Lester Chadwick.

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

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curve as could be desired. The batter missed it by a foot, and throwing
his stick down in disgust walked to the bench.

"Only two more, old man!" called Gregory encouragingly. "Only two more.
We've got their number."

Then came an attempt on the part of the crowd, which naturally was
mostly in sympathy with their home team, to get Joe's "goat." He was
hooted at and reviled. He was advised to go back to college, and to let
a man take his place. Joe only grinned and made no answer. The nervous
strain under which he was playing increased. He wanted, no one perhaps
but Gregory knew how much, to get away and take a train for home, to be
with his suffering father.

But there were two more men to put out. And Joe did it.

That is, he struck out the next man. The third one singled, and when the
best batter of the opposing team came up, Joe faced him confidently.

After two balls had been called, and the crowd was at the fever point of
expectancy, Joe got a clean strike. It was followed by a foul, and then
came a little pop fly that was easily caught by the young pitcher, who
hardly had to move from his mound.

"Pittston wins!"

"Pittston is up head!"

"Three cheers for Joe Matson!"

They were given with a will, too, for the crowd loved a plucky player,
even if it was on the other side.

But Joe did not stay to hear this. He wanted to catch the first train
for home, and hurried into the dressing room. He spoke to Gregory,
saying that he was going, and would be back as soon as he could.

"Take your time, old man; take your time," said the manager kindly.
"You did a lot for us to-day, and now I guess we can hold our own until
you come back."

There were sympathetic inquiries from Joe's fellow players when they
heard what had happened. Joe wanted to say good-bye to Mabel, but did
not quite see how he could do it. He could hardly find her in that
crowd.

But chance favored him, and as he was entering the hotel to get his
grip, he met her.

"Oh, it was splendid!" she cried with girlish enthusiasm, holding out
her slim, pretty hand. "It was fine! However did you do it?"

"I guess because I knew you were watching me!" exclaimed Joe with a
boldness that he himself wondered at later.

"Oh, that's awfully nice of you to say," she answered, with a blush. "I
wish I could believe it!"

"You can!" said Joe, still more boldly.

"But you - you look as though something had happened," she went on, for
surely Joe's face told that.

"There has," he said, quietly, and he told of the accident to his
father.

"Oh, I'm so sorry!" she exclaimed, clasping his hand again. "And you
pitched after you heard the news! How brave of you! Is there anything
we can do - my brother - or I?" she asked anxiously.

"Thank you, no," responded Joe, in a low voice. "I am hoping it will not
be serious."

"You must let me know - let Reggie know," she went on. "We shall be here
for some days yet."

Joe promised to write, and then hurried off to catch his train. It was a
long ride to Riverside, and to Joe, who was all impatience to be there,
the train seemed to be the very slowest kind of a freight, though it
really was an express.

But all things must have an end, and that torturing journey did. Joe
arrived in his home town late one afternoon, and took a carriage to the
house. He saw Clara at the window, and could see that she had been
crying. She slipped to the door quickly, and held up a warning finger.

"What - what's the matter?" asked Joe in a hoarse whisper. "Is - is he
worse?"

"No, he's a little better, if anything. But he has just fallen asleep,
and so has mother. She is quite worn out. Come in and I'll tell you
about it. Oh, Joe! I'm so glad you're home!"

Clara related briefly the particulars of the accident, and then the
doctor came in. By this time Mrs. Matson had awakened and welcomed her
son.

"What chance is there, Doctor," asked the young pitcher; "what chance
to save his eyesight?"

"Well, there's a chance; but, I'm sorry to say, it is only a slim one,"
was the answer. "It's too soon to say with certainty, however. Another
day will have to pass. I hope all will be well, but now all I can say is
that there is a chance."

Joe felt his heart beating hard, and then, bracing himself to meet the
emergency if it should come, he put his arm around his weeping mother,
and said, as cheerfully as he could:

"Well, I believe chance is going to be on our side. I'm going to use a
bit of baseball slang, and say I have a 'hunch' that we'll win out!"

"That's the way to talk!" cried Dr. Birch, heartily.




CHAPTER XVII

OLD POP AGAIN


Dr. Birch remained for some little time at the Matson home, going over
in detail with Joe just what the nature of his father's injuries were.
In brief, while experimenting on a certain new method of chilling steel,
for use in a corn sheller, Mr. Matson mixed some acids together.

