Home Run ! Home Run!
In which a Class A third baseman demonstrates that two can play ball better than one
BASIL G. PARTRIDGE
STRI-I-KE three!’ The umpire behind Red Dirk, the “Canucks’ ” catcher, jerked an emphatic fist up and back.
Janet McCrae, her little orange hat a pin point of vivid color in the packed third base bleachers, clapped her hands together and laughed happily right into the teeth of seething discontent all around her. For Janet was in the midst of five hundred rooters who had come fifteen hundred miles to see the “Turtles” win the Little World’s Series. It was the ninth inning of the deciding game, one run up for each team and the “Turtles” were at bat. One man was out and Flash Vandeleer, the “Turtle” lead-off man, was on first base.
In the same second the visitors’ howl of disappointment veered to a long drawn “A-a-a-h!” Vandeleer was off toward second. Red Dirk whipped the ball away; the crowd came to its feet. Vandeleer slid. A cloud of dust engulfed him and the second baseman. On the edge of the blur the umpire, bent over, showed palms down . . . “Safe!”
Janet McCrae bit her lip as the crowd roared applause. Vandeleer, grinning, rose and dusted himself off. “Rabbit’s foot,” said Janet, and centred her attention on Zip Dean, the “Canucks’ ” third baseman.
Zip, sitting back on his heels, was stirring the dust with an aimless finger. His lips moved. A financier in the nearest box laughed: “Old Zip’s praying.”
“He ought to,” grumbled the man’s companion, “after the throw he made on Vandeleer—three wild heaves in one game—the game!”
Young Austin Carroll, pitching his first Little World’s Series game, crossed over to where Dean squatted and looked down at what Zip had outlined in the dirt of the baseline—the letter F. Carroll laughed nervously. “F for their finish, of course . . .” “Eh?” said Dean, and became aware of what he had written. He laughed shortly and rose to his feet. Bud McGlosh was striding up to the home plate swinging three bats. The loyal five hundred greeted him with whoops of joy. A run, the winning run, was in sight. The fastest man in the American Association was on second base and a notorious slugger was waiting to slug. Lovely !
“Midge has not signalled me to pass him,” said Carroll, fighting to keep any hint of accusation out of his voice, yet thinking that all this trouble could have been avoided if the third baseman hadn’t pegged wide on Vandeleer.
Zip Dean slapped Carroll on the shoulder. “Keep the old pill round his knees. He’ll be expecting a pass. Fool him.”
Carroll hitched up his pants and sauntered back into the pitcher’s box. A great silence settled over the crowd. This boy was good. McGlosh was good. In fact the entire situation was supermulagoriously good. On with the battle!
“Aaah!” a long sigh as Carroll snapped into action.
“Strrike one.” Bud McGlosh frowned. He had expected a wide one—was looking for four of them, in fact. Did that cocky kid think hè could get away with murder? Bud grinned as the second ball came noticeably wide. The first had been an accident. Half relaxed McGlosh first crouched—saw ball—and swung in the next split second the twin to the
Thwack! The crowd as one person leaped to its feet. McGlosh, head down, was off toward first base. Vandeleer was halfway to third. The ball—the ball—where was it?
Zip Dean, purposely playing deep, suddenly dived forward. The ball, a white streak not three inches from the ground, came smack into his hands and stuck there.
Unable to check himself, the “Canucks’ ” third baseman half-pitched, half-slid forward straight against Vandeleer’s flying, steel-shod feet. Vandeleer sprawled, rolled over, lay still, stunned. Zip Dean, his mouth and nose full of dirt, the blood running wild into his eyes, automatically tagged the “Turtle’s” shortstop a second time and whirled off into darkness himself—knocked out!
Back of third base a little orange hat shot up above the crowd’s head. The poor silk bonnet was knocked here, there, everywhere, along with a hundred others as fifteen thousand people announced to each other, with frenzied play of tongue and limb, that this was the best ball game each and every one of them had attended since Noah was a pup, and that they’d just seen the hottest double play ever put on in a ball park.
And they kept right on cheering when young Austin Carroll, three minutes later, helped himself to an extra five hundred dollars by the simple business of hitting the first ball pitched to him hard and clean into the centrefield bleachers.
Jove, what a finish! And what a son-of-a-gun of a third baseman Zip Dean was. Wild throws. Did he make any? When?
JANET McCRAE was in love with Zip Dean. She had been in love with him for a long time—all to herself. Zip was quite unaware of the fact; he had never had a steady girl in his life. Women just hadn’t fizzed on him.
He was an all outdoors man, keen on sports, a born ball player, with an honorable major league career behind him, and, presumably, a good many years in the International League ahead of him.
