Lester Chadwick.

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

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unsuccessfully to conceal. It was of very gaudy hue - broad stripes and
prominent dots. "Don't say you were going to borrow it."

"'Deed an' dat's all I were gwine t' do, Massa Matson. I didn't go fo'
t' take it fo' keeps. I was a gwine t' ask yo'all fo' de lend ob it, but
I thought mebby yo'all wasn't comin' in time, so I jest made up mah mind
t' 'propriate it on mah own lookout, an' I was fixin' t' put it back
'fo' yo'all come in. I won't hurt it, 'deed an' I won't, an' I'll bring
yo'all ice water any time yo'all wants it. I - I'd laik mighty much,
Massa Matson, t' buy dish yeah tie offen yo'all."

"Buy it!" cried Joe, still laughing, though it was evident that the
colored lad could not understand why.

"Well, suh, that is, not exactly _buy_ it, 'case I ain't got no money,
but yo'all needn't gib me no tips, suh, fo' a - fo' a long time, an' I
could buy it dat way. Yes, suh, you needn't gib me no tips fo' two
weeks. An' yo'all is so generous, Massa Matson, dat in two weeks' time
I'd hab dis tie paid fo'. It's a mighty pert tie, it suah am!"

He gazed admiringly at it.

"Take it, for the love of mush!" cried Joe. "I'm glad you have it!"

"Yo'all am glad, Massa Matson?" repeated the lad, as though he had not
heard aright.

"Sure! That tie's been a nightmare to me ever since I bought it. I don't
know what possessed me to buy a cross section of the rainbow in the
shape of a scarf; but I did it in a moment of aberration, I reckon. Take
it away, Sam, and never let me see it again."

"Does yo'all really mean dat?"

"Certainly."

"Well, suh, I thanks yo'all fo' de compliment - I suah does. An' yo'all
ain't vexted wif me?"

"Not at all!"

"An' - an' yo'all won't stop giving me tips?"

"No, Sam."

"Golly! Dat's fine! I suah does thank you, mightily, suh! Won't all dem
odder coons open dere eyes when dey sees me sportin' dis yeah tie!
Yum-yum! I gass so!" and Sam bounced out of the room before Joe might
possibly change his mind. The colored lad nearly ran into Charlie Hall,
who was coming to have his usual chat with Joe, and the shortstop,
seeing the tie dangling from the bell boy's hand, guessed what had
happened.

"Was he making free with your things, Joe?" asked Charlie, when Sam had
disappeared around a corner of the hall.

"Oh, I caught him taking my tie, that's all."

"Yes, I did the same thing to one of the boys on my floor the other day.
I gave him a flea in his ear, too."

"And I gave Sam the tie," laughed Joe.

"You _gave_ it to him?"

"Yes, that thing has been haunting me. I never wore it but once and I
got disgusted with it." Joe failed to state that Mabel had showed a
dislike for the scarf, and that it was her implied opinion that had
turned him against it.

"You see," the young pitcher went on, "I didn't know just which of the
fellows to give it to, and two or three times I've left it in my hotel
room when we traveled on. And every blamed time some chambermaid
would find it, give it to the clerk, and he'd forward it to me. That
monstrosity of a scarf has been following me all over the circuit.

"I was getting ready to heave it down some sewer hole, when I came in to
find Sam 'borrowing' it. I had to laugh, and I guess he thought I was
crazy. Anyhow he's got the tie, and I've gotten rid of it. So we're both
satisfied."

"Well, that's a good way to look at it. How are things, anyhow?"

"They might, by a strain, be worse," answered Joe, a bit gloomily. The
game that day had been a hard one, and Gregory had used a string of
three pitchers, and had only been able to stop the winning streak of
Buffington. Joe had been taken out after twirling for a few innings.

"Yes, we didn't do ourselves very proud," agreed Charlie. "And to-morrow
we're likely to be dumped. Our record won't stand much of that sort of
thing."

"Indeed it won't. Charlie, I've got to do something!" burst out Joe.

"What is it? I can't see but what you're doing your best."

"My hardest, maybe, but not my best. You see this league pitching is
different from a college game. I didn't stop to figure out that I'd have
to pitch a deal oftener than when I was at Yale. This is business - the
other was fun."

"You're tired, I guess."

"That's it - I'm played out."

"Why don't you take a vacation; or ask Gregory not to work you so often?"

