Lester Chadwick.

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

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come out sometime, now was as good as any.

"Why - what do you mean?" asked Mabel in surprise.

"Hasn't he told you?" demanded Joe.

"Told me? Told me what? I don't understand."

"I mean about his watch and some of your jewelry being taken."

"Oh, yes, some time ago. You mean when he was up North. Wasn't it too
bad! And my lovely beads were in his valise. But how did you know of
it?"

"Because," blurted out Joe, "your brother accused me of taking them!"

Mabel started back.

"No!" she cried. "Never! He couldn't have done that!"

"But he did, and I'd give a lot to be able to prove that I had no hand
in the looting!" Joe spoke, half jokingly.

"How silly!" exclaimed the girl. "The idea! How did it happen?"

Joe explained briefly, amid rather excited ejaculations from Mabel, and
had just concluded when Reggie came back. He caught enough of the
conversation to understand what it was about, and as his sister looked
oddly at him, he exclaimed:

"Oh, I say now, Matson! I was hoping that wouldn't get out. I suppose I
made rather a fool of myself - talking to you the way I did, but - - "

"Well, I resented it somewhat at the time," replied Joe, slowly, "but I
know how you must have felt."

"Yes. Well, I never have had a trace of the stuff. I was hoping sis,
here, wouldn't know how I accused you - especially after the plucky way
you saved her."

"I thought it best to tell," said the young pitcher, quietly.

"Oh, well, as you like," and Reggie shrugged his shoulders. "It was
certainly a queer go."

"And I'm living in hope," went on Joe, "that some day I'll be able to
prove that I had no hand in the matter."

"Oh, of course you didn't!" cried Mabel, impulsively. "It's silly of
you, Reggie, to think such a thing."

"I don't think it - now!"

But in spite of this denial Joe could not help feeling that perhaps,
after all, Reggie Varley still had an undefined suspicion against him.

"I say!" exclaimed Joe's one-time accuser, "won't you dine with us? We
have a nice waiter at our table - - "

"I had already asked him," broke in Mabel.

"Then that's all right. I say, Matson, can't you take my sister in? I've
just had a 'phone message about some of dad's business that brought me
up here. I've got to go see a man, and if you'll take Mabel in - - "

"I shall be delighted."

"How long will you be, Reggie?"

"Oh, not long, Sis. But if I see Jenkinson to-night it will save us time
to-morrow."

"Oh, all right. But if I let you off now you'll have to take me to the
ball game to-morrow."

"I will - if it doesn't rain."

"And you'll be back in time for the theatre?"

"Surely. I'll run along now. It's awfully good of you, Matson, to
take - - "

"Not at all!" interrupted Joe. The pleasure was all his, he felt.

He and Mabel went into the hotel dining room, and Joe's team-mates
glanced curiously at him from where they sat. But none of them made any
remarks.

"It was dreadful of Reggie, to accuse you that way," the girl murmured,
when they were seated.

"Oh, he was flustered, and perhaps it was natural," said Joe. "I did sit
near the valise, you know."

"I know - but - - "

They talked over the matter at some length, and then the conversation
drifted to baseball. Joe had never eaten such a delightful meal, though
if you had asked him afterward what the menu was made up of, he could
not have told you. It was mostly Mabel, I think, from the soup to the
dessert.




CHAPTER XIV

BAD NEWS


Grounds that were soggy and wet, and a dreary drizzle of rain, prevented
a game next day, and there was much disappointment. Weather reports were
eagerly scanned, and the skies looked at more than once.

"I think it'll clear to-morrow," remarked Joe to Charlie Hall.

"I sure hope so. I want to see what sort of meat these Newkirk fellows
are made of since we played against 'em last."

"Oh, they're husky enough, as we found, Charlie," for there had been
several league games between this team and the Pittston nine, but in the
latter town. Now the tables might be turned.

"They've got some new players," went on Charlie, "and a pitcher who's
said to be a marvel."

"Well, you've got me," laughed Joe, in simulated pride.

"That's right, old man, and I'm glad of it. I think you're going to
pull us to the top in this pennant race."

"Oh, I haven't such a swelled head as to think that," spoke Joe, "but
I'm going to work hard - I guess we all are. But what does it look like
for Clevefield to-day? You know she's got to lose and we've got to win
to put us on top."

"I know. There wasn't any report of rain there, so the game must be
going on. We ought to get results soon. Come on over to the ticker."

