Baseball Joe on the School Nine/Chapter 13
JOE'S GREAT WORK
"Let her go, Doctor!"
"Make him hit it, Professor!"
"Strike him out!"
"Give him an old Greek curve!"
These were come of the cries that reached Dr. Fillmore as he stood in Joe's place in the pitching box. The president of the faculty smiled pleasantly. He was used to this mild "joshing," which was always indulged in by the lads of Excelsior on the occasion of the opening of the season. Not that it was at all offensive; in fact, it rather showed the good feeling existing between the Instructors and their pupils.
"Are you all ready?" asked Dr. Fillmore, as though he was Inquiring whether a student was prepared to recite, and as if he really expected to pitch a ball that was to be hit.
"Play ball!" called Harvey Hallock, who was umpiring.
"Not too swift now, if you please, Doctor," stipulated Nat Pierson, who was first up.
Then the venerable president delivered the new, white horsehide sphere. He threw rather awkwardly, but with more accuracy than might have been expected from a man who had a ball in his hands but once a year. Right over the plate it went, and though usually the initial ball was never struck at, Nat could not resist the opportunity.
He "bunted," and the ball popped up in the air and sailed back toward the pitcher's box. To the surprise of all, Dr. Fillmore stepped forward and neatly caught it.
"That's the stuff!"
"Put him on the team!"
"Why didn't you say you were a ball-player, Doctor?"
"Let him play the game!"
These and many other cries greeted the president's performance. He bowed again, gravely, and smiled genially as he tossed the ball to Joe, who was waiting for it. A little round of applause came from some members of the faculty who had accompanied the doctor to the grounds, and then the head of the school walked off the diamond amid a riot of cheers. The baseball season at Excelsior Hall had opened under auspicious occasions everyone thought, and more than one lad had great hopes that the Blue Banner would come back there to stay for a while.
"Play ball!" called the umpire again, and this time the game was on in earnest.
Joe dug a little hole for the toe of his shoe, revolved the ball in his hands a few times, and looked to get the signal from Bob Harrison, the scrub catcher.
Bob, who knew the individual characteristics of each batter better than did Joe (though the latter was rapidly learning them) signalled for a high out, and our hero nodded his head in confirmation. The next instant he delivered the ball.
There was a vicious swing of the bat, and there could almost be heard the swish as it cut the air. And that is all it did do, for the horsehide landed squarely in Bob's glove with a resounding ping! and there was one strike against Nat.
"That's the way to do it!" cried Bob.
"Say, what's the matter with you?" angrily demanded Luke Fodick of one of his best batters. "What do you want to fan for?"
"Couldn't help it, I guess," answered Bob rather sheepishly. "It was a curve."
"Well, don't you know how to handle them by this time?" fairly snarled Hiram, who was closely watching every player. "If you don't know how to hit out a hot one you'd better go back on the scrub. Don't do it again."
"I'll kill the next ball!" declared Nat, but he did not like the looks of it as Joe delivered it, and did not swing his bat.
"Strike!" called the umpire sharply.
"Wha—what?" cried Nat.
"I said strike. It was right over the plate."
"What's he doing, calling strikes on you?" demanded Hiram.
"It looks that way," spoke Nat.
"Well, say—" began the manager in his bullying manner, as he strode toward the umpire.
"Hold on now!" interposed Luke, who sometimes had better judgment than Hiram. "It's all right. Don't get excited. It may have been a strike. The fellows haven't got on to all the points of the game yet this season. Go on."
"All right," growled Hiram. "But don't you dare strike out, Nat."
Joe's next delivery was called a ball, though it was rightly a strike. Joe said nothing, realizing that the umpire was naturally a bit afraid of offending Hiram and Luke too much. Then Nat knocked a little pop fly, which was easily taken care of by the second baseman, and the first man on the regular, or school team, as it was called, was out.
"All ready for the next one!" called Catcher Bob.
"Don't you fan!" warned Hiram to Jake Weston, who was next up.
"Just watch me!" exulted Jake as he walked confidently to the plate.
Joe sent in a puzzling drop, with considerable swiftness, but to his chagrin Jake "killed" it, landing on it squarely and lining it out for two bags.
"That's the way to do it!" yelled Luke, capering about.