"Can't take any time off, Charlie. I need the money. As for playing the
baby-act - I couldn't do that, either."

"No, I reckon not. But what are you going to do?"

"Hanged if I know. But I've got to do something to get back into form.
We're going down."

"I know it. Has Gregory said anything?"

"No, he's been awfully decent about it, but I know he must think a lot.
Yes, something's got to be done."

Joe was rather gloomy, nor was Charlie in any too good spirits. In fact
the whole team was in the "dumps," and when they lost the next game they
were deeper in than ever.

Some of the papers began running headlines "Pittston Loses Again!" It
was galling.

Jimmie Mack worked hard - so did Gregory - and he, and Trainer McGuire,
devised all sorts of plans to get the team back in form again. But
nothing seemed to answer. The Pittstons dropped to the rear of the first
division, and only clung there by desperate work, and by poor playing
on the part of other teams.

In all those bitter, dreary days there were some bright spots for Joe,
and he treasured them greatly. One was that his father was no worse,
though the matter of the operation was not definitely settled. Another
was that he heard occasionally from Mabel - her letters were a source of
joy to him.

Thirdly, Old Pop Dutton seemed to be "making good." He kept steadily at
work, and had begun to do some real baseball practice. Joe wrote to him,
and his letters were answered promptly. Even cynical Gregory admitted
that perhaps, after all, the former star pitcher might come into his own
again.

"When will you give him a trial?" asked Joe, eagerly.

"Oh, some day. I'll put him in the field when we're sure of an easy
game."

The time came when the tail-enders of the league arrived for a series of
contests with Pittston, and Pop Dutton, to his delight, was allowed to
play. There was nothing remarkable about it, but he made no errors, and
once, taking a rather desperate chance on a long fly, he beat it out and
retired the batter.

He was roundly applauded for this, and it must have warmed his heart to
feel that once more he was on the road he had left so long before. But
coming back was not easy work. Joe realized this, and he knew the old
pitcher must have had a hard struggle to keep on the narrow path he had
marked out for himself. But Joe's influence was a great help - Dutton
said so often. The other players, now that they found their former mate
was not bothering them, begging money, or asking for loans, took more
kindly to him. But few believed he could "come back," in the full
meaning of the words.

"He may be a fairly good fielder, and his batting average may beat
mine," said Tooley, "but he'll never be the 'iron man' he once was." And
nearly all agreed with him.

Joe was faithful to his protegé. Often the two would saunter out to
some quiet place and there pitch and catch for each other. And Joe's
trained eye told him that the other's hand had lost little of its former
cunning.

Meanwhile the fortunes of Pittston did not improve much. Sometimes they
would struggle to second place, only to slip back again, while victorious
Clevefield held her place at the top.

There was only one consolation - Pittston did not drop out of the first
division. She never got lower than fourth.

Joe was being used less and less on the pitching mound, and his heart
was sore. He knew he could make good if only something would happen to
give him back his nerve, or a certain something he lacked. But he could
not understand what.

Properly enough it was Pop Dutton who put him on the right track. The
two were pitching and catching one day, when Joe delivered what he had
always called a "fade-away" ball, made famous by Mathewson, of the New
York Giants. As it sailed into Pop's big mitt the veteran called:

"What was that, Joe?"

"Fade-away, of course."

"Show me how you hold the ball when you throw it."

Joe did so. The old pitcher studied a moment, and then said:

"Joe, you've got it wrong. Have you been pitching that way all the
while?"

"Always."

"No wonder they have been hitting you. Let me show you something. Stand
behind me."

The old pitcher threw at the fence. Joe was amazed at the way the ball
behaved. It would have puzzled the best of batters.

"How did you do it?" asked Joe, wonderingly.

"By using a different control, and holding the ball differently. I'll
show you. You need a new hold."




CHAPTER XX

JOE'S TRIUMPH


Then began a lesson, the learning of which proved of great value to Joe
in his after life as a ball player. If Old Pop Dutton had not the nerve
to "come back" as a pitcher in a big league, at least he could show a
rising young one how to correct his faults. And a fault Joe certainly
had.

For several years he had been throwing the fade-away ball in the wrong
manner. Not entirely wrong, to be sure, or he never would have attained
the results he had, but it was sufficiently wrong to prevent him from
having perfect control of that style of ball, and perfect control is the
first law of pitching.

