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A Baseball Idol

"Put her there, Matson!" cried Hughson, his face beaming with pleasure.
"I never saw better pitching than you showed us to-day."

Joe's face flushed. He shook Hughson's hand heartily.

"Oh, it's nothing compared with lots of games you've pitched, Hughson,"
he said. "I'm only in the infant class yet."

"A mighty husky infant," laughed Hughson. "At least that's what the
Bostons think. It was a hard game for them to lose, just when they
thought they had it tucked away in their bat bag."

"I feel rather sorry for Albaugh," said Joe. "He pitched a peach of a
game and deserved to win."

"He sure did," conceded Hughson. "And nine times out of ten that kind
of pitching would have won. But to-day he had the hard luck to be
pitted against a better man. They got only one clean hit off of you.
The other was a scratch. A little more and you'd have pitched a no-hit
game. And that's going some for the first game of the season, I'll tell
the world.

"Another thing that tickled me," he went on, "was to see him pass
you to first rather than give you a chance to hit the ball. That's a
compliment to all the boxmen of the country. As a rule we're easy meat.
The other pitchers are glad to see us come up to the plate. It has got
to be a proverb that pitchers can't hit. But you gave the lie to that
proverb to-day. Those two hits of yours were ticketed for the fence.
And that steal home was the classiest thing I've seen for a blue moon.
That's the kind of thinking that wins ball games. Do the thing the
other fellow doesn't expect you to do."

"It was a case of touch and go," replied Joe. "I knew that I had
touched the plate before Menken put the ball on me, but I wasn't sure
the umpire would see it the same way. But he did, and that's all that
matters. By the way, Hughson, how is that arm of yours coming along?"

"Not as well as I should like," responded Hughson, while a touch of
gloom came into his face. "There are days when it feels all right, and
other days when I can't lift it without pain. I've been down to see
Reese again about it, and he can't see anything radically wrong with
it. Says I'll have to be patient and give it time. But it's mighty
hard to have to sit on the bench when I'm fairly aching to get in the
box again."

"I know just how you must feel," returned Joe sympathetically. "The
boys are all rooting for you to get back into harness again. It doesn't
seem the same old team with you out of the running."

"I'll be back with bells on before long," answered Hughson with a
smile, as he moved on to have a chat with Robbie.

"Isn't he a prince?" Joe remarked admiringly to Jim, as they watched
the back of the tall figure.

"He sure is an honor to the game," returned Jim. "Here's hoping that
he'll soon be on deck again."

The next day the New York papers were full of the story of the game.
There was a general feeling of jubilation over the auspicious start
by the Giants, a feeling that was the more pronounced, because of
the feeling that had previously prevailed that Hughson's continued
disability would be a serious handicap to the chances of again winning
the pennant.

One great subject dwelt upon in all the accounts was the marvelous
pitching that Joe had shown. The sporting reporters "spread themselves"
on the way he had held the Bostons in the hollow of his hand. To allow
only two hits in the opening game, and one of them a scratch, was a
feat that they dwelt upon at length.

But scarcely less space was devoted to his batting. Although it was
recalled that in the previous year he had had a creditable average at
the bat, considering that he was a pitcher, his power as a twirler had
kept his other qualities in the shade. Comment was made on the perfect
way he had timed the ball and of the fact that his homer had gone
nearly to the end of the grounds almost on a straight line, a fact that
attested the tremendous power behind the hit. One of the papers headed
its article: "Is There to Be a New Batting King?" and went on to say
among other things:

"It is an extraordinary thing to pitch a two-hit game at the
beginning of the season. But it is still more extraordinary
that, despite the strain on the muscles and nerves of the
pitcher who achieves that distinction, he should also have a
perfect batting average for the day. That is what occurred
yesterday. In four times at the bat he was passed twice and
the other times poled out a triple and a home run. And this
was done against heady and effective pitching, for Albaugh has
seldom showed better form than in yesterday's game.

"One might have thought that with this record Matson would
have called it a day and let it go at that. But he was still
not satisfied. In the ninth, with two men out and two strikes
called on Mylert, he put the game on ice by stealing home from
third--as unexpected and dazzling a play as we shall probably
be fortunate enough to see this year. It was the climax of a
wonderful game.

"McRae never made a shrewder deal than when he secured this
phenomenal pitcher from St. Louis. We said this last year, when
Matson's great pitching disposed of Chicago's chances for the
pennant. We said it again when in the World Series he bore the
heft of the pitcher's burden and made his team champions of
the world. But a true thing will bear repeating twice or even
thrice, and so we say it now with added emphasis."

All of the comment was in the same laudatory strain, although in
reference to his batting, one paper cautioned its readers that not too
much importance was to be attached to that. It was probably one of
Matson's good days, and one swallow did not make a summer. But whether
he kept up his remarkable batting or not, the New York public would ask
nothing more of him than to keep up his magnificent work in the box.

Joe would not have been human if he had not enjoyed the praise that was
showered upon him in the columns that he and Jim read with interest the
next morning. It was pleasant to know that his work was appreciated.
But he was far too sensible to be unduly elated or to get a "swelled
head" in consequence. He knew how quickly a popular idol could be
dethroned, and he did not want the public to set up an ideal that he
could not live up to.

It was for that reason that he read with especial approval the article
that warned against expecting him to be a batting phenomenon because of
his performance of yesterday.

"That fellow's got it right," he remarked to Jim, as he pointed to the
paragraph in question. "I just had luck yesterday in straightening out
Albaugh's slants. Another time and I might be as helpless as a baby."

"Luck, nothing!" replied Jim, who had no patience with Joe's depreciation
of himself. "There was nothing fluky about those hits. You timed them
perfectly and soaked the ball right on the nose. And look at the way
you've been lining them out in training this spring. Wake up, man.
You're not only the king of pitchers, but you've got it in you to
become the king of sluggers."

"Oh, quit your kidding," protested Joe.

"I'm not kidding," Jim affirmed earnestly. "It's the solemn truth.
You'll win many a game this year not only by your pitching but by your
batting too. Just put a pin in that."

At this moment a bellboy tapped at the door, and being told to come in,
handed Joe two telegrams. He tore them open in haste. The first was
from Reggie and read:

"Keep it up, old top. Simply ripping, don't you know."

Joe laughed and passed it on to Jim.

"Sounds just like the old boy, doesn't it?" he commented.

The second one was from Mabel:

"So proud of you, Joe. Not surprised though. Best love. Am

Jim did not see this one, but it went promptly into that one of Joe's
pockets that was nearest his heart, the same one that carried the
little glove of Mabel's that had been his inspiration in all his
victorious baseball campaigns.

After a hearty breakfast, the chums went out for a stroll. Neither
was slated to pitch for that day, and they had no immediate weight of
responsibility on their minds. Markwith, the left-handed twirler of the
Giants, would do the box work that day unless McRae altered his plans.

"Hope Red puts it over the Braves to-day the way you did yesterday,"
remarked Jim, as they sauntered along.

"I hope so," echoed Joe. "The old boy seems to be in good shape, and
they've usually had trouble in hitting him. They'll be out for blood
though, and if they put in Belden against him it ought to be a pretty
battle. Markwith beat him the last time he was pitted against him, but
only by a hair."

It was a glorious spring morning, and as they had plenty of time they
prolonged their walk far up on the west side of the city. As they were
approaching a corner, they saw a rather shabbily dressed man slouching
toward them.

Jim gave him a casual glance, and then clutched Joe by the arm.

"Look who's coming, Joe!" he exclaimed. "It's Bugs Hartley!"

Next: An Old Enemy

Previous: Stealing Home

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