It was after luncheon, and the game in Clevefield, with the Washburg
nine, would soon start. Then telegraphic reports of the contest that, in
a way, meant so much for Pittston would begin coming in.

After the delightful dinner Joe had had with Mabel his pleasure was
further added to when he went with her to the theatre. Reggie telephoned
that he could not get back in time, and asked Joe to take his sister,
she having the tickets.

Of course the young pitcher was delighted, but he could not get over the
uneasy feeling that young Varley was suspicious of him.

"Hang it all!" exclaimed Joe, mentally. "I've just got to get that out
of his mind! But how? Only by finding his watch or Mabel's jewelry, and
I suppose I might as well look for a needle in a haystack."

Joe sat in the hotel corridor, looking over a newspaper, and waiting
for some news of the Clevefield game, as many of his team were doing. An
item caught the eye of the young pitcher that caused him to start. It
was to the effect that the unfortunate Pop Dutton had been arrested for
creating a scene at a ball park.

"Poor old man!" mused Joe. "I wish I could do something for him. I feel
sort of responsible for him, since I saved his life. I wonder if he
couldn't be straightened up? I must have another talk with Gregory about
him."

A yell from some of the players gathered about the news ticker in the
smoking room brought Joe to his feet.

"What is it?" he called to Charlie Hall.

"Washburg got three runs the first inning and Clevefield none!" was the
answer. "It looks as if Washburg would have a walk-over. And you know
what that means for us."

"Yes, if we win to-morrow."

"Win! Of course we'll win, you old bone-head!" cried Charlie, clapping
Joe affectionately on the back.

Further news from the game was eagerly awaited and when the last inning
had been ticked off, and Washburg had won by a margin of three runs, the
Pittston team was delighted.

Not at the downfall of fellow players, understand, but because it gave
Pittston the coveted chance to be at the top of the first division.

"Boys, we've just got to win that game to-morrow!" cried Gregory.

"If they don't I'll make them live on bread and water for a week!" cried
Trainer McGuire, with a twinkle in his blue eyes.

The second day following proved all that could be desired from a weather
standpoint for a ball game, the grounds having dried up meanwhile. It
was bright and sunny, but not too warm, and soon after breakfast the
team was ordered out on the field for light practice.

This was necessary as their day of comparative idleness, added to the
damp character of the weather, had made them all a little stiff.

"Get limbered up, boys," advised Jimmie Mack. "You'll need all the speed
and power you can bring along to-day. Joe, how's your arm?"

"All right, I guess," answered the young pitcher.

"Well, do some light practice. Come on. I'll catch for you a while."

There had been some slight changes made in the Newkirk grounds since
last season, and Gregory wanted his players to familiarize themselves
with the new layout. Joe was delighted with the diamond. Though Newkirk
was a smaller city than Pittston the ball field was kept in better
shape.

"Of course it isn't the Polo Grounds," Joe confided to Charlie Hall,
"but they're pretty good."

"I wonder if I'll ever get a chance to play on the Polo Grounds?"
murmured Charlie, half enviously. "It must be great!"

"It is!" cried Joe, with memories of the Yale-Princeton contest he had
taken part in there. "And I'm going to do it again, some time!"

"You are?"

"I sure am. I'm going to break into a big league if it's possible."

"Good for you, Joe!"

"Still, the grounds aren't everything, Charlie," went on Joe. "We've got
to play the best ball to win the game."

"And we'll do it, too! Don't worry."

The practice was worked up to a fast and snappy point, and then Gregory
sent his men for a brisk walk, to be followed by a shower bath in
preparation for the afternoon contest.

Certainly when the Pittston team started for the grounds again they were
a bright, clean-looking lot of players. Joe was wondering whether he
would have a chance to pitch, but, following his usual policy, the
crafty manager did not announce his battery until the last moment.

There was a big crowd out to see the game, for the rivalry in the
Central League was now intense, and interest was well keyed up. Joe had
seen Mabel and her brother start for the grounds, and he wished, more
than ever before, perhaps, that he would be sent to the mound to do
battle for his team.

The Newkirk men were out on the diamond when the Pittston players
arrived, and, after an interval the latter team was given a chance to
warm up. Joe and the other pitchers began their usual practice, and Joe
felt that he could do himself justice if he could but get a chance.

There was silence as the batteries were announced, and Joe could not
help feeling a keen disappointment as Tooley, the south-paw, was named
to open the contest.

