to go to pieces. Probably
it was all a case of nerves, and the realization that this game meant
more to him than any college contest.

However that may be, the result was that Joe was effectively hit the
next inning, and when it was over, and three more runs had come in,
Gregory said sharply:

"Collin, you'll pitch now!"

It meant that Joe had been "knocked out of the box."

"We've got to get this game!" explained the manager, not unkindly. But
Joe felt, with bitterness in his heart, that he had failed.




CHAPTER XI

OLD POP CONSOLES


Collin flashed a look of mingled scorn and triumph on Joe as he walked
past him. It needed only this to make our hero feel that he had stood
about all he could, and he turned away, and tried to get rid of a lump
in his throat.

None of the other players seemed to notice him. Probably it was an old
story to them. Competition was too fierce - it was a matter of making a
living on their part - every man was for himself, in a certain sense.
They had seen young players come and old players go. It was only a
question of time when they themselves would go - go never to come back
into baseball again. They might eke out a livelihood as a scout or as a
ground-keeper in some big league. It was a fight for the survival of the
fittest, and Joe's seeming failure brought no apparent sympathy.

Understand me, I am not speaking against organized baseball. It is a
grand thing, and one of the cleanest sports in the world. But what I am
trying to point out is that it is a business, and from a business
standpoint everyone in it must do his best for himself. Each man, in a
sense, is concerned only with his own success. Nor do I mean that this
precludes a love of the club, and good team work. Far from it.

Nor were Joe's feelings made any the less poignant by the fact that
Collin did some wonderful pitching. He needed to in order to pull the
home team out of the hole into which it had slipped - and not altogether
through Joe's weakness, either.

Perhaps the other players braced up when they saw the veteran Collin in
the box. Perhaps he even pitched better than usual because he had, in a
sense, been humiliated by Joe's preference over himself. At any rate,
whatever the reason, the answer was found in the fact that Pittston
began to wake up.

Collin held the other team hitless for one inning, and the rest of the
game, ordinary in a sense, saw Pittston march on to victory - a small
enough victory - by a margin of two runs, but that was enough. For
victory had come out of almost sure defeat.

Poor Joe sat on the bench and brooded. For a time no one seemed to take
any notice of him, and then Gregory, good general that he was, turned to
the new recruit and said:

"You mustn't mind a little thing like that, Joe. I have to do the best
as I see it. This is business, you know. Why, I'd have pulled Collin
out, or Tooley, just as quick."

"I know it," returned Joe, thickly.

But the knowledge did not add to his comfort, though he tried to make it
do so.

But I am getting a little ahead of my story.

The game was almost over, and it was practically won by Pittston, when a
voice spoke back of where Joe sat on the players' bench. It was a husky,
uncertain, hesitating sort of voice and it said, in the ear of the young
pitcher:

"Never mind, my lad. Ten years from now, when you're in a big league,
you'll forget all about this. It'll do you good, anyhow, for it'll
make you work harder, and hard work makes a good ball player out of a
middle-class one. Brace up. I know what I'm talking about!"

Joe hesitated a moment before turning. Somehow he had a vague feeling
that he had heard that voice before, and under strange circumstances. He
wanted to see if he could place it before looking at the speaker.

But it was baffling, and Joe turned quickly. He started as he saw
standing behind him, attired rather more neatly than when last he had
confronted our hero - the tramp whom he had saved from the freight train.

On his part the other looked sharply at Joe for a moment. Over his face
passed shadows of memory, and then the light came. He recognized Joe,
and with a note of gladness in his husky voice - husky from much shouting
on the ball field, and from a reckless life - he exclaimed:

"Why it's the boy! It's the boy who pulled me off the track! It's the
boy!"

"Of course!" exclaimed Joe. Impulsively he held out his hand.

A shout arose as one of the Pittston players brought in the winning run,
but Joe paid no heed. He was staring at old Pop Dutton.

The other player - the "has-been" - looked at Joe's extended hand a moment
as if in doubt. Then he glanced over the field, and listened to the glad
cries. He seemed to straighten up, and his nostrils widened as he
sniffed in the odors of the crushed green grass. It was as though a
broken-down horse had heard from afar the battle-riot in which he never
again would take part.

Back came the blood-shot eyes to Joe's still extended hand.

"Do you - do you mean it?" faltered the old ball player.

"Mean it? Mean what?" asked Joe, in surprise.

"Are you going to shake hands with me - with a - - "

He did not finish his obvious sentence.

"Why not?" asked Joe.

