“That settles that,” groaned the captain of the Crimson nine as the
long fly settled gracefully into the hands of the Blue’s left-fielder.
The runner who, at the sound of bat meeting ball, had shot away from
second base, slowed his pace and dropped his head disconsolately as he
left the path to the plate and turned toward the bench.
“Come on, fellows,” said the captain cheerfully. “We’ve got to hold ’em
tight. Not a man sees first, Tom; don’t lose ’em.”
Pritchett, the Crimson pitcher, nodded silently as he drew on his glove
and walked across to the box. He didn’t mean to lose them. So far, at
the beginning of the ninth inning, it was anybody’s game. The score was
3 to 3. Pritchett had pitched a grand game: had eight strike-outs to
his credit, had given but one base on balls, and had been hit but three
times for a total of four bases. For five innings, for the scoring on
both sides had been done in the first part of the game, he had held the
Blue well in hand, and he didn’t mean to lose control of the situation
now. The cheering from the stands occupied by the supporters of the
Crimson team, which had died away as the unlucky hit to left-fielder
had retired the side, began again, and continued until the first of the
blue-stockinged batsmen stepped to the plate.
It was the end of the year, the final game and the deciding one.
The stands, which started far beyond third base and continued around
behind first, were filled with a gaily-hued throng, every member of
which claimed allegiance to Crimson or Blue. Fully eight thousand
persons were awaiting with fast-beating hearts the outcome of this
last inning. The June sun shone hotly down, and the little breeze
which came across the green field from the direction of the glinting
river did little to mitigate the intolerable heat. Score-cards waved
in front of red, perspiring faces, straw hats did like duty, and
pocket-handkerchiefs were tucked inside wilting collars.
Half-way up the cheering section sat a little group of freshmen,
hot and excited, hoarse and heroic. At every fresh demand from the
cheerleader they strained their tired lungs to new excesses of sound.
Now, panting and laughing, they fell against each other in simulated
“I wish a thunder-storm would come along,” said one of the group,
“Why?” asked another.
“So they’d call the game and I wouldn’t have to cheer any more,” he
“Why don’t you do the way Chick does?” asked a third. “Chick just opens
his mouth and goes through the motions and doesn’t let out a single
“I like that!” exclaimed the maligned one. “I’ve been making more
noise than all the rest of you put together. The leader’s been casting
grateful looks at me for an hour.”
There was a howl of derision from the others.
“Well,” said a tall, broad-shouldered fellow, “I don’t intend to yell
any more until something happens, and–”
“Yell now, then, Porter,” said Chick gloomily as the first of the
opponents’ batsmen beat the ball to first by a bare inch. But instead
of yelling Roy Porter merely looked bored, and for a while there was
silence in that particular part of the stand.
The next Blue batsman bunted toward third, and although he went out
himself, he had placed the first man on second. The Blue’s best batters
were coming up, and the outlook wasn’t encouraging. The sharp, short
cheer of the Blue’s adherents rattled forth triumphantly. But Pritchett
wasn’t dismayed. Instead, he settled down and struck out the next man
ignominiously. Then, with two strikes and two balls called by the
umpire, the succeeding batsman rolled a slow one toward short-stop and
that player, pausing to hold the runner on second, threw wide of first.
The batsman streaked for second and the man ahead darted to third and
made the turn toward home. But right-fielder had been prompt in backing
up and the foremost runner was satisfied to scuttle back to third.
The Blue’s first-baseman came to bat. He was the best hitter on the
team, and, with men on second and third, it seemed that the Blue was
destined to wave triumphantly that day.
“Two down!” called the Crimson captain encouragingly. “Now for the next
one, fellows! Don’t lose him, Tom!”
“Two out!” bawled the coachers back of first and third. “Run on
anything! Well, I guess we’ve got them going now! I guess we’ve got
them going! He’s sort of worried, Bill! He’s sort of worried! _Look
out!_” For the “sort of worried” one had turned quickly and sped the
ball to third.
“That’s all right!” cried the irrepressible coacher. “He won’t do that
again. Take a lead; take a lead! Steady!”
Pritchett glanced grimly at the two on bases and turned to the batsman.