For some time the two practiced, unobserved, and Joe was glad of this.
He felt more hopeful than at any time since his team had commenced to
"slump."

"Am I getting there?" Joe anxiously asked of the veteran, one day.

"Indeed you are, boy! But that's enough for to-day. You are using some
new muscles in your arm and hand, and I don't want you to tire out.
You'll probably have to pitch to-morrow."

"I only wish I could use this style ball."

"It wouldn't be safe yet."

"No, I suppose not. But I'm going to keep at it."

It was not easy. It is always more difficult to "unlearn" a wrong way of
doing a thing, and start over again on the right, than it is to learn
the proper way at first. The old method will crop up most unexpectedly;
and this happened in Joe's case more times than he liked.

But he persisted and gradually he felt that he was able to deliver the
fade-away as it ought to come from a pitcher's hand. Now he waited the
opportunity.

Meanwhile baseball matters were going on in rather slow fashion. All the
teams, after the fierce rush and enthusiasm of the opening season, had
now begun to fall off. The dog-days were upon them, and the heat seemed
to take all the energy out of the men.

Still the games went on, with Pittston rising and falling on the
baseball thermometer from fourth to second place and occasionally
remaining stationary in third. First place was within striking distance
several times, but always something seemed to happen to keep Joe's team
back.

It was not always poor playing, though occasionally it was due to this.
Often it was just fate, luck, or whatever you want to call it. Fielders
would be almost certain of a ball rolling toward them, then it would
strike a stone or a clod of dirt and roll to one side.

Not much, perhaps, but enough so that the man would miss the ball, and
the runner would be safe, by a fraction of time or space. It was
heart-breaking.

Joe continued to work at the proper fade-away and he was getting more
and more expert in its use. His control was almost perfect. Still he
hesitated to use it in a game, for he wanted to be perfect.

A new pitcher - another south-paw, or left-hander - was purchased from
another league club, at a high price, and for a time he made good. Joe
was fearful lest he be given his release, for really he was not doing as
well as he had at first. Truth to tell he was tired out, and Gregory
should have realized this.

But he did not until one day a sporting writer, in a sensible article
telling of the chances of the different teams in the Central League for
winning the pennant, wrote of Joe:

"This young pitcher, of whom bright things were predicted at the opening
of the season, has fallen off woefully. At times he shows brilliant
flashes of form, but it seems to me that he is going stale. Gregory
should give him a few days off."

Then the manager "woke up."

"Joe, is this true?" he asked, showing the youth the article.

"Well, I am a bit tired, Gregory, but I'm not asking for a vacation,"
answered Joe.

"I know you're not, but you're going to get it. You just take a run home
and see your folks. When you come back I'm going to pitch you in a
series of our hardest games. We go up against Clevefield again. You take
a rest."

Joe objected, but half-heartedly, and ended by taking the train for
home.

His heart felt lighter the moment he had started, and when he got to
Riverside, and found his father much improved, Joe was more like himself
than at any time since the opening of the ball season. His folks were
exceedingly glad to see him, and Joe went about town, renewing old
acquaintances, and being treated as a sort of local lion.

Tom Davis, Joe's chum, looked at the young pitcher closely.

"Joe," he said, "you're getting thin. Either you're in love, or you
aren't making good."

"Both, I guess," answered Joe, with a short laugh. "But I'm going to
make good very soon. You watch the papers."

Joe rejoined his team with a sparkle in his eye and a spring in his step
that told how much good the little vacation had done him. He was warmly
welcomed back - only Collin showing no joy.

Truth to tell Collin had been doing some wonderful pitching those last
few days, and he was winning games for the team. The advent of Joe gave
him little pleasure, for none knew better than he on how slim a margin a
pitcher works, nor how easily he may be displaced, not only in the
affection of the public, always fickle, but in the estimation of the
manager.

"Hang him! I wish he'd stayed away!" muttered Collin. "Now he's fresh
and he may get my place again. But I'll find a way to stop him, if
Gregory gives him the preference!"

Joe went back at practice with renewed hope. He took Gregory and the
catchers into his confidence, and explained about the fade-away. They
were enthusiastic over it.

"Save it for Clevefield," advised the manager.

The day when Pittston was to play the top-notchers arrived. There were
to be four games on Pittston's grounds, and for the first time since his
reformation began, Pop Dutton was allowed to play in an important
contest.