Unknown to him a workman had, accidentally, substituted one very strong
acid for a weak one. When the mixture was put into an iron pot there was
an explosion. Some of the acid, and splinters of iron, flew up into the
face of the inventor.

"And until I can tell whether the acid, or a piece of steel, injured his
eyes, Joe, I can't say for sure what we shall have to do," concluded the
doctor.

"You mean about an operation?"

"Yes. If we have to perform one it will be a very delicate one, and it
will cost a lot of money; there are only a few men in this country
capable of doing it, and their fees, naturally, are high. But we won't
think of that now. I think I will go in and see how he is. If he is
well enough I want you to see him. It will do him good."

"And me, too," added Joe, who was under a great strain, though he did
not show it.

Mr. Matson was feeling better after his rest, and Joe was allowed to
come into the darkened room. He braced himself for the ordeal.

"How are you, Son," said the inventor weakly.

"Fine, Dad. But I'm sorry to see you laid up this way."

"Well, Joe, it couldn't be helped. I should have been more careful. But
I guess I'll pull through. How is baseball?"

"Couldn't be better, Dad! We're at the top of the heap! I just helped to
win the deciding game before I came on."

"Yes, I heard your mother talking about the telephone message. I'm glad
you didn't come away without playing. Have you the pennant yet?"

"Oh, no. That won't be decided for a couple of months. But we're going
to win it!"

"That's what I like to hear!"

Dr. Birch did not permit his patient to talk long, and soon Joe had to
leave the room. The physician said later that he thought there was a
slight improvement in Mr. Matson's condition, though of course the
matter of saving his eyesight could not yet be decided.

"But if we do have to have an operation," said Mrs. Matson. "I don't see
where the money is coming from. Your father's investments are turning
out so badly - - "

"Don't worry about that, Mother," broke in Joe.

"But I have to, Joe. If an operation is needed we'll have to get the
money. And from where is more than I know," she added, hopelessly.

"I'll get the money!" exclaimed the young pitcher in energetic tones.

"How?" asked his mother. "I'm sure you can't make enough at ball
playing."

"No, perhaps not at ordinary ball playing, Mother, but at the end of the
season, when the deciding games for the pennant are played off, they
always draw big crowds, and the players on the winning team come in for
a good share of the receipts. I'll use mine for the operation."

"But your team may not win the pennant, Joe," said Clara.

"We're going to win!" cried the young pitcher. "I feel it in my bones!
Don't worry, Mother."

But, naturally, Mrs. Matson could not help it, in spite of Joe's brave
words. Clara, though, was cheered up.

"There's more to baseball than I thought," she said.

"There's more in it than I'll ever learn," admitted Joe, frankly. "Of
course our pennant-deciding games aren't like the world series, but I
understand they bring in a lot of money."

Mr. Matson was quite improved the next day, but Dr. Birch, and another
physician, who was called in consultation, could not settle the matter
about the eyes.

"It will be fully a month before we can decide about the operation,"
said the expert. "In the meanwhile he is in no danger, and the delay
will give him a chance to get back his strength. We shall have to wait."

As nothing could be gained by Joe's staying home, and as his baseball
money was very much needed at this trying time, it was decided that he
had better rejoin his team.

He bade his parents and sister good-bye, and arranged to have word sent
to him every day as to his father's condition.

"And don't you worry about that money, Mother," he said as he kissed
her. "I'll be here with it when it's needed."

"Oh, Joe!" was all she said, but she looked happier.

Joe went back to join the team at Delamont, where they were scheduled
to play four games, and then they would return to their home town of
Pittston.

From the newspapers Joe learned that his team had taken three of the
four contests in Newkirk, and might have had the fourth but for bad
pitching on the part of Collin.

"Maybe he won't be so bitter against me now," thought Joe. "He isn't
such a wonder himself."

Joe was glancing over the paper as the train sped on toward Delamont. He
was looking over other baseball news, and at the scores of the big
leagues.

"I wonder when I'll break into them?" mused Joe, as he glanced rather
enviously at several large pictures of celebrated players in action.
"I'm going to do it as soon as I can."

Then the thought came to him of how hard it was for a young and promising
player to get away from the club that controlled him.