He was in a bad place, and he realized it. A hit would bring in two
runs. The man who faced him was a veteran player, and couldn’t be
fooled easily. He considered the advisability of giving him his base,
knowing that the next man up would be easier to dispose of. It was
risky, but he decided to do it. He shook his head at the catcher’s
signal and sent a wide one.
“Ball!” droned the umpire, and the blue flags waved gleefully.
The next was also a ball, and the next, and the next, and–
“Take your base,” said the umpire.
“Thunder!” muttered Chick nervously as the man trotted leisurely down
the line and the sharp cheers rattled forth like musketry. “Bases full!”
“He did it on purpose,” said Roy Porter. “Burton’s a hard-hitter and a
clever one, and Pritchett didn’t want to risk it.”
“Well, a hit now won’t mean a thing!” grieved Chick.
“It’ll mean two runs; just what it meant before,” answered Roy. “Who’s
this at bat?”
“Kneeland,” answered his neighbor on the other side, referring to his
“What’s he done?”
“Nothing. Got his base twice, once on fielder’s choice and once on
“That’s good. Watch Pritchett fool him.”
They watched, breathlessly, in an agony of suspense. One ball; one
strike; two strikes; two balls; a foul; another foul.
“He’s spoiling ’em,” muttered Chick uneasily. But the next moment he
was on his feet with every one else on that side of the field, yelling
wildly, frantically. Pritchett had one more strike-out to his credit,
and three blue-stockinged players turned ruefully from their captured
bases and sought their places in the field.
The Crimson players came flocking back to the bench, panting and
smiling, and threw themselves under the grateful shade of the little
strip of awning.
“Easy with the water,” cautioned the trainer as the tin cup clattered
against the mouth of the big water-bottle.
“Who’s up?” asked some one. The coach was studying the score-book
silently. Pritchett was up, but Pritchett, like most pitchers, was a
poor batsman. The coach’s glance turned and wandered down the farther
bench where the substitutes sat.
“Eaton up!” he called, and turning to the scorer: “Eaton in place of
Pritchett,” he said.
The youngster who stood before him awaiting instructions was a rather
stockily-built chap, with brown hair and eyes and a merry, good-natured
face. But there was something besides good nature on his face at this
moment; something besides freckles, too; it was an expression that
mingled gratification, anxiety, and determination. Tom Eaton had been
a substitute on the varsity nine only since the disbanding of the
freshman team, of which he had been captain, and during that scant
fortnight he had not succeeded in getting into a game.
“You’ve got to get to first, Eaton,” said the coach softly. “Try and
get your base on balls; make him think you’re anxious to hit, see? But
keep your wits about you and see if you can’t walk. If he gets two
strikes on you, why, do the best you can; hit it down toward third.
Understand? Once on first I expect you to get around. Take all the risk
you want; we’ve got to score.”
“Batter up!” called the umpire, impatiently.
Eaton selected a bat carefully from the rack and walked out to the
plate. The head cheerleader, looking over his shoulder, ready to summon
a “short cheer” for the batsman, hesitated and ran across to the bench.
“Who’s batting?” he asked.
“Eaton,” he was told. “Batting for Pritchett.”
“A short cheer for Eaton, fellows, and make it good!”
It was good, and as the freshman captain faced the Blue’s pitcher the
cheer swept across to him and sent a thrill along his spine. Perhaps he
needed it, for there is no denying that he was feeling pretty nervous,
although he succeeded in disguising that fact from either catcher or
Up in the cheering section there was joy among the group of freshmen.
“Look who’s here!” shrieked Chick. “It’s Chub!”
“Chub Eaton!” cried another. “What do you think of that?”
“Batting for Pritchett! Say, can he bat much, Roy?”
“Yes; but I don’t know what he can do against this fellow. He hasn’t
been in a game since they took him on. But I guess the coach knows he
can run the bases. If he gets to first I’ll bet he’ll steal the rest!”
And then the cheer came, and the way those classmates of Chub’s worked
their lungs was a caution.