"There's a lot of queer batters on the Newkirks," Joe heard Bob Newton,
the right fielder, say to Terry Hanson, who played left. "I guess that's
the reason the old man wants Tooley to feel them out."

"I reckon."

"Play ball!" droned the umpire as the gong clanged, and George Lee, the
second baseman, who was first at bat, strolled out to pick up his club.

The first part of the game was rather a surprise to the Pittston
players. Lee was struck out with amazing ease, and even Jimmie Mack,
who had the best batting average of any on the team, "fell" for a
delusive "fade-away" ball.

"But I've got his number!" he exclaimed, as he nodded at the opposing
pitcher. "He won't get me again."

Pittston did not get a run, though she had three men on bases when the
last one went down, and it looked as though her chances were good.

Then came more disappointment when Tooley failed to get his batters, and
Newkirk had two runs chalked up to her credit. The second inning was
almost like the first and then at the proper time, Gregory, with a
decisive gesture, signalled to Joe.

"You'll have to pitch us out of this hole!" he said, grimly. Collin, who
had said openly that he expected to be called on, looked blackly at our
hero.

As Joe started to take his place a messenger boy handed him a telegram.
He was a little startled at first, and then laughed at his fears.

"Probably good wishes from home," he murmured, as he tore open the
envelope. And then the bright day seemed to go black as he read:

"Your father hurt in explosion. No danger of death, but may
lose eyesight. If you can come home do so. MOTHER."




CHAPTER XV

JOE'S PLUCK


Joe's distress at receiving the bad news was so evident, at least to
Gregory, that the manager hurried over to the young pitcher and asked:

"What's the matter, old man? Something upset you?"

For answer Joe simply held out the message.

"I say! That's too bad!" exclaimed Gregory sympathetically. "Let's see
now. You can get a train in about an hour, I think. Skip right off. I'll
make it all right." It was his business to know much about trains, and
he was almost a "walking timetable."

"Awfully sorry, old man!" he went on. "Come back to us when you can.
You'll find us waiting."

Joe made up his mind quickly. It was characteristic of him to do this,
and it was one of the traits that made him, in after years, such a
phenomenal pitcher.

"I - I'm not going home," said Joe, quietly.

"Not going home! Why?" cried Gregory.

"At least not until after the game," went on Joe. "The telegram says my
father isn't in any immediate danger, and I could not gain much by
starting now. I'm going to stay and pitch. That is, if you'll let me."

"Let you! Of course I'll let you. But can you stand the gaff, old man? I
don't want to seem heartless, but the winning of this game means a lot
to me, and if you don't feel just up to the mark - - "

"Oh, I can pitch - at least, I think I can," said Joe, not wishing to
appear too egotistical. "I mean this won't make me flunk."

"That's mighty plucky of you, Joe, and I appreciate it. Now don't make a
mistake. It won't hurt your standing with the club a bit if you go now.
I'll put Collin in, and - - "

"I'll pitch!" said Joe, determinedly. "After that it will be time enough
to start for home."

"All right," assented Gregory. "But if you want to quit at any time,
give me the signal. And I'll tell you what I'll do. Have you a 'phone at
home?"

"Yes."

"Then I'll have someone get your house on the long distance wire, and
find out just how your father is. I'll also send word that you'll start
to-night."

"That will be fine!" cried Joe, and already he felt better. The bad news
had shocked him for the time, though.

"Play ball!" called the umpire, for there had been a little delay over
the talk between Joe and the manager.

"Just keep quiet about it, though," advised the manager to the young
pitcher. "It may only upset things if it gets out. Are you sure you can
stand it?"

"I - I'm going to stand it!" responded Joe, gamely.

He faced his first batter with a little sense of uncertainty. But
Nelson, who was catching, nodded cheerfully at him, and gave a signal
for a certain ball that Joe, himself, had decided would best deceive
that man with the stick. He sent it in rushingly, and was delighted to
hear the umpire call:

"Strike one!"

"That's the way!"

"Two more like that and he's a goner!"

"Slam 'em in, Matson!"

Joe flushed with pleasure at the encouraging cries. He wondered if Mabel
was joining in the applause that frequently swept over the grandstand at
a brilliant play.

Again Joe threw, and all the batter could do was to hit a foul, which
was not caught.

Then came a ball, followed by another, and Joe began to get a bit
anxious.

"That's the boy!" welled up encouragingly from the crowd.

