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A Delightful Surprise






"Well, we wound up the trip in a blaze of glory, anyway," remarked Jim
to Baseball Joe, as they sat in the Pullman coach that was carrying
them and the rest of the team back to New York.

"Yes, and we just saved our bacon by doing it," replied Joe. "Those
last four games gave us eight out of fifteen for the trip. Not so
awfully bad for a team on a trip, and yet not good enough to win the
championship. But even at that I guess McRae won't supplant us with a
team from the old ladies' home," he added, with a laugh.

"We've got a long series of games on the home grounds now," put in
Larry, the optimist. "We'll show these other fellows how the game ought
to be played. Just watch us climb."

"Here's hoping you're right," chimed in Burkett. "A slice of the World
Series money this year would look mighty good to me."

"That's looking pretty far ahead," said Curry. "Still, if Joe keeps up
the batting he's been showing us in Pittsburgh, I'll bet we cop the
flag."

"That may be just a flash in the pan," cautioned Joe. "I may have had
just a few good days when everything broke just right for me. I'm a
pitcher, not a batter."

"Not a batter, eh?" remarked Larry, in feigned surprise. "How surprised
Dawley and Hooper and the other Pittsburgh pitchers will be to hear
that. They seemed to think you could pickle the pill all right."

The players found the baseball circles of New York in a ferment of
interest and excitement over the team. There had been considerable
despondency over the poor showing of the Giants in the first three
series they had played on the trip. But the four rattling victories
they had gained over Pittsburgh had redeemed them in the minds of their
followers, and hopes for the pennant had revived.

But the one thing that obscured everything else was the tremendous
batting that Joe had done in that last series. The sporting columns of
the newspapers had headlines like: "The New Batting Star;" "A Rival
to Kid Rose;" "Is There to Be a New Home-Run King?" and "The Colossus
of Swat." Joe found his footsteps dogged by reporters eager to get
interviews telling how he did it. Moving picture operators begged the
privilege of taking him in all positions--as he gripped his bat--the
way he stood at the plate--as he drew back for his swing. Illustrated
weekly papers had full page pictures of him. Magazines offered him
large sums for articles signed with his name. He found himself in the
calcium light, holding the center of the stage, the focus of sporting
interest and attention.

Joe was, of course, pleased at the distinction he had won, and yet
at the same time he was somewhat uneasy and bewildered. He was not
especially irked at the attention he was attracting. That had already
become an old story as to his pitching. He was hardened to reporters,
to being pointed out in the streets, to having a table at which he
happened to be dining in a restaurant or hotel become the magnet for
all eyes while whispers went about as to who he was. That was one of
the penalties of fame, and he had become used to it.

But hitherto his reputation had been that of a great pitcher, and in
his own heart he knew he could sustain it. The pitching box was his
throne, and he knew he could make good. But he was somewhat nervous
about the acclamations which greeted his batting feats. He was not at
all sure that he could keep it up. He had never thought of himself as
any more than an ordinary batter. He knew that as a pitcher he was not
expected to do much batting, and so he had devoted most of his training
to perfecting himself in the pitching art. Now he found himself
suddenly placed on a pedestal as a Batting King. Suppose it were, as he
himself had suggested, merely a flash in the pan. It would be rather
humiliating after all this excitement to have the public find out that
their new batting idol was only an idol of clay after all.

He confided some of his apprehension to Jim, but his chum only laughed
at him.

"Don't worry a bit over that, old man," Jim reassured him. "I only wish
I were as sure of getting a million dollars as I am that you've got the
batting stuff in you. You've got the eye, you've got the shoulders,
you've got the knack of putting all your weight into your blow. You're
a natural born batter, and you've just waked up to it."

"But this is only the beginning of the season," argued Joe. "The
pitchers haven't yet got into their stride. By midsummer they'll be
burning them over, and then more than likely I'll come a cropper."

"Not a bit of it," Jim affirmed confidently. "You won't face better
pitching anywhere than we stacked up against in Pittsburgh, and you
made all those birds look like thirty cents. They had chills and fever
every time you came to the bat."