The other did not need to answer, for at that moment Gregory came up. He
started at the sight of Dutton, and said sharply:

"How did you get in here? What are you doing here. Didn't I tell you to
keep away?"

"I paid my way in - _Mister_ Gregory!" was the sarcastic answer. "I still
have the price."

"Well, we don't care for your money. What are you doing here? The
bleachers for yours!"

"He came - I think he came to see me," spoke Joe, softly, and he reached
for the other's reluctant hand. "I have met him before."

"Oh," said Gregory, and there was a queer note in his voice. "I guess
we've all met him before, and none of us are the better for it. You
probably don't know him as well as the rest of us, Joe."

"He - he saved my life," faltered the unfortunate old ball player.

"In a way that was a pity," returned Gregory, coolly - cuttingly, Joe
thought, "for you're no good to yourself, Dutton, nor to anyone else, as
near as I can make out. I told you I didn't want you hanging around my
grounds, and I don't. Now be off! If I find you here again I'll hand you
over to the police!"

Joe expected an outburst from Dutton, but the man's spirit was evidently
broken. For an instant - just for an instant - he straightened up and
looked full at Gregory. Then he seemed to shrink in his clothes and
turned to shuffle away.

"All - all right," he mumbled. "I'll keep away. But you've got one fine
little pitcher in that boy, and I didn't want to see him lose his nerve
and get discouraged - as I often did. That - that's why I spoke to him."

Poor Joe felt that he had rather made a mess of it in speaking to
Dutton, but, he said afterward, he would have done the same thing over
again.

"You needn't worry about Matson," said the manager, with a sneer.
"I'll look after Joe - I'll see that he doesn't lose his nerve - or get
discouraged."

"I - I hope you do," said the old player, and then, with uncertain gait,
he walked off as the victorious Pittston players swarmed in. The game
was over.




CHAPTER XII

THE QUEER VALISE


"Matson, I hope you didn't misunderstand me," remarked the manager as he
walked beside Joe to the dressing rooms. "I mean in regard to that
Dutton. He's an intolerable nuisance, and I didn't want you to get mixed
up with him. Perhaps I spoke stronger than I should, but I'm exasperated
with him. I've tried - and so have lots of us - to get him back on the
right road again, but I'm afraid he's hopeless."

"It's too bad!" burst out the young pitcher. "Yes, I thought you were a
little severe with him."

"I have to be. I don't want him hanging around here. I haven't seen him
for some time. He drifts all about - beating his way like a tramp, I
guess, though he's better dressed now than in a long while. What's that
he said about you saving his life?"

"Well, I suppose I did, in a way," and Joe told of the freight train
episode. "But that happened a long distance from here," he added. "I was
surprised to turn around and see him."

"Oh, Pop travels all over. You've probably heard about him. In his day
there wasn't a better pitcher in any league. But he got careless - that,
bad companions and dissipation spelled ruin for him. He's down and out
now, and I'm sure he can never come back. He lives off what he can
borrow or beg from those who used to be his friends. Steer clear of
him - that's my advice."

Joe did not respond and after a moment Gregory went on with:

"And you mustn't mind, Joe, being taken out of to-day's game."

"Oh, I didn't - after the first."

"It was for your own good, as well as for the good of the team,"
proceeded the manager. "If I hadn't taken you out you might have gone to
pieces, and the crowd would have said mean things that are hard to
forget. And I want you to pitch for us to-morrow, Joe."

"You do!" cried the delighted young pitcher, all his bitterness forgotten
now. "I thought maybe - - "

He paused in confusion.

"Just because you got a little off to-day, did you imagine I was willing
to give you your release?" asked Gregory, with a smile.

"Well - something like that," confessed Joe.

The manager laughed.

"Don't take it so seriously," he advised. "You've got lots to learn yet
about professional baseball, and I want you to learn it right."

Joe felt a sense of gratitude, and when he reached the hotel that
afternoon, he took a refreshing shower bath, attired himself in his
"glad rags," and bought a ticket to the theatre.

Then, before supper, he sat down to write home, enclosing some of his
salary to be put in a savings bank at Riverside. Joe also wrote a
glowing account of the game, even though his part in it was rather
negligible. He also wrote to - But there! I shouldn't tell secrets that
way. It's taking too much of an advantage over a fellow.

There was an air of elation about the hotel where the players lived, and
on all sides were heard congratulations. The evening papers had big
headlines with the victory of the home team displayed prominently.
Collin's picture was there, and how much Joe wished that his own was so
displayed only he himself knew.

Clevefield played four games with Pittston, and they broke even - each
side winning two. Joe was given another chance to pitch, and was mainly
responsible for winning the second game for his team.