Janet McCrae up until the evening of that hectic day had been merely a pleasant but unimportant diversion in Zip Dean’s life. He only saw her when the “Canucks” were holding open house at the foot of Bathurst Street. She was, to be exact, the day clerk of the tobacco, magazine and sweets stand of the Hotel St. Legere where the “Canucks” stayed. Being a non-smoker and not given to extensive magazine reading, Zip Dean would probably have missed her altogether except for one vice in his life.
He had a passion for Jelly Beans!
This confectionery, the delight of small boys, had a modest place among the merchandise on the hotel stand where Janet presided. So, to her for Jelly Beans came Zip, always with an impersonal smile and an ounce or two of small talk, quite unaware of the veiled fire in Janet’s soft, gray eyes, hidden by long, silky lashes. Other men admired Janet McCrae’s eyes, her satin skin —but it didn’t do these males any good. The best they earned was polite indifference, and Janet’s tongue could be cutting on occasion.
Her gray eyes were as motherly as a madonna’s this night when Zip Dean came across the lobby, his head bandaged where Vandeleer’s spikes had laid the flesh open.
“Hello,” said Zip, a trifle wearily.
“Hello, yourself,” drawled Janet. There was no one near the stand at that moment. She added quickly: “How’s the wooden arm?” From that instant she ceased to be a passive item in Zip’s life.
“Eh? What about my arm?” he shot back at her, and stared across the glass counter deep into her eyes. Something he saw there subdued the challenge in his own. He said less abruptly: “I did peg like a cigar store Indian, didn’t I ?”
“You needn’t bother covering up,” Janet remarked quietly. “I know just how that funny, aggravating pain catches you along the elbow without any warning and makes you lose control of the ball when you throw. Right now, that arm of yours is bothering you more than you’d care to tell the world.”
“Sherlock Holmes’ sister in person, not a moving picture,” said Zip Dean dryly, not caring to show how she had startled him. “Tell me the rest, Sherlocka.” He looked so utterly fagged out suddenly that Janet longed to put both arms around him and draw his tired head down against her breast. She smiled a twisted smile with no mirth in it. “I saw in the papers, last March, how you’d been in a motor accident and had hurt your arm. The papers didn’t make much of it. I guess you didn’t encourage them any.”
‘No,” said Zip Dean, “it didn’t seem brainy to advertise for trouble. Go on.”
“My brother Ed had practically the same trouble,” said Janet. “He was good—semi-pro., you know—shortstop. He had spells off and on, like you’ve had all season. Finally, he had to—to quit.”
“Yes,” said Zip Dean bitterly. “Thanks to a drunken fool of a taxicab driver, it looks as if I’m done, too. The doctor says ...”
“Hello, Zip,” bawled a voice. A big, blond man breezed up. “What are you doing here? Thought you’d be out celebrating. The whole town’s talking about your diving act. It was a wow !”
“Sure,” agreed Zip laconically. “Nasty crack you got,” said the blond man and took the cigars Janet handed over. “Have one, Zip? No. Well, be good.” He hurried off.
“That was Smelter Wilkins, the mining king,” said Janet. “Know him well?”
“No,” said Zip Dean shortly. “Did you hear him? Bananas ! I happened to be right where the ball couldn’t miss me and then I fell all over myself into Sam Vandeleer. I should quit. No man would ever have that luck twice. A six-year-old kid would have been more use out on the field than me if the ball McGlosh hit had bounded before it reached me. ‘Zip’ Dean ...” He laughed harshly. “They’d be calling me ‘wooden arm’ next year, if they remember me that long.”
Zip came in slowly, his right hand clapped over his left arm. “Ooch” he groaned hollowly. O’Rourke, watching him feverishly, jumped as if he had been jabbed with a needle.
“Gee, I’m sorry, Zip.” Janet McCrae sniffed audibly.
“Heh!” cried Zip Dean, genuinely startled by this, development. “No need to cry over my rotten luck.”
“I can’t help it,” Janet went on in moist tones. “I know just where that pain in your arm is worst and I can’t rub it out.“
Zip Dean regarded her silently for a moment. Then he said gently: “That isn’t where the pain’s worst, youngster.”
“Youngster, yourself,” snapped Janet. “I’m twentyseven and that’s just seven years younger than you. And all the pain you’ve got isn’t any worse than the pain I’ve gathered sitting around loving you all to myself for three long years. So throw that across to first base, Mr. William Jerome Dean.”
“Great Scott,” said Zip Dean in amazement. He turned whät was intended for an incredulous and reproachful look upon her, to discover like a bolt from the blue how gloriously attractive was Janet McCrae, the tempting tilt of her nose, her kindly, wistful mouth— and those eyes! They were gray pools, soft and cool. Zip looked deep into them and quivered. Two minutes ago he had been the loneliest Canadian in Canada by his own estimate. Now his pulses quickened perceptibly. He was bewitched.