In the last inning of a game it is customary to replace the weak
batsman with players who can hit the ball, and when Chub Eaton stepped
to the plate the Blue’s catcher and pitcher assumed that they had a
difficult person to contend with. The catcher signaled for a drop, for
from the way Chub handled his bat it seemed that he would, in baseball
slang, “bite at it,” and Chub seemed to want to badly. He almost
swung at it, but he didn’t quite, and the umpire called “Ball!” Well,
reflected the catcher, it was easy to see that he was anxious to hit,
and so he signaled for a nice slow ball that looked for all the world
like an easy one until it almost reached the plate; then it “broke” in
a surprising way and went off to the left. Chub almost reached for it,
but, again, not quite. And “Two balls!” said the umpire. Chub swung his
bat back and forth impatiently, just begging the Blue pitcher to give
him a fair chance. The pitcher did. He sent a nice drop that cleared
the plate knee-high. “Strike!” announced the umpire. Chub turned on him
in surprise and shook his head. Then he settled back and worked his bat
in a way that said: “Just try that again! I dare you to!”
The pitcher did try it again; at least, he seemed to, but the ball
dropped so low this time that it failed of being a strike by several
inches. Chub looked pained. On the bench the coach was smiling dryly.
The Blue pitcher awoke to the fact that he had been fooled. He sent a
high ball straight over the plate and Chub let it go by. “Strike two!”
called the umpire. The Blue stands cheered mightily. Two strikes and
three balls! Chub gripped his bat hard. Again the pitcher shot the ball
forward. It came straight and true for the plate, broke when a few feet
away and came down at a weird tangent. Chub swung desperately and the
ball glanced off the bat and went arching back into the stand. “Foul!”
growled the umpire. Chub drew a deep breath of relief. Once more the
pitcher poised himself and threw. The ball whirled by him and Chub
dropped his bat and started across the plate, his heart in his mouth.
“Four balls! Take your base!”
The umpire’s voice was drowned by the sudden burst of wild acclaim from
the Crimson stands, and Chub trotted to first, to be enthusiastically
patted and thumped on the back by the coacher stationed there. Up
in the cheering section five freshmen were hugging each other
ecstatically. The head of the Crimson’s batting list was coming up, and
things looked bright. The cheering became incessant. The coach shouted
and bawled. But the Blue’s pitcher refused to be rattled. He settled
down, held Chub close on first and, before any one quite realized what
was happening, had struck out the next man.
But Chub had made up his mind to go on, and he went. He made his steal
on the first ball thrown to the new batter and, although catcher threw
straight and fast to second-baseman, Chub slid around the latter and
reached the bag. Then, while the cheers broke forth again, he got
up, patted the dust out of his clothes, and took a fresh lead. The
pitcher eyed him darkly for a moment and then gave his attention to the
batsman. _Crack!_ Ball and bat met and the short-stop ran in to field
a fast grounder, and as he ran Chub flashed behind him. Gathering up
the ball, short-stop turned toward third, saw that he was too late, and
threw to first, putting the batsman out by the narrowest of margins.
[Illustration: Chub Eaton was lying in a cloud of dust]
The Crimson captain stepped to the plate, looking determined, and
hit the first delivery safely. But it was a bunt near the plate and,
although Chub was ready to run in, he had no chance. The captain stole
second and Chub looked for a chance to get home; but they were watching
him. The Crimson supporters were on their feet, their shouts imploring
victory. The next man up was an erratic batsman, one who had made home
runs before this in time of stress and who had, quite as often, failed
to “make good.” Amid the wildest excitement, the Blue pitcher pulled
down his cap, calmly studied the signal, and sped the ball toward the
“Strike!” Again, and the batsman swung and the ball glanced back
against the netting.
“Foul! Strike two!”
Then came a ball. The batsman was plainly discouraged, plainly nervous.
Chub, dancing around at third, worrying the pitcher to the best of his
ability, decided that it was now or never for him. Taking a long lead,
he waited poised on his toes. As the ball left the pitcher’s hand he
raced for home.
“Hit it! Hit it!” shrieked the men on the bench. The batsman, awakening
suddenly to the demands, struck wildly as the ball came to him, struck
without hitting. But the catcher, with that red-stockinged figure
racing toward him, made his one error of the game. The ball glanced
from his mitt and rolled back of the plate, and although he had thrown
off his mask and was after it like a cat after a mouse, he was too
late. Chub Eaton was lying in a cloud of dust with one hand on the
plate, and the crowd was streaming, shouting and dancing, onto the