The matter was not long left in doubt. In the games that followed Joe
speedily proved that the Pittsburgh outburst was not a fluke. Home runs
rained from his bat in the games with the Brooklyns, the Bostons and
the Phillies. And when the Western teams came on for their invasion
of the East, they had to take the same medicine. All pitchers looked
alike to him. Of course he had his off days when all he could get was
a single, and sometimes not that. Once in a long while he went out on
strikes, and the pitcher who was lucky or skilful enough to perform
that feat hugged it to his breast as a triumph that would help him the
next season in demanding a rise in salary. But these occasions were few
and far between. The newspapers added a daily slab to their sporting
page devoted to Joe's mounting home run record, giving the dates, the
parks and the pitchers off whom they were made. And there was hardly
a pitcher in the league whose scalp Joe had not added to his rapidly
growing collection.

In the business offices of the city, in restaurants, at all kinds of
gathering places, the daily question changed. Formerly it had been:
"Will the Giants win to-day?" Now it became: "Will Baseball Joe knock
out another homer?"

And the fever showed itself in the attendance at the Polo Grounds. Day
by day the crowds grew denser. Soon they were having as many spectators
at a single game as they had formerly looked for at a double-header.
The money rolled into the ticket offices in a steady stream, and the
owners and manager of the club wore the "smile that won't come off."
The same effect was noted in all the cities of the circuit. The crowds
turned out not so much to see the Giants play as to see if Baseball
Joe would knock another home run. Joe Matson had become the greatest
drawing card of the circuit. If this kept up, it would mean the most
prosperous season the League had ever known. For the Giants' owners
alone, it meant an added half million dollars for the season. Already,
with not more than a third of the games played, they had taken in
enough to pay all expenses for the year, and were "on velvet" for the
rest of the season.

Nothing in all this turned Joe's head. He was still the same modest,
hardworking player he had always been. First and all the time he worked
for the success of his team. Already the Giants' owners had voluntarily
added ten thousand dollars to his salary, and he was at present the
most highly paid player in his League. He knew that next year even this
would be doubled, if he kept up his phenomenal work. But he was still
the same modest youth, and was still the same hail fellow well met, the
pal and idol of all his comrades.

What delighted Baseball Joe far more than any of his triumphs was the
information contained in a letter he wore close to his heart that Mabel
was coming on to New York with her brother Reggie for a brief stay
on her way to her home in Goldsboro. They had been in almost daily
correspondence, and their affection had deepened with every day that
passed. Jim also had been equally assiduous and equally happy, and both
players were counting the days that must elapse before the wedding
march would be played at the end of the season.

Luck was with Joe when, in company with Jim, he drove to the station
to meet Mabel and Reggie. The rain was falling in torrents. Ordinarily
that would have been depressing. But to-day it meant that there would
be no game and that he could count on having Mabel to himself with
nothing to distract his attention.

Jim was glad on his friend's account, but nevertheless was unusually
quiet for him.

"Come out of your trance, old boy," cried Joe, slapping him jovially on
the knee.

Jim affected to smile.

"Oh, I know what you're thinking about," charged Joe. "You're jealous
because I'm going to see Mabel and you're not going to see Clara. But
cheer up, old man. The next time we strike Chicago we'll both run down
to Riverside for a visit. Then you'll have the laugh on me, for you'll
have Clara all to yourself while Mabel will be in Goldsboro."

Jim tried to find what comfort he could from the prospect, but the
Chicago trip seemed a long way off.

They reached the station ahead of time and walked up and down
impatiently. The rain and wet tracks had detained the train a little,
but at length its giant bulk drew into the station. They scanned the
long line of Pullmans anxiously. Then Joe rushed forward with an
exclamation of delight as he saw Reggie descend holding out his hand to
assist Mabel--Mabel, radiant, starry-eyed, a vision of loveliness.

Jim had followed a little more slowly to give Joe time for the first
greeting. But his steps quickened and his eyes lighted up with rapture
as behind Mabel Joe's sister Clara came down the steps, sweet as a
rose, and with a look in her eyes as she caught sight of Jim that made
that young man's heart lose a beat.





Next: An Evening Ride

Previous: A Break In The Luck



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