“Well, it’s my crush,” retorted Janet flushing. “You’re not forced to share it.”
“Maybe I’d like to,” said Zip Dean, wondering what the deuce had got into him.
Janet McCrae’s color heightened. Her thoughts camé tumbling out in words, higgledy-piggledy. , “Oh, Zip, d’you mean it? I can keep the neatest house. Honestly I can. And I can cook, and I make all my own clothes, too ...” ; • ííí
“Will you guarantee to make me a new arm?” enquired Zip with a twinkle in his eyes. “Hon,” declared Janet happily, “if you had .two Wooden arms and a store leg you’d still be the very best third baseman in the world to me.” Whereupon Mr. William Jerome Dean 'leaned right across the counter and kissed her. “Bless your heart,” said he huskily.
They beamed upon one another. Then Zip said: “I’m feeling pretty groggy. Bed’s the best place for me. Suppose I slip into the manager’s office and tell him you’re through tonight. Make sure they don’t let me oversleep tomorrow morning. We’ll want to make our double play over at the City Hall about noon, eh?”
He squeezed, her hand and departed for the elevator, leaving Janet about equally divided between rapture and wonder whether she could finish what she’d started. For what in the world did she really know about Zip Dean?
rT"'H AT was a winter !
They went first to Montreal to see Zip’s parents, an elderly pair, to whom baseball and a long, successful career spent in it meant considerably less than the possibilities of the November Flower Show in the Windsor Hotel. Janet, who didn’t know the difference between an annual and a 1 perennial, had a .huge time listening to Mr. Dean let loose on hisM^yorite^ subject. He was a bigframed, spare-fleshed qmp with mild, blue eyes and a smile that was' ¿^resistible,^ Janet and he were nose to nose before they had been together ten minutes,' while Mrs: Dean looked on approvingly.
“I lové them fe death,” Jahet confided to Zip that night. “It seems.as if I’d known them for years.” . '%?}■. .1
“You needn’t 'gét a swelled head about it,” said Zip with a grin, putting an arjh around her« “They’re just trying to offset me . . . probably ' 5
think I clubbed you with a bat. and married'you' (id while you were still unconscious.. My baseballitis >11' has always been a.bit of a sore spot with them.v-lg.They don’t consider it quite decent. , Sort-.toff;tan tiÉy ungodly occupation; They’re, a world untó therm J selves, anyway.. We’ll stick around, for a wéék:'o¿^'ád:'¿ two, then \yhat do. you say ; to Bermud'a..,before T,< ? everybody in New York and elsewfrére start swarming around down there?”-d ‘ ‘ '• _ *•*.. ’ “J:.
“You have wonderful ideas, darlingeskí’, said' Janet, snuggling happily into the crook of •his'arm. /> •; h’V Eighteen days later they headed New Yorkward. To Janet who had never been outside Canada in her life, each day was a panorama of the unexpected. The time, as Zip had prophesied,was just sufficiently' jj'rërséasonable ' to be ideal. The glorious . sunshine, the ’vivid, colorings of sea and sky, the balmy days, the freedom, the companionship of her husband filled hèf cup of happiness to overflowing. , - : ' 'dv.
“Some day someone will pinchóme ánd -I’ll wake up back in the St. Legere,” Janet ¿óníided to Zip as: they were lazing on the beach. Zip ch:uckled and regarded her with the most obvious satisfaction. “Ypu’re the prettiest thingi in a bathing suit I’ve ever seen.” A . I ¿ .
:. ' “Thing, indeed,” retorted J¿net, making a face at him.' “Angel,” said Zip. “For a fact, dear, I don’t know how I ever got along without you before,’ > ’ r ; ;
“Applesauce,” Janet laughed. Her,eyes were¡<openly adoring. “Isn’t it. heavenly here? Did you notice in the paper that Montreal had two'féét of snow? I suppose they got some of it in Toronto.”
“I’ve been thinking,” said Zip, “that it would be a good thing to skip out of here before the real rush really sets in. Mother whispered in my ear to come back at Christmas time.”
“That’s strange,” Janet replied. “Your Dad said the same thing to me.”
“The doggone conspirators,” Zip roared with laughter. “You’re the attraction, Honey. I think it would be sort of fun. Then we can jaunt on to California for the rest of the winter. They play ball all year out there.”
Janet regarded him thoughtfully for a moment. “Oh, no,” said Zip, quick as a flash. “I don’t loaf every winter. But this one is extra special. I did pretty well on
' International Nickel. I can afford to take a holiday without pinching any pennies from the old age fund.” Janet ..reached out and took his hand. “I might have known it would be O.K.,” she said.
