Baseball Joe on the School Nine/Chapter 22

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Joe's first act, after receiving the bad news from home, was to sit down and write his father a letter full of vain regrets, of self-accusation, upbraiding himself for having been so stupid as not to have thought of telegraphing. He hastened to post this, going out himself though barely over his cold.

"I'm not going to take any more chances," he remarked to Tom. "Maybe that other letter wasn't mailed by the janitor, or it would have gotten to dad in time."

"Hardly," remarked his chum. "Your father says the things were taken the night before your letter arrived, so you would have had to write the day before to have done any good. Only a telegram would have been of any use."

"I guess so," admitted Joe sorrowfully. "I'm a chump!"

"Oh, don't worry any more," advised his friend. "Let's get at some baseball practice. The school has two games this week."

"Who with? "asked Joe.

"Woodside Hall and the Lakeview Preps. We ought to win 'em both. They need you back on the scrub. The first nine has had it too easy."

"And I'll be glad to get back," replied the young pitcher earnestly. "It seems as if I hadn't had a ball in my hands for a month."

Joe mailed his letter and then, as the day was just right to go out on the diamond, he and Tom hastened there, finding plenty of lads awaiting them. A five-inning game between the scrub and school teams was soon arranged.

"Now boys, go in and clean 'em up!" exclaimed Luke, as his men went to bat, allowing the scrub the advantage of being last up. This was done to make the first team strive exceptionally hard to pile up runs early in the practice.

"Don't any of you fan out," warned Hiram. "I'm watching you."

"And so am I," added Dr. Rudden, the coach, as he strolled up. "You first team lads want to look to your laurels. You have plenty of games to play before the finals to decide the possession of the Blue Banner, but remember that every league game counts. Your percentage is rather low for the start of the season."

He was putting it mildly. The percentage of Excelsior Hall was exceedingly low.

"Beat the scrub" advised the coach-teacher.

"They can't do it with Joe in the box!" declared Tom; and Luke and Hiram sneered audibly. Their feeling against our two heroes had not improved since the event of the initiation.

The scrub nine was not noted for its heavy hitting, but in this practice game they outdid themselves, and when they came up for their first attempt they pulled down the lead of four runs which the school nine had, to one. There was an ominous look on the faces of Luke and Hiram as the first team went to bat for the second time.

"Make 'em look like a plugged nickel," advised Tom to his pitching chum. "The worse you make 'em take a beating the more it will show against Hiram and Luke. We want to get 'em out of the game,"

"All right," assented Joe, and then he "tightened up," in his pitching, with the result that a goose egg went up in the second frame of the first team.

Even Dr. Rudden looked grave over this. If the school nine could not put up a better game against their own scrub, all of whose tricks and mannerisms they knew, what could they do against the two regular nines with whom they were to cross bats during the week? When the scrubs got another run, Joe knocking a three bagger, and coming home on Tommy Barton's sacrifice, there was even a graver look on the face of the coach. As for Luke and Hiram, they held a consultation.

"We'll have to make a shift somewhere," declared Hiram.

"I'll just let Akers go in the box in place of Frank Brown," decided the captain.

" No, that's not enough," insisted the manager. "You don't know how to play your own men."

"I know as much as you do about it!" fired back Luke. Of late the bully and his crony had not agreed overwell.

"No, you don't!" reaffirmed Hiram. "I tell you what you ought to do. You ought to get rid of Peaches, Teeter and George Bland."

"Why, they're three of the best players on the nine."

"No, they're not, and besides they're too friendly with Joe Matson and Sister Davis. They don't half play. They make errors on purpose, just to make the school team have a bad reputation."

"Why should they do that?"

"Don't you understand, you chump?" They want to force you and me out. That's their game. They're sore about that meeting, and Matson and Davis are sore about lots of things. Peaches and the other two think if they get us out there'll be a chance for Joe to pitch."

"So that's their game, is it?" exclaimed Luke. "Well, I'll put a stop to it. I'll make subs of Peaches, Bland and Teeter, and put in some other players. They can't come it over me that way."

"Play ball!" called the umpire, for the talk between the captain and manager was delaying the game.

"Oh, we'll play all right," snapped Luke, and he knew that he and his nine had to, for the score was now tie. "Peaches, Teeter, Bland, you can sit on the bench a while!" went on Luke. "Wilson, Natch and Gonzales, you'll take their places."

"What's that for?" asked the innocent and unoffending Peaches.

"Have we played so rotten?" Teeter wanted to know.

"I made the changes because I wanted to," snapped Luke. "Go sit down with the other subs, and we'll see if we can't play a decent game."