Joe was fast becoming accustomed to his new life. Of course there was
always something different coming up - some new problem to be met. But he
got in the way of solving them. It was different from his life at
boarding school, and different from his terms at Yale. He missed the
pleasant, youthful comradeship of both places, but he found, as he grew
to know them better, some sterling men in his own team, and in those of
the opposing clubs.

But with all that, at times, Joe felt rather lonesome. Of course the
days were busy ones, either at practice or in play. But his nights were
his own, and often he had no one with whom he cared to go out.

He and Charlie Hall grew more and more friendly, but it was not a
companionship of long enough standing to make it the kind Joe really
cared for.

He had much pleasure in writing home, and to Mabel, who in turn, sent
interesting letters of her life in the South. One letter in particular
made Joe rather eager.

"My brother and I are coming North on a combined business and pleasure
trip," she wrote, "and we may see your team play. We expect to be in
Newkirk on the twentieth."

Joe dropped everything to look eagerly at the official schedule.

"Well, of all the luck!" he cried. "We play in Newkirk that date. I
wonder if she knew it? I wonder - - ?"

Then for days Joe almost prayed that there would be no rainy days - no
upsetting of the schedule that would necessitate double-headers, or
anything that would interfere with playing at Newkirk on the date
mentioned. That city, as he found by looking at a map, was on a direct
railroad line from Goldsboro.

"I hope nothing slips up!" murmured the young pitcher. From then on he
lived in a sort of rosy glow.

The ball season of the Central League was well under way now. A number
of games had been played, necessitating travel from one city to another.
Some of the journeys Joe liked, and some were tiresome. He met all sorts
and conditions of men and was growing to be able to take things as he
found them.

Joe worked hard, and he took a defeat more to heart than did any of the
others. It seemed to be all in the day's work with them. With Joe it was
a little more. Not that any of the players were careless, though. They
were more sophisticated, rather.

The third week of the season, then, found Pittston third in line for
pennant honors, and when the loss of a contest to Buffington had set them
at the end of the first division there were some rather glum-looking
faces seen in the hotel corridor.

"Boys, we've got to take a brace!" exclaimed Gregory, and the manner in
which he said it told his men that he meant it. Joe went to bed that
night wildly resolving to do all sorts of impossible things, so it is no
wonder he dreamed that he pitched a no-hit no-run game, and was carried
in triumph around the diamond on the shoulders of his enthusiastic
comrades.

I shall not weary you with an account of the ordinary games. Just
so many had to be played in a certain order to fulfill the league
conditions. Some of the contests were brilliant affairs, and others
dragged themselves out wearily.

Joe had his share in the good and bad, but, through it all, he was
gradually acquiring a good working knowledge of professional baseball.
He was getting better control of his curves, and he was getting up speed
so that it was noticeable.

"I'll have to get Nelson a mitt with a deeper pit in it if you keep on,"
said Gregory with a laugh, after one exciting contest when Joe had
fairly "pitched his head off," and the game had been won for Pittston by
a narrow margin.

Gradually Joe's team crept up until it was second, with Clevefield still
at the head.

"And our next game is with Newkirk!" exulted Joe one morning as they
took the train for that place. They were strictly on schedule, and Joe
was eager, for more reasons than one, to reach the city where he hoped a
certain girl might be.

"If we win, and Clevefield loses to-morrow," spoke Charlie Hall, as he
dropped into a seat beside Joe, "we'll be on top of the heap."

"Yes - if!" exclaimed the young pitcher. "But I'm going to do my best,
Charlie!"

"The same here!"

It was raining when the team arrived in Newkirk, and the weather was
matched by the glum faces of the players.

"No game to-morrow, very likely," said Charlie, in disappointed tones.
"Unless they have rubber grounds here."

"No such luck," returned Joe.

As he walked with the others to the desk to register he saw, amid a pile
of luggage, a certain peculiar valise. He knew it instantly.

"Reggie Varley's!" he exclaimed to himself. "There never was another bag
like that. And it has his initials on it. Reggie Varley is here - at this
hotel, and - and - she - must be here too. Let it rain!"




CHAPTER XIII

MABEL


Joe Matson stood spell-bound for a second or so, staring at the valise
which had such an interest for him in two ways. It meant the presence at
the hotel of the girl who had awakened such a new feeling within him,
and also it recalled the unpleasant occasion when he had been accused of
rifling it.

"What's the matter, Matson?" asked Gus Harrison, the big centre fielder,
who stood directly behind the young pitcher, waiting to register. "Have
you forgotten your name?"

