Baseball Joe on the School Nine/Chapter 7
A CLASH WITH LUKE
For several minutes Joe stood staring after the baseball manager. The young pitcher's arm hung listlessly at his side. There was a look on his face that would have been sad, had Joe been that kind of a lad—showing his feelings needlessly. But our hero was full of spunk and grit, and, though Hiram's unnecessarily cruel words hurt him grievously, Joe shut his teeth with a firmer grip, squared his shoulders, drew himself up, and then he smiled at Tom.
"Well, of all the mean, unmitigated, low-down, cantankerous, sneaking, bulldozing and—" spluttered the first baseman.
"Hold on!" exclaimed his companion. "You'll blow up if you go on that way, Tom. Besides, save some of those big words for a time when you may need 'em."
"Need 'em? Say If I don't need 'em now I never will. I wish I had thought to get rid of a few when that bully was here."
"You'd only gotten into trouble. Better keep still about it."
"I can't Joe. Just think of it! We came here to play ball, and the first crack out of the box that fellow goes and tells us we can't."
"Well, I don't know as I have any particular right to play on the nine here."
"Yes, you have, the best right in the world! I'll bet they haven't got a pitcher here who can stand up to you, and I'm going to tell that sneaking bully so, too," and Tom started off after the departing Hiram.
"No, don't!" cried Joe quickly. "It will only make matters worse."
"But you want to pitch; don't you?"
"Sure, but that would be the best way in the world to insure that I wouldn't. Hiram Shell is just the kind of a fellow who, if he thinks a chap wants anything, is going to do his best—or worst—to stop him."
"What are you going to do then?"
"I'm going to lie low and saw wood. The baseball season hasn't opened yet. The team isn't made up. Nobody knows who is going to play and—"
"Well, Hiram as good as told us two fellows who weren't going to play," interrupted Tom. "That's you and I."
"Wait a bit," advised Joe. "I was going to say that when the season has started and several games have been played there may be a change. I may get a chance to play then, just as I did on the Stars. I'm willing to wait. The Summer is long, and there'll be more than one game. Just say nothing."
"Well, if you say so, I suppose I'll have to," answered his chum, "but it's mighty hard to keep still when a fellow like Hiram Shell rubs your nose in the dirt, and then kicks you in the bargain. He'll have to ask me to play now. I won't volunteer!" and Tom shook his fist in the direction of the manager. "Yes, he'll have to get down on his knees and—"
"Precious little danger of that," remarked Joe with a laugh. He was feeling more like himself now, though the memory of the bully's sneering words rankled. They had cut deep.
"Guess there's no use catching any longer," resumed Tom after a pause. "I don't exactly feel like it."
"Me either. I guess we've gotten over our touch of spring fever," and Joe's voice was a bit despondent. Really, he cared more about what Hiram had said than he liked to admit, even to himself. He had had high hopes when he left the Riverside High School to come to Excelsior Hall that he would at once become a member of the nine. His ambition, of course, was to pitch, but he would have accepted any position—even out in the field, for the sake of being on the school team. Now it seemed that he was fated not even to be one of the substitutes.
"What are you fellows up to?" asked a voice suddenly, and the two chums turned to behold Peaches and Teeter walking toward them.
"Oh, we were having a catch," replied Tom, "until we got called down for it. It seems you have to have a permit at Excelsior to indulge in a little private practice," he added sarcastically.
"What's up your back now?" asked Teeter.
"Yes, who's been rubbing your fur the wrong way?" Peaches wanted to know. "What's riled Sister?"
"Who do you reckon would, if not Bully Shell?" asked Tom. "He's the limit," and he rapidly told how Hiram had sneered at Joe's efforts, and had said that he never would be on the team.
"Well, it's too bad, for Hiram has the inside track," admitted Teeter. "I'm as sorry about it as you are, and so are a lot of the fellows. The trouble is that the athletic committee is too big. There are a lot of lads on it who don't care a rap for baseball or football, who don't even play tennis, yet they have a vote, and it's their votes that keep Hiram as manager, and Luke as captain."
"Can't it be changed?" Tom wanted to know. Joe was maintaining a discrete silence, for he did not want to urge his own qualifications as a pitcher. Tom was eager to fight for his chum.
"Well, it's been tried," spoke Peaches, "but Hiram has his own set with him—a set that isn't the sporting element of Excelsior by a good lot, and their votes keep him in. He spends his money freely and toadies to them, and they fairly black his shoes. Luke Fodick, too, helps out. He has his crowd and they're all with him. I tell you it's rotten, but what are you going to do?"
"I know what I'm going to do if I stay here!" declared Tom.
"What?" demanded Peaches and Teeter eagerly.