¿¿••‘How?” Zip countered quickly. “You’ve been mighty brave, if you ask me. Hooking up with a comparative stranger.”
“Pooh,” said Jabet, “I might have been the worst little gold-digger, in the universe for all you knew.”
“Rot,”, said Zip, efSphatically. ; “One look at you enough for any man with an ounce of head.” •
J%®s|bshed. Zip’s prqise always went to her head like thepwhite wine at dinnér. ‘%aoe you up the beach.” ;; -“Doné,* pried Zip.» Janet was up and away on the moment. But Zip .-¿aught, her before she had gone a hundred yards. , They joined hands and trotted off happily, oblivious of amused glances.
/CHRISTMAS was the happiest one Janet had ever ^ spent in her life. No store could provide the Yuletide delicacies of the Dean family. Mrs. Dean was a born cook and housekeeper, and within the four walls of her kitchen the sacred rites of plum pudding and cake and what-not were gone through to the last delightful gesture. Janet learned more there in the weeks before Christmas than she had ever believed possible.
“The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” the elder Mrs. Dean stated with a smile. “Feed them well and don’t talk them to death. Get out from under their feet occasionally. Then you’ll never have much trouble.”
“Oho!” chanted Zip who had come into the kitchen just in time to catch the last remark. “Plotting against your lord and master, eh? It’s high time I walked you out of here.”
His mother looked at him tolerantly. “I suppose you’ll be running off somewhere, the minute Christmas Day is over.”
Zip put an arm round each of them. “Not quite so soon as that. Sometime after the first,” he said. But it was nearer the twenty-first before they finally headed west. Genial California took them to its
“For ten years I’ve been planning to come out here,” said Zip, “and every year something turned up. We might as well see it all.” So they did. February found them at San Diego, spending most of their days on the beach. Janet had bought an amazingly lurid beach umbrella which Zip called “Gyp the Blood.”
“Think of them flopping around in snowdrifts back home,” said Janet one morning.
“Getting lonely for T’ronta?” Zip mocked her.
“N-o-o. Not exactly,” Janet replied, and saw the twinkle in his eyes. “You tease!” Sand flew for several minutes. “You can’t fool me. You’re a dyed-in-thewool Canuck,” laughed Zip. “Even California sunshine runs second to snow and east winds at the corner of King and Yonge Streets.”
“It’s nice here,” Janet countered, “but not natural. After all, summer wouldn’t go over so big if winter didn’t come in between, would it? And don’t forget that I was born and raised in Toronto—at least since I was two, which was when I stopped having parents—also, we’ll be wanting a corner of our own. You don’t want to go back to living in hotels, do you?” She tossed a handful of sand up, watching him sidewise for his reaction.
“I should say not,” Zip said emphatically. He yawned. “I’m getting fat and lazy. Won’t be worth a hoot in the spring.”
“Piffle!” Janet’s laugh held relief. Then her face clouded. The spring! He was already planning to go south with the “Canucks,” arm or no arm. Zip had said very little about it, but Janet knew he had been to several specialists. Janet had done some investigating on her own. It seemed that there were numerous kinds of sore arms—which was partly comforting, wholly bewildering. The most reassuring talk came from a young doctor in Los Angeles who advised plenty of sunshine and rest and a moderate amount of massage. He talked about pressure on touchy nerves, or something like that; if the arm did go bad, it would probably do so quickly. On the other hand, trouble of that kind had been known to remedy itself and worry wouldn’t help.
This was the only cloud on the horizon. Janet wondered if Zip would be content with a utility job at less money. She knew his contract had run out.
“New York it is,” said Zip a week later. “Team’s training in Florida. We can travel east that far together, Honey.”
“Good enough,” Janet agreed. She was relieved that he wasn’t travelling all the way with her. She could have a quiet week with the Deans in Montreal; then go on to Toronto. A gray day or two wouldn’t be half bad, ... to see the new grass peeping up in Queen’s Park . . . the fat-tummied robins, . . .to smell spring ! Every day nearer the East found her happier.
Zip was equally relieved. His arm felt great. But would it hold up? He was glad that training camp rules gave him the chance of finding out by himself. He found himself longing fiercely for his bachelor freedom, happy go lucky life, the abandon of the day’s play which sent a man to dreamless sleep. In the next minute he was ashamed of his own feelings. “Sure you’ll be all right, sweetheart. I’ll go all the way if you say the word. Just pipe up.”