"The only way would be to slump in form," said Joe to himself, "and then
even if he did get his release no other team would want him. It's a
queer game, and not altogether fair, but I suppose it has to be played
that way. Well, no use worrying about the big leagues until I get a call
from one. There'll be time enough then to wonder about my release."

As Joe was about to lay aside the paper he was aware of a controversy
going on a few seats ahead of him. The conductor had stopped beside an
elderly man and was saying:

"You'll have to get off, that's all there is to it. You deliberately
rode past your station, and you're only trying to see how far you can go
without being caught. You get off at the next station, or if you don't
I'll stop the train when I get to you and put you off, even if it's in
the middle of a trestle. You're trying to beat your way, and you know
it! You had a ticket only to Clearville, and you didn't get off."

"Oh, can't you pass me on to Delamont?" pleaded the man. "I admit I was
trying to beat you. But I've got to get to Delamont. I've the promise of
work there, and God knows I need it. I'll pay the company back when I
earn it."

"Huh!" sneered the conductor, "that's too thin. I've heard that yarn
before. No, sir; you get off at the next station, or I'll have the
brakeman run you off. Understand that! No more monkey business. Either
you give me money or a ticket, or off you go."

"All right," was the short answer. "I reckon I'll have to do it."

The man turned and at the sight of his face Joe started.

"Pop Dutton!" exclaimed the young pitcher, hardly aware that he had
spoken aloud.

"That's me," was the answer. "Oh - why - it's Joe!" he added, and his face
lighted up. Then a look of despair came over it. Joe decided quickly.
No matter what Gregory and the others said he had determined to help
this broken-down old ball player.

"What's the fare to Delamont?" Joe asked the conductor.

"One-fifty, from the last station."

"I'll pay it," went on Joe, handing over a bill. The ticket-puncher
looked at him curiously, and then, without a word, made the change, and
gave Joe the little excess slip which was good for ten cents, to be
collected at any ticket office.

"Say, Joe Matson, that's mighty good of you!" exclaimed Old Pop Dutton,
as Joe came to sit beside him. "Mighty good!"

"That's all right," spoke Joe easily. "What are you going to do in
Delamont?"

"I've got a chance to be assistant ground-keeper at the ball park.
I - I'm trying to - trying to get back to a decent life, Joe, but - but
it's hard work."

"Then I'm going to help you!" exclaimed the young pitcher, impulsively.
"I'm going to ask Gregory if he can't give you something to do. Do you
think you could play ball again?"

"I don't know, Joe," was the doubtful answer. "They say when they
get - get like me - that they can't come back. I couldn't pitch, that's
sure. I've got something the matter with my arm. Doctor said a slight
operation would cure me, and I might be better than ever, but I haven't
any money for operations. But I could be a fair fielder, I think, and
maybe I could fatten up my batting average."

"Would you like to try?" asked Joe.

"Would I?" The man's tone was answer enough.

"Then I'm going to get you the chance," declared Joe. "But you'll have
to take care of yourself, and - get in better shape."

"I know it, Joe. I'm ashamed of myself - that's what I am. I've gone
pretty far down, but I believe I can come back. I've quit drinking, and
I've cut my old acquaintances."

Joe looked carefully at Pop Dutton. The marks of the life he had led of
late were to be seen in his trembling hands, and in his blood-shot eyes.
But there was a fine frame and a good physique to build on. Joe had
great hopes.

"You come on to Delamont with me," said the young pitcher, "and I'll
look after you until you get straightened out. Then we'll see what the
doctor says, and Gregory, too. I believe he'll give you the chance."

"Joe! I don't know how to thank you!" said the man earnestly. "If I can
ever do something for you - but I don't believe I ever can."

Pop Dutton little realized how soon the time was to come when he could
do Joe a great favor.




CHAPTER XVIII

IN DESPAIR


Joe and Pop Dutton arrived at the hotel in Delamont ahead of the team,
which was on the way from Newkirk after losing the last game of the
four. But at that Pittston was still in the lead, and now all energies
would be bent on increasing the percentage so that even the loss of a
game now and then would not pull the club from its place.

"Now look here, Joe," said Pop, when he and Joe had eaten, "this may be
all right for me, but it isn't going to do you any good."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean consorting with me in this way. I can't stay at this hotel with
you, the other players would guy you too much."

"I don't care about that."