Joe tried a moist ball - a delivery of which he was not very certain as
yet, but the batter "fell for it" and whirled around as he missed it
cleanly.

"Three strikes - batter's out!" howled the umpire, and the man went back
to the bench.

The next candidate managed to get a single, but was caught stealing
second, and Joe had a chance to retire his third man.

It was a chance not to be missed, and he indulged in a few delaying
tactics in order to place, in his mind, the hitter and his special
peculiarities.

With a snap of his wrist Joe sent in an out curve, but the manner in
which the batter leaped for it, missing it only by a narrow margin, told
our hero that this ball was just "pie," for his antagonist.

"Mustn't do that again," thought Joe. "He'll slam it over the fence if I
do."

The next - an in-shoot - was hit, but only for a foul, and Joe, whose heart
had gone into his throat as he heard the crack of the bat, breathed
easier. Then, just to puzzle the batter, after delivering a "moistener"
that fell off and was called a ball, Joe sent in a "teaser" - a slow
one - that fooled the player, who flied out to shortstop.

Joe was beginning to feel more confidence in himself.

The others of the Pittston team grinned encouragingly at Joe, and
Gregory clasped his arms about the young pitcher as he came in to the
bench.

"Can you stick it out?" he asked.

"Sure! Have you any word yet on the 'phone?"

"No. Not yet. I'm expecting Hastings back any minute," naming a
substitute player who had not gone into the game, and whom the manager
had sent to call up Joe's house. "But are you sure you want to keep on
playing?"

"Sure," answered Joe. He had a glimpse of Collin, and fancied that the
eager look on the other pitcher's face turned to one of disappointment.

"You're beating me out," said Tooley, the south-paw, with an easy laugh.

"I'm sorry," said Joe, for he knew how it felt to be supplanted.

"Oh, I'm not worrying. My turn will come again. One can't be up to the
mark all the while."

Pittston managed to get a run over the plate that inning, and when it
came time for Joe to go to the mound again he had better news to cheer
him up.

Word had come over the telephone that Mr. Matson, while making some
tests at the Harvester Works, had been injured by an explosion of
acids. Some had gone into his face, burning him badly.

His life was in no danger, but his eyesight might be much impaired, if
not lost altogether. Nothing could be told in this respect for a day or
so.

Hastings had been talking to Joe's sister Clara, to whom he explained
that Joe would start for home as soon as the game was over. Mrs. Matson
was bearing up well under the strain, the message said, and Joe was told
not to worry.

"Now I'll be able to do better," said the young pitcher, with a little
smile. "Thanks for the good news."

"You're doing all right, boy!" cried Gregory. "I think we're going to
win!"

But it was not to be as easy as saying it. The Newkirk men fought hard,
and to the last inch. They had an excellent pitcher - a veteran - who was
well backed up with a fielding force, and every run the Pittstons got
they fully earned.

Joe warmed up to his work, and to the howling delight of the crowd
struck out two men in succession, after one had gone out on a pop fly,
while there were two on bases. That was a test of nerve, for something
might have broken loose at any moment.

But Joe held himself well in hand, and watched his batters. He so varied
his delivery that he puzzled them, and working in unison with Nelson
very little got past them.

Then came a little spurt on the part of Newkirk, and they "sweetened"
their score until there was a tie. It was in the ninth inning,
necessitating another to decide the matter.

"If we can get one run we'll have a chance to win," declared Gregory.
"That is, if you can hold them in the last half of the tenth, Joe."

"I'll do my best!"

"I know you will, my boy!"

For a time it looked as though it could not be done. Two of the Pittston
players went down in rapid succession before the magnificent throwing of
the Newkirk pitcher. Then he made a fatal mistake. He "fed" a slow ball
to John Holme, the big third baseman, who met it squarely with his
stick, and when the shouting was over John was safely on the third sack.

"Now bring him home, Joe!" cried the crowd, as the young pitcher stepped
to the plate. It was not the easiest thing in the world to stand up
there and face a rival pitcher, with the knowledge that your hit might
win the game by bringing in the man on third. And especially after the
advent of the telegram. But Joe steadied himself, and smiled at his
opponent.

He let the first ball go, and a strike was called on him. There was a
groan from grandstand and bleachers.

"Take your time, Joe!" called Gregory, soothingly. "Get what you want."

It came. The ball sailed for the plate at the right height, and Joe
correctly gaged it. His bat met it squarely, with a resounding "plunk!"