"I'm depending on you," Gregory warned him.

"And you won't be disappointed," was the reply. Certainly the old player
had improved greatly. His eyes were bright and his skin ruddy and
clear.

Joe was a bit nonplussed when Collin was sent in for the opening game.
But he knew Gregory had his reasons. And perhaps it was wise, for Collin
was always at his best when he could deliver the first ball, and open
the game.

Clevefield was shut out in the first inning, and, to the howling delight
of the crowd of Pittston sympathizers and "fans," the home team got a
run.

This gave the players much-needed confidence, and though the visitors
managed to tie the score in their half of the second inning, Pittston
went right after them, and got two more tallies.

"We're going to win, Joe!" cried Charlie Hall. "We're going to win. Our
hoodoo is busted!"

"I hope so," said the young pitcher, wishing he had a chance to play.

It came sooner than he expected. Collin unexpectedly "blew up," and had
to be taken out of the box. Joe was called on, at the proper time, and
walked nervously to the mound. But he knew he must conquer this feeling
and he looked at Nelson, who was catching. The back-stop smiled, and
signalled for a fade-away, but Joe shook his head.

He was not quite ready for that ball yet.

By using straight, swift balls, interspersed with ins and drops, he
fooled the batter into striking out. The next man went out on a pop
fly, and Joe teased the third man into striking at an elusive out.
Clevefield was retired runless and the ovation to Pittston grew.

But it was not all to be as easy as this. Joe found himself in a tight
place, and then, with a catching of his breath, he signalled that he
would use the fade-away.

In it shot - the batter smiled confidently - struck - and missed. He did it
twice before he realized what was happening, and then when Joe felt sure
that his next fade-away would be hit, he swiftly changed to an up-shoot
that ended the matter.

Clevefield fought hard, and once when Joe was hit for a long fly, that
seemed good for at least two bases, Pop Dutton was just where he was
most needed, and made a sensational catch.

There was a howl of delight, and Gregory said to Joe afterward:

"Your man is making good."

Joe was immensely pleased. And when, a little later, at a critical
point in the game, he struck out the third man, again using his famous
fade-away, his triumph was heralded in shouts and cries, for Pittston
had won. It was a triumph for Joe in two ways - his own personal one, and
in the fact that he had been instrumental in having Pop Dutton play - and
Pop's one play, at least that day, saved a run that would have tied the
score.




CHAPTER XXI

A DANGER SIGNAL


"Boys, we're on the right road again!" exclaimed the enthusiastic
manager at the conclusion of the game, when the team was in the dressing
room. "Another like this to-morrow, and one the next day, if it doesn't
rain, and we'll be near the top."

"Say, you don't want much," remarked Jimmie Mack, half sarcastically,
but with a laugh. "What do you think we are anyhow; wonders?"

"We'll have to be if we're going to bring home the pennant," retorted
Gregory.

"And we're going to do it!" declared Joe, grimly.

Collin went to pieces in more ways than one that day. Probably his
failure in the game, added to Joe's triumph, made him reckless, for he
went back to his old habit of gambling, staying up nearly all night, and
was in no condition to report for the second game of the series.

"He makes me tired!" declared Gregory. "I'd write his release in a
minute," he went on, speaking to Jimmie Mack, "only I'm up to my neck in
expenses now, and I can't afford to buy another pitcher. I need all I've
got, and Collin is good when he wants to be."

"Yes, it's only his pig-headedness about Joe that sets him off. But I
think we've got a great find in Matson."

"So do I. There was a time when I was rather blue about Joe, but he
seems to have come back wonderfully."

"Yes," agreed Jimmie Mack, "that fade-away of his is a wonder, thanks to
Pop Dutton."

"Pop himself is the greatest wonder of all," went on Gregory. "I never
believed it possible. I've seen the contrary happen so many times that I
guess I've grown skeptical."

"He and Joe sure do make a queer team," commented the assistant manager.
"Joe watches over him like a hen with one chicken."

"Well, I guess he has to. A man like Pop who has been off the right road
always finds lots of temptation ready and waiting to call him back. But
Joe can keep him straight.

"Now come over here. I want to talk to you, and plan out the rest of the
season. We're in a bad way, not only financially, but for the sake of
our reputations."

If Joe could have heard this he would have worried, especially about
the financial end. For he counted very much on his baseball money - in
fact, his family needed it greatly.