"Well, but I do. Now, look here. I appreciate a whole lot what you're
doing for me, but it would be better if I could go to some other hotel.
Then, if you can, you get Gregory to give me a chance. I'll work at
anything - assistant trainer, or anything - to get in shape again. But it
would be better for me not to stay here where the team puts up.

"If things go right, and I can go back to Pittston with the boys, I'll
go to some quiet boarding house. Being at a hotel isn't any too good for
me. It brings back old times."

Joe saw the logic of Pop's talk, and consented. He gave the broken-down
player enough money to enable him to live quietly for several days. When
the team came Joe determined to put the question to the manager.

As Joe had registered he looked over the book to see if he knew any of
the guests at the hotel. Though he did not admit so to himself he had
half a forlorn hope that he might find the name of Mabel and her brother
there. He even looked sharply at the various pieces of luggage as they
were carried in by the bell boys, but he did not see the curious valise
that had played such an unpleasant part in his life.

Joe was feeling very "fit." The little rest, even though it was broken
by anxiety concerning his father, had done him good, and the arm that
had been strained in the game that meant so much to Pittston was in fine
shape again. Joe felt able to pitch his very best.

"And I guess we'll have to do our prettiest if we want to keep at the
top of the heap," he reasoned.

Then the team arrived, and noisily and enthusiastically welcomed Joe to
their midst again.

Seeking the first opportunity, Joe had a talk with the manager concerning
Pop Dutton. At first Gregory would not listen, and tried to dissuade Joe
from having anything to do with the old player. But the young pitcher had
determined to go on with his rescue work, and pleaded with such good
effect that finally the manager said:

"Well, I'll give him a chance, providing he shows that he can keep
straight. I don't believe he can, but, for your sake, I'm willing to
make the experiment. I've done it before, and been taken in every time.
I'm sure this will only be another, but you might as well learn your
lesson now as later."

"I don't believe I'll have much to learn," answered Joe with a smile. "I
think Pop can come back."

"The players who can do that are as scarce as hens' teeth," was the
rejoinder of the manager. "But I'll take this last chance. Of course he
can't begin to play right off the bat. He's got to get in training. By
the way, I suppose he has his release?" The manager looked questioningly
at Joe.

"Oh, yes. He's free and clear to make any contract he likes. He told me
that."

"I imagined so. No one wants him. I'm afraid I'm foolish for taking him
on, but I'll do it to please you. I'll take his option, and pay him a
small sum."

"Then I'll do the rest," returned Joe, eagerly. "I'm going to have his
arm looked at, and then couldn't you get him a place where he could do
out-door work - say help keep our grounds in shape?"

"Well, I'll think about it, Joe. But about yourself? Are you ready to
sail in again?"

"I sure am. What are the prospects?"

"Well, they might be better. Collin isn't doing any too well. I'm
thinking of buying another pitcher to use when there's not much at
stake. Gus Harrison is laid up - sprained his knee a little making a mean
slide. I've got to do some shifting, and I need every game I can get
from now on. But I guess we'll come out somehow."

But the team did not come out "somehow." It came out "nohow," for it
lost its first game with Delamont the next day, and this, coupled with
the winning of a double-header by Clevefield, put that team in the lead
and sent Pittston to second place.

Joe worked hard, so hard that he began to go to pieces in the seventh
inning, and had to be replaced by Tooley, who came into the breach
wonderfully well, and, while he did not save the day, he prevented a
disgraceful beating. Joe was in the dumps after this despite the
cheerful, optimistic attitude of the manager.

Joe's one consolation, though, was that Pop Dutton was in the way of
being provided for. The old pitcher was holding himself rigidly in line,
and taking care of himself. He had a talk with Gregory - a shame-faced
sort of talk on Pop's part - and was promised a place at the Pittston
ball park. It was agreed that he would go into training, and try to get
back to his old form.

Gregory did not believe this could be done, but if a miracle should
happen he realized that he would own a valuable player - one that would
be an asset to his club.

And then something happened. How it came about no one could say for a
certainty, but Joe went "stale."

He fell off woefully in his pitching, and the loss of several games was
attributable directly to his "slump."

Joe could not account for it, nor could his friends; but the fact
remained. Pittston dropped to third place, and the papers which gave
much space to the doings of the Central League began to make sarcastic
remarks.