"That's the boy!"

"Oh, what a beaut!"

"Take third on that!"

"Come on home, you ice wagon!"

"Run! Run! Run!"

It was a wildly shrieking mob that leaped to its feet, cheering on Joe
and Holme. On and on ran the young pitcher. He had a confused vision of
the centre fielder running back to get the ball which had dropped well
behind him. Joe also saw Holme racing in from third. He could hear the
yells of the crowd and fancied - though of course it could not be
so - that he could hear the voice of Mabel calling to him.

On and on ran Joe, and stopped, safe on second, Holme had gone in with
the winning run.

But that was all. The next man struck out, and Joe was left on the
"half-way station."

"But we're one ahead, and if we can hold the lead we've got 'em!" cried
Gregory. "Joe, my boy, it's up to you! Can you hold 'em down?"

He looked earnestly at the young pitcher.

"I - I'll do it!" cried Joe.




CHAPTER XVI

A SLIM CHANCE


There was an almost breathless silence as Joe walked to the mound to
begin what he hoped would be the ending of the final inning of the game.
If he could prevent, with the aid of his mates, the Newkirk team from
gaining a run, the Pittstons would be at the top of the list. If not - -

But Joe did not like to think about that. He was under a great nervous
strain, not only because of the news concerning his father, but because
of what his failure or success might mean to the club he had the honor
to represent.

"I've just got to win!" said Joe to himself.

"Play ball!" called the umpire.

Joe had been holding himself a little in reserve up to now; that is, he
had not used the last ounce of ability that he had, for he could see
that the game was going to be a hard one, and that a little added
"punch" at the last moment might make or break for victory.

The young pitcher had a good delivery of what is known as the "jump"
ball. It is sent in with all the force possible, and fairly jumps as it
approaches the plate. It is often used to drive the batsman away from
the rubber. It is supposed to go straight for the plate, or the inside
corner, and about shoulder high. A long preliminary swing is needed for
this ball, and it is pitched with an overhand delivery.

Joe had practiced this until he was a fair master of it, but he realized
that it was exhausting. Always after sending in a number of these his
arm would be lame, and he was not good for much the next day. But now he
thought the time had come to use it, varying it, of course, with other
styles of delivery.

"I've got to hold 'em down!" thought Joe.

He realized that the attention of all was on him, and he wished he could
catch the eyes of a certain girl he knew sat in the grandstand watching
him. Joe also felt that Collin, his rival, was watching him narrowly,
and he could imagine the veteran pitcher muttering:

"Why do they send in a young cub like that when so much depends on it?
Why didn't Gregory call me?"

But the manager evidently knew what he was doing.

"Play ball!" called the umpire again, at the conclusion of the sending
in of a practice ball or two.

Joe caught his breath sharply.

"It's now or never!" he thought as he grasped the ball in readiness for
the jump. "It's going to strain me, but if I go home for a day or so I
can rest up."

In went the horsehide sphere with great force. It accomplished just what
Joe hoped it would. The batter instinctively stepped back, but there was
no need. The ball neatly clipped the corner of the plate, and the umpire
called:

"Strike one!"

Instantly there was a howl from the crowd.

"That's the way!"

"Two more, Matson, old man!"

"Make him stand up!"

"Slam it out, Johnson!"

The batter had his friends as well as Joe.

But the battle was not half won yet. There were two men to be taken care
of after this one was disposed of, and he still had his chances.

Joe signalled to his catcher that he would slip in a "teaser" now, and
the man in the wire mask nodded his understanding. The batter smiled, in
anticipation of having a "ball" called on him, but was amazed, not to
say angry, when he heard from the umpire the drawling:

"Strike - two!"

Instantly there came a storm of protest, some from the crowd, a
half-uttered sneer from the batter himself, but more from his manager
and team-mates on the players' bench.

"Forget it!" sharply cried the umpire, supreme master that he was. "I
said 'strike,' and a strike it goes. Play ball!"

Joe was delighted. It showed that they were now to have fair treatment
from the deciding power, though during the first part of the game the
umpire's decisions had not been altogether fair to Pittston.

The crowd was breathlessly eager again, as Joe wound up once more. Then
there was a mad yell as the batter hit the next ball.

"Go on! Go on! You - - "

"Foul!" yelled the umpire, and there was a groan of disappointment.

Joe was a little nervous, so it is no wonder that he was called for a
ball on his next delivery. But following that he sent in as neat an out


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