Baseball Joe on the School Nine/Chapter 12

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It doesn't take Peaches long to make up his mind," remarked Tom.

"No, he's always right on the job," agreed Teeter.

"It's mighty good of him—and all of you—to go to all this trouble and fuss on my account," added Joe, "I appreciate it, too."

"Nonsense!" exclaimed Teeter, as he balanced himself on his toes to see if it was safe to indulge in any more cheese and ginger snaps.

"We're glad to do it. I only hope you do make the team, and pitch, at that."

"If I can pitch on the scrub, I'll be satisfied for a while."

"We want to make Excelsior the best nine in the league this year," went on Teeter. "We've got to have the Blue Banner, and one way we can cinch it is to have a good pitcher."

"Thanks!" laughed Joe.

"Well, I mean it," resumed Teeter, helping himself to a handful of the crisp snaps. "That's where our weak point was last season. Many a game we gave away after we had it practically won, just because our pitchers went up in the air. And I'm afraid It'll be the same now. Frank Brown isn't much, unless he's improved a whole lot over season, and I don't believe he has. And as for Larry Akers—well, he's only a make-shift. Now, I'd like to see—"

But Teeters' little talk was Interrupted by the sound of footsteps in the corridor outside. For a moment the lads gazed anxiously at each other, and Tom made a grab for one of the fake books, but a look of relief came over their faces when the door opened and Peaches entered, followed by some one.

"I brought Ward with me," explained the lad with the fair complexion. "Thought it was the safest way. Come on in, Ward; I guess these Indians haven't scalped all the grub."

"Yes, fall to," invited Teeter. "There's plenty."

"Charmed, I'm sure," murmured Ward with an assumed society air.

"You know Joe Matson, of course," went on Peaches.

"Oh, sure. He beat me in physics class the other week and I haven't forgotten it."

"He wants to pitch on the scrub," went on the originator of the scheme. "He's all to the mustard, too, and—"

"Say, let me say a word for myself," put in Joe. "I'm not a political candidate in the hands of my friends. Is there a show for me on the scrub, Ward?"

"Well, I haven't made up the team yet, and you're the first applicant for pitcher, so you'll have first choice."

"Then it's as good as settled!" declared Peaches. "When do you make up the team, Ward?"

"To-morrow, I guess. I'll put you down as first pitcher, Joe, and I hope you can throw a scare into the school team—not because I'm not on it myself, but the better opposition they have, the better they'll play for the banner."

"What about Hiram?" asked Tom. "Won't he kick up a fuss if he knows you've got Joe? And what about Luke?"

"Say, I'm running the scrub!" exclaimed Ward. "They haven't anything to say after I take charge. What I say goes!"

"That's right," agreed Teeter. "I'll do Hiram that much justice. He never interferes with the scrub after the season starts. Neither does Luke. They have their hands full managing their own players."

"Then I guess I'll get a chance to pitch," murmured Joe, and he was happier than he had been in some time. It was only a small beginning, but it was a start, and that meant a good deal.

Ward Gerard, whom Joe and Tom did not know very well, turned out to be a good-natured and pleasant companion. He was one of the new arrivals at the school, but already stood well in his classes and on the athletic field. Football was his specialty, but he was none the less a good baseball player and might have made the first team had he tried harder.

The boys talked of the diamond until the booming of the big school clock warned them that they had better get to bed; so with good-nights and a renewed promise on the part of Ward to place Joe in the box, the conference broke up.

"Oh, things are coming your way slowly," remarked Tom, as he and Joe reached their room, having successfully dodged a prying monitor on the look-out for rule violators.

"Yes, and now I've got to make good."

"You can do that easily enough. You always have. And when the three months are up I'm going to make my motion over again, and I'll bet we'll elect you as regular pitcher."

"I guess you forget that when the three months are up the Summer vacation will be here and the nine will be out of business," remarked Joe. "No, I've got to work my own way, I guess."

There were some murmurs of surprise when it was announced the next day that Joe Matson was to be the scrub pitcher. Friends of rival candidates urged their claims on Ward, but he stuck to his promise and the place went to Joe.

"Did Hiram or Luke say anything when you told them?" asked Tom of the scrub captain.

"Oh, yes—a little."

"What was it?"

"Nothing very pleasant, so don't repeat it to Joe, but Hiram wanted to know why I didn't pick out a decent fellow to pitch against the first team, and Luke remarked that Joe would be knocked out of the box in the first practice game, and that I'd have to get some one else."

"Oh, Luke said that, did he?" asked Tom, and there was a look of smothered anger in his eyes.

"Yes, and then some more."

"Just wait until the first game—that's all," requested Tom quietly. "If they knock Joe Matson out of the box it will be the first time it's happened since he found that he was a real pitcher."

"There are some pretty good batters on the first team," warned Ward.

"That's the kind Joe likes," replied his chum. "Just you wait; that's all."

It was the day for the first regular practice between the scrub and first teams. For several afternoons Joe had been pitching to Bob Harrison, who often acted as the scrub catcher, and as there was so much other individual playing going on no one had paid much attention to the work of our hero.

"Say, I think we've got a 'find' all right," announced Bob to Ward, just before the practice game was called.

"How so?" asked the scrub captain.

"Why, that Matson can sting 'em in for further orders, and he's got some of the prettiest curves that ever came over the plate. The Hiram-Luke crowd is going to sit up and take notice, take it from yours truly."

"I'm glad of it!" declared Ward. "We'll do our best to beat 'em, and it will be for their own good. They're soft, naturally at the beginning of the season, and so are we, but if we can wallop 'em, so much the better. Have you and Joe got your signals down?"

"Yes, he's better at that than I am. He must have played some pretty good games."

"So Sister Davis says. Well, here they come. Now to see what we can do?"

There was a conference betwen Luke and Ward, and in order to give his team the most severe kind of a try-out, Luke arranged to let the scrub bat last.

The first practice game was important in more ways than one. Not only did it open the season for Excelsior Hall, but it would show up the weak players, and, while the first team was practically picked, there might be a change in it. At least so every lad who was not on it, but wanted to be, thought, and he hoped against hope that his playing might attract the attention of the manager.

Another thing was that Dr. Rudden, the coach, sometimes took a hand in the baseball affairs and occasionally he had been known to over-ride the judgment of Hiram and Luke, insisting that some player whom they had not picked be allowed to show what he could do on the first team. So there were many hearts that beat high with hope, and among them was Joe's. And there were hearts that were a bit anxious—to wit, members of the first team who were not quite sure of themselves.

There was a large crowd in the grandstand and on the bleachers when the gong rang to start the game—a throng of students mostly, for the general public was not admitted so early in the season.

It was a good day for the game, albeit the ground was a trifle soft, and the Spring wind not as warm as might be. The boys in their spick and span new uniforms made a natty appearance as they trotted out on the diamond.

According to custom. Dr. Fillmore, the venerable head of the school, pitched the first ball formally to open the season. It was a sort of complimentary ball, and was not expected to be struck at.

"Play ball!" yelled the umpire as he took the new horsehide sphere from its tinfoil wrapping and handed it to Dr. Fillmore. The president bowed as though about to make a speech, and Joe, who was in the box, stepped back. Our hero's heart was thumping under his blouse, for at last he was about to pitch his first game at Excelsior Hall, even if it was but on the scrub.