“Quite,” said Janet, reading the struggle written plainly all over his frank countenance. “Just leave me enough money to chase boy friends while you’re chasing grass-cutters. Go along and enjoy yourself, Zip, dear. Easy, please.”
“You’re such a mite and I love you to death,” said Zip, passionately,' his lips against her cheek.
“I never will get used to you,” Janet sighed happily. “You’re so strong, yet so gentle, husband o’ mine. Kiss me and put me down, there’s a good boy, and don’t you dare forget to write to me twice a week ...”
So to Florida journeyed Zip Dean, a crusader in his own right.
"XTOTHING the matter with old Zip,” declared Marty Callahan, the pitching coach, to Midge O’Rourke, the “Canucks’ ” manager. O’Rourke swore.
“Lob, lob, lob,” he grumbled. “Watch him favor his arm.”
“It’s early yet,” said Callahan.
“Early, nothing!” grunted O’Rourke. “Where did he get that name ‘Zip.’ He’s afraid to throw hard. And what’s worse, I’m afraid to have him do it. He’ll give me the willies.”
Out on the diamond Zip Dean cavorted like a colt. There was a new kid at short, Vining, a college chap, nice lad and a smart fielder keenly aware of the fact. Out of sheer exuberance Zip encroached on the younger man’s territory, taming seemingly impossible ground balls, grass cutters, wide ones, nasty hops, drives. They all came to his glove and stayed there like a nail to a magnet, until O’Rourke, watching, groaned over the uncertainty of things. Third basemen like Zip Dean were born, not made. Brains—that was the ticket. O’Rourke found himself less worried over Zip’s arm than over the fact that Zip refused pointblank, to sign a contract until he felt he was going to be all right.
“Did you ever hear such flapdoodle from a ball player,” complained O’Rourke to Callahan. “The old man’s a real sport, Marty, but if Zip doesn’t sign before any accidents can happen, well, I’m no fortune teller. There’s nothing the matter with Zip’s gray matter, or his legs, or his batting eye. Thank the Lord, we’ll get the chance of seeing what’s what soon. “By which O’Rourke meant the series of exhibition games starting on the morrow with the “Canucks’ ” old rivals, the “Turtles.” In the heat of battle O’Rourke figured Zip Dean would cut loose. Then what?
The “Turtles” showed several new faces in their lineup. Sam Vandeleer was hobbling around with a nasty “Charlie Horse,” while a youth from some unsung middle-western township was filling the berth at short, temporarily. Vandeleer made for Zip Dean instantly. Bud McGlosh bellowing amiable profanities was right behind Vandeleer. Bud’s waistline was far from properly subdued.
“Where’s that cock-eyed young Carroll? Don’t hide there, youngster. Got anything but your glove today?”
“That’s all he needs with me on third,” cut in Zip Dean.
“Huh? Where d’you keep your horseshoes, this year?” McGlosh cried derisively. He passed on to the players’ bench. Lanning, the “Turtles’” manager, leaned over. “First time you’re up, bunt down the third base line, Bud.”
“Me—bunt,” said McGlosh. “I can’t bunt. Have a heart.”
“Good time to learn,” Lanning replied ’crisply. He turned and spoke quietly to Jimmy Duke, Van deleer’s understudy. Duke nodded. A moment later he laid down a perfect bunt along the third base line. Zip Dean came in on it swiftly and threw without straightening up. Duke was out by yards. Zip grinned as he ran back to third. Midge O’Rourke fidgetted nervously.
Conway, the second man, smacked one into centre for a base. Pete Royale, following him, bunted along the third base line. Zip Dean’s perfect peg snuffed out Conway at second base. Bud McGlosh looked appealingly at Lanning. “You heard me,” said Lanning. “Bunt.” He didn’t add the information that he was obliging O’Rourke this one inning.
Zip Dean playing deep, as always, for McGlosh, saw the big fellow push at the first ball and miss. Zip edged in. With the swing of Carroll’s arm he shot forward.McGlosh’s bunt came in the shape of a slow roller. McGlosh was almost to first base when Zip got his hands on the ball. Zip put everything he had behind the ball and beat McGlosh by inches.
“That’s the old boy,” Red Dirk bawled. “Chain lightning.”
Zip Dean did not respond. He came in slowly, head down, his right hand clamped over his left arm. Midge O’Rourke, feverish-eyed, watched him. “Ouch!” Zip groaned hollowly. O’Rourke jumped up as if he had been jabbed with a needle. “My arm,” Zip mumbled. O’Rourke’s face was as long as a clothes-pole. Zip held up his left arm stiffly. “When I threw that last time,” he said, “I could just feel it.”
For a moment O’Rourke stared. “Say,” he shouted, “am I getting cock-eyed in my old age or are you throwin’ lefthanded?”