On the diamond, too, Joe had to suffer the gibes of the crowd, which is
always ready to laud a successful player, and only too ready, also, to
laugh at one who has a temporary setback.

Joe was in despair, but in his letters home he kept cheerful. He did not
want his folks to worry. Regularly he sent money to his mother, taking
out of his salary check almost more than he could really afford. Also he
felt the drain of looking after Pop, but now that the latter had regular
work on the diamond, keeping it in order, the old pitcher was, in a
measure, self-supporting.

Pop was rapidly becoming more like his former self, but it would take
some time yet. He indulged in light practice, Joe often having him
catch for him when no one else was available. As yet Pop attempted no
pitching, the doctor to whom Joe took him warning him against it.

"There will have to be a slight operation on certain muscles," said the
medical man, "but I prefer to wait a bit before doing it. You will be in
better shape then."

"You're taking too much trouble about me, Joe," remarked the veteran
player one day.

"Not a bit too much," responded Joe, heartily.

From Joe's father came slightly encouraging news. The need of an
operation was not yet settled, and Mr. Matson's general health had
improved.

"And we can bless baseball a lot!" wrote Mrs. Matson to her son. "I'm
sorry I ever said anything against it, Joe. If it were not for the money
you make at the game I don't know what we'd do now."

Joe was glad his mother saw matters in a different light, but he was
also a little disturbed. His pitching was not what it should be, and he
felt, if his form fell off much more, that he would not last long, even
in a small league.

Occasionally he did well - even brilliantly, and the team had hopes. Then
would come a "slump," and they would lose a much-needed game that would
have lifted them well toward front place.

Joe's despair grew, and he wondered what he could do to get back to his
good form. Clevefield, the ancient rivals of Pittston, were now firmly
entrenched in first place, and there remained only about a quarter of
the league season yet to play.

"We've got to hustle if we want that pennant!" said Gregory, and his
tone was not encouraging. Joe thought of what he had promised about
having the money for his father's operation, and wondered whether he
could do as he said.

But I must not give the impression that all was unhappiness and gloom in
the Pittston team. True, the members felt badly about losing, but their
nerve did not desert them, and they even joked grimly when the play went
against them.

Then came a little diversion. They played a contest against a well-known
amateur nine for charity, and the game was made the occasion for
considerable jollity.

Gregory sent in most of his second string players against the amateurs,
but kept Joe as a twirler, for he wanted him to see what he could do
against some fairly good hitters.

And, to Joe's delight, he seemed more like his old self. He had better
control of the ball, his curves "broke" well and he was a source of
dismay to the strong amateurs. Of course Pittston, even with her
substitutes in the game, fairly walked away from the others, the
right-handed batters occasionally doing left stick-work, on purpose to
strike out.

But the little change seemed to do them all good, and when the next
regular contest came off Pittston won handily, Joe almost equalling his
best record.

It was at a hotel in Buffington, whither they had gone to play a series
of games with that team, that, one afternoon, as Joe entered his room,
after the game, he surprised a colored bell boy hurriedly leaving it.

"Did you want me?" asked the young pitcher.

"No, sah, boss! 'Deed an' I didn't want yo'all," stammered the dusky
youth.

"Then what were you doing in my room?" asked Joe, suspiciously.

"I - I were jest seein', boss, if yo'all had plenty ob ice water. Dat's
whut I was doin', boss! 'Deed I was."

Joe noticed that the boy backed out of the room, and held one hand
behind him. With a quick motion the young pitcher whirled the intruder
about and disclosed the fact that the colored lad had taken one of Joe's
neckties. But, no sooner had our hero caught sight of it than he burst
into a peal of laughter which seemed to startle the boy more than a
storm of accusation.




CHAPTER XIX

A NEW HOLD


"What - what all am de mattah, Massa Matson?" asked the colored lad, his
eyes bulging, and showing so much white that the rest of his face seemed
a shade or two darker. "What all am de mattah? Ain't yo'all put out
'bout me takin' dish yeah tie? I didn't go fo' to steal it, suh! 'Deed
an' I didn't. I were jest sort ob borrowin' it fo' to wear at a party
I'se gwine t' attend dis ebenin'."

"Put out about you!" laughed Joe. "Indeed I'm not. But don't say you're
going to borrow that tie," and he pointed to the one the lad had tried


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