"Now, where's your star pitcher?" inquired Hiram, and he looked toward Tom Davis, who was playing first. "I guess he isn't so much!"
Tom said nothing. He realized that perhaps his advocacy of Joe's abilities had brought his friend and himself too much in the limelight. But he meant well.
"Oh, well, we just let you hit that one to see how it felt," shouted Bob Harrison, and that brought back Joe's nerve, which, for the moment, had deserted him as he saw his effort go for naught. Jake was on second, but he only got one bag farther, stealing to third as Joe struck out the next man.
The school nine members were now whispering uneasily among themselves. Never before, at the opening of the season had they had a scrub pitcher who did such things to them. They realized that they had to play the game for all it was worth.
Luke and Hiram were whispering earnestly together and when Harry Lauter, whom Joe had struck out walked to the bench, Luke stepped up to the plate.
"Hold on!" cried Ward Gerard quickly. "You are out of your turn, Luke."
"How's that?" indignantly demanded the school captain.
"George Bland is up next, according to the batting order you gave me."
"Well, we've changed the batting order," put in Hiram quickly.
The truth of the matter was that George was not a very good hitter, while Luke was, and both the latter and the manager had seen the necessity of making at least one run the first inning in order to inspire confidence in the school team. They had hoped to change the batting order unobserved, and bring up a good hitter when he was most needed. But the scrub captain had been too sharp for them.
"Changed the batting order, eh?" asked Ward. "You can't do it now under the rules."
"Oh, well, we ain't playing strictly according to rules yet," said Luke weakly. "I'm going to bat, anyhow. You can change your batting order if you like."
"We don't have to," responded Ward. "But go ahead, we'll allow it."
"Thanks—for nothing!" exclaimed Hiram sarcastically, and Luke held his place at home plate.
The situation was now rather tense. There were two men out, a man was on third and the captain of the school team himself was at bat. It was up to Luke to bring in his man and save his side from a goose egg in the first inning. Luke fairly glared at Joe, as if daring our hero to strike him out, and Joe was no less determined to do that feat if possible.
He looked at Bob for a signal, and got one that meant to deliver a swift in. Then Joe knew that Luke, for all his boasting was a bit afraid—afraid of being hit by the ball, and, being timid would involuntarily step back if the horsehide seemed to be coming too close to him.
"Here goes!" murmured Joe, and he sent in one with all his force.
As he had expected, the school captain did step back, and, an instant later, the umpire cried:
"What?" fairly yelled Luke turning at him. There was a laugh from some of the scrubs, and it was joined in by a number of the other students—lads who were kept from the athletic committee by the snap ruling of Luke and Hiram. The captain realized that there was a feeling against him, and he quickly swallowed his wrath.
"Watch what you're doing," warned Hiram.
"Oh, that was only a fluke," declared Luke. Joe smiled. He was going to send in another "fluke," but not the same kind. He delivered a quick ball, with a peculiar upward twist to it, and, as Luke swung viciously at it, but too low, naturally his bat passed under the ball.
"Strike two!" yelled the umpire, as the ball landed safely in Bob's big mitt.
There was a murmur of astonishment from the school nine and its particular sympathizers, and a breath of delight from the despised scrubs. Hiram flushed angrily, yet he dared say nothing, for there was no doubt about this strike. As for Luke, he was too surprised to make any comment.
"I'll get the next one!" he declared, as he tapped his bat on the home plate. He did hit it, but it was only a foul, and, being on the last strike, did not count against him.
"That's the way to do it. You're finding his curves if he has any!" cried Hiram. "Swat It!"
"Sure!" assented Luke.
With all his might he hit at the next ball, only to fan the air.
"Strike three—batter's out!" called the umpire amid a tense silence. Luke had done what he was seldom guilty of; he had struck out, and to a pitcher whom he not only hated but despised. Joe's great work had enabled the scrub to retire the school team without a run—a thing that had not been done at Excelsior in many years.
"Wow! That's the stuff!" yelled Tom, as he raced in from first. "I knew you could do it, Joe."
"Great work, old man!" complimented Ward. "Now we'll see what we can do."
There were gloomy and dubious looks on the faces of Hiram and Luke as the school team filed out on the field.