Zip Dean suddenly began to shake all over and to make noises like many hens. O’Rourke turned crimson. “Bury -your ugly mug,” he shouted, “that trick’ll just cost you fifty dollars, and if you don’t wipe that grin off your face pronto I’ll slap on another hundred. I’ll have discipline and respect on this ball club or I’ll strew you half-baked floozies all over the state of Florida.” He was fairly dancing with rage.
Zip Dean bent over the pile of bats and proceeded leisurely to select one that seemed good. He had half a dozen bats coming in any day, peculiar, lean, broomstick affairs that no one else on the “Canucks” would have had as a gift.
“Darn you,” shouted O’Rourke, “why don’t you answer me?”
“Were you talking to me?” said Zip mildly. Red Dirk guffawed.
“That’ll cost you fifty,” howled O’Rourke.
“Aw, Midge,” began the catcher protestingly.
“Shut up!” O’Rourke glared at Zip. “Maybe if I fine you two hundred you’ll hear me, you mad malingerer.”
“You can’t fine me a cent,” said Zip, tossing aside bats.
“I can’t, can’t I,” shouted O’Rourke. “Why can’t I?”
“Batter up,” cut in the umpire impatiently . . . “Why can’t I?” repeated O’Rourke raucously. “Because,” said Zip, “until I sign a contract the club isn't paying me anything. You’ve got to have something before you can subtract something else from it, Midge.”
“Woof!” O’Rourke shook himself as a dog does when coming out of water . . . “Gawsake, can’t you hear that flatfoot out there, Edwards? What have I got —a ball team or a bunch of old maids?”
Zip Dean went over and sat down beside Red Dirk. He gave the catcher a nudge. Dirk was nearly suffocating with laughter. O’Rourke sat silent, glowering. His lips moved when Edwards tried to bunt and popped one into the pitcher’s hands, but no words came. Elliott, the second baseman, got hit in the ribs. O’Rourke grunted with satisfaction. Zip Dean went leisurely out to the plate.
“You’d think it was a board-walk parade at Easter,” O’Rourke complained. The “Turtles’” pitcher slipped a fast one across. “What the dickens!” shouted O’Rourke. “Are you too proud to fight?” Red Dirk shook with laughter. The pitcher tried his little trick a second time. Zip Dean promptly hit the ball over the fence, trotting leisurely around the bases. When he came in, he sat down next O’Rourke.
“Horseshoes,” said O’Rourke, but much less fiercely.
“Bet you ten dollars I’ll do it again before the afternoon’s over,” replied Zip instantly. “Taken,” said O’Rourke. In the seventh Zip did exactly the same thing, only this time it was over deep centre instead of the shorter left field fence. Bud McGlosh, who considered all fences his particular right and who hadn’t got a safe hit, complained bitterly.
“You can have your turn tomorrow,” said Zip unsmilingly. “All I want is a double and two singles.”
“Come away, boy, before you get murdered,” said Red Dirk, grinning. But Zip got his three hits. And what was more, he kept right on getting them. It was partly luck, of course, but the kind of luck that inspires ball teams. The entire “Canuck” team hit, frequently and hard. The “Turtles” never came within three runs of winning any game in the series.
At the end of the week Midge O’Rourke cornered Zip Dean in the hotel lobby. “How about signing that contract now, Zip?”
Zip Dean shook his head. “Not yet, Midge.” Midge O’Rourke’s eyes flashed impatiently. He was about to burst out angrily when Zip reached over and laid a firm hand on the manager’s arm.
“Midge,” said Zip quietly. “I’ve never taken money for nothing in my life, and I’m not going to start now. Wait a bit until we’ve had a month of that cool spring weather up north.”
“Seems to me if I’m willing and the Old Man is agreeable, you ought to be, Zip,” said O’Rourke after a pause.
Zip Dean shrugged. “I can’t do it, that’s all, Midge. If I’m through I’ll know it before long—and that’s that. One thing’s sure. I’ll never go signing any contracts that are based on past performance for which I’ve already been well paid—puddling round at a utility job. When I’m done, I’m done. My uniform comes off and I do my baseball from the stand. After all, I’ve had seventeen years of it. Let’s leave it at that, Midge. No use pretending I’m indispensable. No ball player ever was. If I have to drop out, some one else’ll spring up.”
“You’re one hundred per cent white about it,” said O’Rourke.