Mr. Matson's savings were tied up in investments that had turned out
badly, or were likely to, and his expenses were heavy on account of
the doctor's and other bills. Joe's salary was a big help. He also
earned something extra by doing some newspaper work that was paid for
generously.

But Joe counted most on the final games of the series, which would
decide the pennant. These were always money-makers, and, in addition,
the winning team always played one or more exhibition games with some
big league nine, and these receipts were large.

"But will we win the pennant?" queried Joe of himself. "We've got to - if
dad is going to have his operation. We've just got to!"

The news from home had been uncertain. At one time Dr. Birch had decided
that an operation must be performed at once, and then had come a change
when it had to be delayed. But it seemed certain that, sooner or later,
it would have to be undertaken, if the inventor's eyesight was to be
saved.

"So you see we've just got to win," said Joe to Charlie Hall.

"I see," was the answer. "Well, I'll do my share toward it, old man,"
and the two clasped hands warmly. Joe was liking Charlie more and more
every day. He was more like a college chum than a mate on a professional
team.

But Pittston was not to have a victory in the second game with
Clevefield. The latter sent in a new pitcher who "played tag," to use a
slang expression, with Joe and his mates, and they lost the contest by a
four to one score. This in spite of the fact that Joe did some good work
at pitching, and "Old Pop," as he was beginning to be called, knocked a
three-bagger. Dutton was one of those rare birds, a good pitcher and a
good man with the stick. That is, he had been, and now he was beginning
to come back to himself.

There was a shadow of gloom over Pittston when they lost the second
game, after having won the first against such odds, and there was much
speculation as to how the other two contests would go.

Gregory revised his batting order for the third game, and sent in his
latest purchase, one of the south-paws, to do the twirling. But he
soon made a change in pitchers, and called on Tooley, who also was a
left-hander.

"I may need you later, Joe," he said as he arranged to send in a "pinch"
hitter at a critical moment. "Don't think that I'm slighting you, boy."

"I don't. I understand."

"How's your fade-away?"

"All right, I guess."

"Good. You'll probably have to use it."

And Joe did. He was sent in at the seventh, when the Clevefield nine was
three runs ahead, and Joe stopped the slump. Then, whether it was this
encouragement, or whether the other team went to pieces, did not
develop, but the game ended with Pittston a winner by two runs.

The crowd went wild, for there had been a most unexpected ending, and so
sure had some of the "fans" been that the top-notchers would come out
ahead, that they had started to leave.

But the unexpected happens in baseball as often as in football, and it
did in this case.

Pittston thus had two out of the four games, and the even break had
increased her percentage to a pleasing point. If they could have taken
the fourth they would have fine hopes of the pennant, but it was not to
be. An even break, though there was a close finish in the last game, was
the best they could get.

However, this was better than for some time, and Gregory and his
associates were well pleased.

Then came a series of games in the different league cities, and matters
were practically unchanged. In turn Buffington, Loston and Manhattan
were visited, the Pittston nine doing well, but nothing remarkable.

Joe seemed firmly established in the place he most desired, and his fine
delivery was increasing in effectiveness each day. His fade-away
remained a puzzle to many, though some fathomed it and profited thereby.
But Joe did not use it too often.

The secret of good pitching lies in the "cross-fire," and in varying the
delivery. No pitcher can continue to send in the same kind of balls in
regular order to each batter. He must study his man and use his brains.

Joe knew this. He also knew that he was not alone a pitcher, but a ball
player, and that he must attend to his portion of the diamond. Too many
twirlers forget this, and Joe frequently got in on sensational plays
that earned him almost as much applause as his box-work did.

Joe was always glad to get back to Pittston to play games. He was
beginning to feel that it was a sort of "home town," though he had few
friends there. He made many acquaintances and he was beginning to build
up a reputation for himself. He was frequently applauded when he came
out to play, and this means much to a baseball man.

Then, too, Joe was always interested in Pop Dutton. He was so anxious
that the former fine pitcher should have his chance to "come back."
Often when scouts from bigger leagues than the Central stopped off to
more or less secretly watch the Pittstons play, Joe would have a talk
with them. Sometimes he spoke of Pop, but the scouts did not seem
interested. They pretended that they had no special object in view, or,
if they did, they hinted that it was some other player than Dutton.


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