Perhaps Peaches and his chums may have understood the reason for Luke's act, but if they did, they did not say so. The game went on with the three new players, and the result may be imagined. The scrub continued to get ahead, and the school nine could not catch up because Joe was pitching in great form, and striking out man after man, though he was hit occasionally.

"This is worse than ever," growled Hiram, when another inning passed and the scrub was five runs ahead. "Change back again, Luke."

"Say, they'll think I'm crazy."

"Can't help it. We'll be worse than crazy if we don't win this little measly game. And think what will happen Friday and Saturday. Change back."

So Peaches, Teeter and George were called from the bench again, and they played desperately. There was a general tightening all along the line, and the school nine began to see victory ahead. Joe got a little wild occasionally, principally because he was out of practice, but the best the school nine could do was to tie the score in the fifth inning, and it had to go to seven before they could win, though they had planned to play only five. The school nine won by a margin of one.

"That's too close for comfort, boys," said the coach. "Why didn't you have a little mercy, Joe?" he asked of the young scrub pitcher.

"I will next time—maybe," was the laughing answer. Luke and Hiram scowled at him as they passed. They would have witnessed with pleasure his withdrawal from the school. But Joe was going to stick.

"What are we going to do?" asked Luke of Hiram as they walked on.

"About what?"

"The nine. We've just got to win these two games."

"Well, we'll have to do some more shifting, I guess, and Brown and Akers have got to tighten up on their pitching. We'll try some more shifting."

"Oh, you make me sick!" exclaimed the captain. "Always changing. What good does that do?"

"Say, I'm manager of this nine!" declared the bully, "and if you don't like the way I run things, you know what you can do."

Luke subsided after that. He was afraid of Hiram, and he wanted to remain as captain. The two discussed various plans, but could come to no decision.

The inevitable happened. In the game with Woodside the Excelsiors managed to get a few runs in the early innings, but their opponents did likewise, because the Hall pitcher could not hold the batters in check. Then Woodside sent in another pitcher, better than the first, and the Excelsior's got only a few scattering hits, while, after shifting from Brown to Akers, Luke's nine did even worse, for Akers was pounded out of the box. The score was fifteen to six in favor of Woodside when the final inning ended, and the Excelsiors filed off the diamond in gloomy mood.

"Well, it couldn't have been much worse," growled Luke to the manager.

"Oh, it was pretty bad," admitted Hiram, "but we'll whitewash the Preps."

The Excelsior Hall nine journeyed to the Lakeville school full of hope, for the lads there did not have a very good reputation as hitters, and their pitcher was not out of the ordinary. But it was the same old story—mismanagement, and a captain of the Excelsiors who didn't dare speak his own mind.

If Luke had been allowed to run the team to suit himself he might have been able to do something with it, but Hiram insisted on having his way.

The result can be imagined. Instead of beating the Lakevllle boys by a large score, as they had done the previous year, Excelsior was beaten, nine to seven.

"Well, it's not as bad as the last game," was all the consolation Hiram could find.

"Say, don't talk to me!" snapped Luke. "Something's got to be done!"

"That's right," put in Peaches, who came up just then. "Something has got to be done, Hiram Shell, and right away, too."

He looked the bully squarely in the face. Behind Peaches came Teeter, George Bland and several of the subs.

"What—what do you mean?" stammered Hiram.

"I mean that it's either you or us," went on Peaches.

"Either you get out as manager or we get out as players," added Teeter. "We're tired of playing on a nine that can't win a game. We can play ball, and we know it. But not with you, Hiram. What's it going to be—you or us?"

"Say!" burst out the bully. "I'll have you know that—"

A hand was placed on his shoulder. He wheeled about to confront Dr. Rudden.

"I think something must be done," said the coach quietly. "Call a meeting of the Athletic Committee, Shell."

"What for?" asked the bully.

"To discuss the situation. There has got to be a change if Excelsior Hall is to have a chance for the Blue Banner. If you don't call the meeting, Shell, I will."

It was perhaps the best thing that could have happened, and to save friction among the students, many of whom were still for the manager, Hiram knew he had to give in to Dr. Rudden.

"All right," he growled. "The meeting will take place to-night."

Quickly the word went around through the precincts of Excelsior Hall.

"There's going to be another hot meeting."

"Hiram's on his last legs."

"His game is up now."

"This means that Joe Matson will pitch, sure, and we'll win some games now."

"If Hiram goes, Luke will, too, and there'll be a new captain."

These were only a few of the comments and predictions made by the players and other students as they got ready to attend the session.