"No - oh, no!" exclaimed our hero, coming to himself with a start.
"I - er - I was just thinking of something."

"I should imagine so," commented Harrison. "Get a move on. I want to go
to my room and tog up. I've got a date with a friend."

As Joe turned away from the desk, after registering, he could not
refrain from glancing at the odd valise. He half expected to see Reggie
Varley standing beside it, but there was no sign of Mabel's brother.

"Quite a coincidence that she should be stopping at this hotel," thought
Joe, for a quick glance at the names on the register, ahead of those of
the ball team, had shown Joe that Miss Varley's was among them. "Quite a
coincidence," Joe mused on. "I wonder if she came here because she knew
this was where the team always stops? Oh, of course not. I'm getting
looney, I reckon."

Then, as he looked at the valise again another thought came to him.

"I do wish there was some way of proving to young Varley that I didn't
take the stuff out of it," reasoned Joe. "But I don't see how I can
prove that I didn't. It's harder to prove a negative than it is a
positive, they say. Maybe he has found his stuff by this time; I must
ask him if I get a chance. And yet I don't like to bring it up again,
especially as she's here. She doesn't know of it yet, that's evident, or
she'd have said something. I mean Reggie hasn't told her that he once
suspected me."

Joe went to his room, and made a much more careful toilet than usual. So
much so that Charlie Hall inquired rather sarcastically:

"Who's the lady, Joe?"

"Lady? What do you mean?" responded Joe, with simulated innocence.

"Oh, come now, that's too thin!" laughed the shortstop. "Why all this
gorgeousness? And a new tie! Upon my word! You are going it!"

"Oh, cut it out!" growled Joe, a bit incensed.

But, all the while, he was wondering how and when he would meet Mabel.
Would it be proper for him to send her his card? Or would she know that
the ball team had arrived, and send word to Joe that he could see her?
How were such things managed anyhow?

Joe wished there was some one whom he could ask, but he shrank from
taking into his confidence any of the members of the team.

"I'll just wait and see what turns up," he said.

Fate was kind to him, however.

Most of the ball players had gone in to dinner, discussing, meanwhile,
the weather probabilities. There was a dreary drizzle outside, and the
prospects for a fair day to follow were remote indeed. It meant almost
certainly that there would be no game, and this was a disappointment to
all. The Pittston team was on edge for the contest, for they wanted
their chance to get to the top of the league.

"Well, maybe it's just as well," confided Gregory to Jimmie Mack. "It'll
give the boys a chance to rest up, and they've been going the pace
pretty hard lately. I do hope we win, though."

"Same here," exclaimed Jimmie earnestly.

As Joe came down from his apartment, and crossed the foyer into the
dining room, he turned around a pillar and came face to face with Reggie
Varley - and his sister.

They both started at the sight of the young pitcher, and Mabel blushed.
Joe did the same, for that matter.

"Oh, why how do you do!" the girl exclaimed graciously, holding out her
hand. "I'm awfully glad to see you again! So you are here with your
team? Oh, I do hope you'll win! Too bad it's raining; isn't it? Reggie,
you must take me to the game! You remember Mr. Matson, of course!"

She spoke rapidly, as though to cover some embarrassment, and, for a few
seconds, Joe had no chance to say anything, save incoherent murmurs,
which, possibly, was proper under the circumstances.

"Oh, yes, I remember him," said Reggie, but there was not much cordiality
in his tone or manner. "Certainly I remember him. Glad to meet you again,
old man. We haven't forgotten what you did for sis. Awfully good of you."

Joe rather resented this tone, but perhaps Reggie could not help it. And
the young pitcher wondered whether there was any significance in the way
Reggie "remembered."

Young Varley glanced over toward where his odd valise had been placed,
in a sort of checking room.

"Excuse me," he said to his sister and Joe. "I must have my luggage sent
up. I quite forgot about it."

"Then there isn't any jewelry in it this time," spoke Joe significantly,
and under the impulse of the moment. A second later he regretted it.

"No, of course not. Oh, I see!" exclaimed Reggie, and his face turned
red. "I'll be back in a moment," he added as he hurried off.

Mabel glanced from her brother to Joe. She saw that there was something
between them of which she knew nothing, but she had the tact to ignore
it - at least for the present.

"Have you dined?" she asked Joe. "If you haven't there's a vacant seat
at our table, and I'm sure Reggie and I would be glad to have you sit
with us."

"I don't know whether he would or not," said Joe, feeling that, as his
part in the story of the valise and the missing jewelry would have to


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