“Don’t you suppose I’m just as keen to sign that contract as you are to have me,” cried Zip, changing swiftly from his even tone to one that was hot and tense. He jumped to his feet and stood looking down at O’Rourke. Then he turned and walked away. He wanted to be alone, to think. He wanted Janet, wanted her fiercely. Thank God they would be starting north soon. If the north was going to finish him in baseball it was also going to bring him home to Janet. Perhaps it would give him all the “breaks” —perhaps?
rTvHE slaughter of the “Turtles” worked ■*like a spring tonic on the “Canucks.” The ol’ batting eye was in, no doubt about that. As one of the sport scribes put it: “they’ve got better eyesight than a Fenimore Cooper woodsman.” Even the dour little manager, O’Rourke, caught some of the fever, though he knew better than to pin too much faith to early spring performance. A team that knocked the planks out of fences down south was apt to hit nothing but the skids up north later on when runs meant points in a league percentage column. The thing Midge was congratulating himself most upon was the absence of accidents. Many a season past had been a nightmare in this respect, but this year the luck held all ways.
Zip Dean was the life of the club, as full of pep as a two-year-old. He and his room mate, the red-headed Dirk, were both hitting over .400 and having the time of their lives. Their high spirits were infectious and permeated the entire team. An outsider might have said they were equally valuable, but Midge O’Rourke knew better. Zip Dean was the tonic note upon which the pleasine harmony of the team was built.
If Midge O’Rourke could only have got Zip’s signature on a contract he would have tossed all worries to the winds. It was a novel situation this of having a ball player on the club roster drawing no salary whatsoever while playing a brand of baseball that couldn’t have been bettered. The newspapermen were having a glorious time with Zip Dean and the esprit de corps of the “Canucks.” Midge knew that Toronto was eating it alive. Sweat stood on his brow when he thought what the writers would have done with their pens if they had known Zip’s contract was unsigned. Midge had no delusions on the value of the crowd’s approval: if Zip’s arm did go bad and the third baseman carried out his promise— zowie! Zip’s going would make an awful dent in the Club’s morale as well as in its line-up.
More than once the manager was tempted to go after Zip again, but the same intuition which had made O’Rourke a success at a difficult job told him to leave Zip alone.
Janet was really at the back of Zip’s enthusiasm and drive. Her letters were full of affection and companionship. She had decided not to take an apartment in Toronto until Zip could see it with her. She was in Montreal with Zip’s parents, and loving it. Through her letters Zip had a firmer contact with his home than he had had for years. The flattery of her love was heady stuff. It was all there, entirely clear of gush, and Zip licked it up as a cat licks up cream and, since his nature was to keep such intimate matters entirely to himself, he let off steam on the field. Life was good, and in May he and Janet would be together again.
Exhibition games, even as the shrewd O’Rourke had figured, were easy to get. He split his large squad into two teams, weeding out as he went along. The first team he kept under his own thumb. The second, mostly young players, he put in the capable hands of Red Dirk. The red-headed catcher grumbled openly when he found Zip was staying with O’Rourke.
“What are you belly-aching about?” demanded the manager. “You’ve got your youth and most of the pitchin’ talent. Nurse ’em along. We’ll need all the pitching we can get later on. The way you Mother Hubbards have been throwing runs around it’s a cinch the cupboard’ll be as bare as a chorus girl’s collar-bones when we get North. You’re overweight. Worry some of it off.”
This was practically the last Dirk saw of Midge O’Rourke until weeks had passed. “Here are your lovie-dovies,” said the red-headed catcher who had done a good job and knew it. “A more hopeless set of ball players I hope to Hannah I never have to dry-nurse again. Where’s Zip?”
“Dodging the keepers,” retorted O’Rourke, caustically.
“Signed his contract yet?”
“Where have I heard that word before?” said O’Rourke softly. He jumped up. “Am I the manager of this ball club or ain’t I? I’ll let him out, that’s what I’ll do.”
“Uh-uh,” agreed Dirk, sweetly. O’Rourke glared at him. “You get to blazes out of here,” he shouted, “or I’ll cut your throat with a dull razor.”
"K A AY sunshine, plenty of it without any ^ warmth, bathing the Bathurst Street stadium; movement; voices everywhere. “Score cards, get ’em here gents. Ye can’t tell the players without”; “peanuts, only five a bag”—all the usual trimmings, and 12,500 people looking on, ready to roar their heads off, but getting nothing to roar about.
Midge O’Rourke was speechless with wrath—that is, in spots; in others he was alive with words. “Lovely, lolluping lizards,” he raved to Red Dirk after the opener had gone into the past. “Will you tell me what’s the matter with the bloomin’ team ? B’lieve me, the next ball club I manage will be entirely dee-void of temperamental third basemen and I’m goin’ to get a guarantee of seventy degrees natural beat or no start.”