"I'm not going to tell until I'm ready to spring it," said Tom, " and when I do I think you'll see some fur fly. How soon before the school team is picked?"
"Well, they ought to get at It pretty soon now," answered Teeter. "There is a meeting of the athletic committee some time next week, and a manager and captain will be elected. It's always done that way here, though in some places they do it right at the close of the season. But it has always been a cut-and-dried affair as long as Hiram has been here. He got in—he and Luke—and they've stayed in ever since."
"Can we go to that athletic meeting?" asked Tom.
"Oh, yes," said Teeter quickly. "It's open to every lad in the school, but lots don't take the trouble to go,—they know how it will turn out."
"Well, maybe there'll be a different turn to it this time," predicted Tom.
"I'm afraid you've got another guess coming," was the retort of Peaches; and then the four friends strolled toward the school buildings.
"What do you say to a scrub game?" asked Teeter.
"I'm willing!" said Joe eagerly; and so it was arranged.
The school diamond was not in very good shape, but two teams, of seven lads on a side, gathered for the first impromptu baseball game of the season the following afternoon. Tom, Joe, Peaches and Teeter tried to get more out, but there were various excuses, and it might be noted that aside from Teeter and Peaches not one of the former regular nine appeared.
"I guess they're afraid Hiram will release them if they play with us," commented Tom.
"Maybe so," admitted Teeter. "George Bland would come only he had some experimental work to finish. George isn't any more afraid of Hiram than we are."
"Well, let's play ball," suggested Joe; and the game started. Joe occupied the box for his side, an honor that came easily to him since none of the others had had anyas a twirler of the horsehide.
Our hero felt a little nervous as he took his place, for he knew he was out of practice. Also he felt that he was being watched, not only by his particular friends, but by others. And some of them might not be friendly eyes—nay, some might be spying on behalf of Hiram Shell.
But Joe pulled himself well together, laughed at his idle fears, and sent in a swift curve. It broke cleanly and completely fooled the batter.
"Say, that's the way to get 'em over!" cried Teeter admiringly from behind the bat as the ball landed in his mitt. "Do it some more!"
"I'll try," laughed Joe, and he repeated the trick.
The man was easily struck out, and the next at the bat fell for a like fate, but the third found Joe's curve and swatted the ball for two bags.
"Oh, well, Joe just allowed that so you fellows wouldn't get discouraged," exclaimed Teeter as an excuse for his pitcher. "Get ready to slaughter the next man, Joe."
And Joe did. He was delighted to find that his ability to curve the ball, and send it swiftly in, had not deserted him during the long winter of comparative inactivity. He knew that he could "come back with the goods," and there was a feeling of hope welling up within him, that, after all, there might come a chance for him to pitch on the Excelsior nine.
The game went on, not regular, nor played according to the rules by any means. But it was lots of fun, and some of the lads discovered their weak points, while others found themselves doing better than they expected. Joe's side won by a small margin, and just as the winning run came in our hero was aware of a figure walking toward the bench on which the side was sitting.
"Huh! Starting off rather early, ain't you?" demanded a voice, and they turned to behold Luke Fodick. "Who said you fellows could use the diamond, anyhow?"
"We didn't ask anybody," retorted Teeter with a snap.
"Well, you want to—after this," was the surly command. "I'm captain of the nine and what I say goes. I'm not going to have the diamond all torn up before the season opens, see! I'm captain!"
"Not yet," spoke Peaches quietly. "The election isn't until next week."
"What's that got to do with it? You ain't thinking of running opposition to me; are you?"
"No," and a bright spot burned on the fair cheeks of the light-complexioned lad.
"Because if you are you'll have a fight on your hands," threatened Luke. "Who's been pitching?" he asked, his gaze roving over the crowd of lads.
"I was for our side," replied Joe quietly.
"Oh, you—yes I heard about you!" exclaimed Luke with a grating laugh. "You're the fellow who wants to pitch on the nine; ain't you? Well, you want to get that bee out of your bonnet, or you may get stung, see? Hiram told me about you. Why, you are only an amateur. We want the best here at Excelsior. By Jove, it's queer how tacky some of you high school kids get as soon as you come to a real institution. Talk about nerve, I——"
Joe fairly leaped from the bench. In another stride he confronted Luke.
"Look here!" cried our hero, anger getting the best of him for the time being, "I've taken all of that kind of talk I'm going to either from you or Bully Shell! Now you keep still or I'll make you. I'll give you the best licking you ever had; and I'll do it right here and now if you say another word about my pitching! I didn't come here to take any of your sneers, and I don't intend to. Now you put that in your pipe, and smoke it, and then close up and stay closed," and shaking his finger so close to the astonished Luke that it hit the buttons on his coat Joe turned back and sat down.