“I know a real swell place you could go to,” growled Red Dirk. “They’ll do a lot better than seventy for you there; and what’re you crabbin’ Zip for? The whole team’s got the pip.” Red was feeling raw like the weather. Neither that nor Zip showed any signs of - improvement the next week. Cold winds and rain—and sore arms. Red Dirk, human pepper-pot that he was, strove to put pep into the team so that Newark wouldn’t clean up as Baltimore had done. But Red couldn’t make the team hit in bunches; and Red himself was so worried about Zip’s listlessness that without realizing it he unsettled the whole infield and nearly drove Midge O’Rourke frantic. The rain gave the “Bears” the series. The Saturday double header was impossible. Red Dirk, having stood all he could of Zip’s silence, looked for him to find out what actually was what—but Zip was gone. He did not show up on Sunday or to morning practice on Monday. He arrived just before the game, hollow-eyed and almost haggard.
“Zip’s been hitting it up for fair,” said young Austin Carroll to Red Dirk. Dirk said nothing: his face was grim. He settled sullenly behind the bat. None of Carroll’s first four pitches came near' being strikes. Dirk whipped the fourth pitch sharply to third. Zip made no effort to cover and the left fielder retrieved the ball. Midge O’Rourke in the dugout swore savagely.
Carroll settled down and struck out the second Jersey batsman. The third laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt. The fourth hit sharply down the third base line. Zip Dean had the ball easily, juggled it, then threw» six feet over the first baseman’s head. The crowd groaned. So did Red Dirk. History was repeating itself. Zip’s arm had gone bad after all. The run scored easily. The fifth man hit a Texas Leaguer. With men on first and third, the sixth Jersey player turned a fast one away just inside the third base line. Zip Dean got to it, held the ball and threw without straightening up. The ball hit the dirt three feet to the right of first base and shot away. The second run came in. The entire Jersey City Team then went on a batting spree, scoring eight times.
Young Austin Carroll came back to the dugout with tears of rage in his eyes. Midge O’Rourke was too angry to swear, too downhearted. This was his reward for being sentimental. He watched glumly as the lead-off man took a fast one on the shoulder and trotted off, grimacing, to first. The Jersey pitcher was having trouble finding the plate. He walked the “Canuck’s” second batter. Zip Dean went slowly out. The crowd howled to him: “Over the fence, Zip; some of that Florida stuff.” Zip was called out on strikes and came slowly back to the dugout. O’Rourke’s eyes were baleful.
“If any more of you blind bozos get called out on strikes today,” he fumed, “I’ll plaster a fine on you that you’ll feel. Go get some runs.” And they did. Four that inning and three more in the sixth. But seven is less than eight. The crowd was fairly well satisfied but O’Rourke was • not. Midge was like a man caught in a strong wind, furious at his own impotence. He wanted to ask Zip Dean one question and was afraid to because of the answer he expected.
Red Dirk had no such qualms. Red had reached the stage where he had to have action. “Arm gone?” he said in a low tone. Zip shook his head. “No.” The red-haired catcher stared. “Then, for the lord’s sake, what’s biting you? You look terrible and you act worse. Come across.”
“Red,” said Zip soberly, “I’m darn, near crazy. First, Janet didn’t come down on the First as she’d promised. She hadn’t been feeling any too well: I’d
been banking on seeing her. Thinkin’ of nothing else for weeks. And that just took all the pep out of me. Then I was going up to Montreal for the week end. Mother ’phoned me not to come, Janet would be away—up in the country with some cousins. That stung. Then Janet wrote and her letter wasn’t a bit like her. I can’t explain why, Red, but it wasn’t. Saturday I got a letter from Mother. Janet hadn't been away at all. She’d been sick. She was O.K., but I shouldn’t come up. No explanation why.”
“Well, that riled me, Red. I started for Montreal on the noon train. Got as far as Kingston. Decided they could all go to the devil and came back. This morning I sent a wire demanding to know exactly what was what—by return wire. I have not had any reply . . Zip’s voice cracked painfully. “If this goes on I’ll go coo-coo. My head’s like a buzz-saw.” Red Dirk said nothing in reply. He got up and walked over to Midge O’Rourke’s office. O’Rourke and he came back together. “If you want to go to Montreal tonight I’ll get you a fast car and a driver,” said Midge. “And why the devil didn’t you say something ’stead of scarin’ me to death, you dumb ox?”
Zip’s eyes brightened. “That’s an idea, Midge. D’you suppose ...”
“Telegram for Mr. Dean.” A messenger boy appeared, grinning with satisfaction at getting into the holy of holies. “It’s collec’.” Zip snatched the envelope. Tore it open. Read the message.
A queer strained expression stole over his face. He sat down heavily on the bench. The silence was suddenly oppressive. Zip bent over the yellow sheet again. “Oh!” he breathed heavily. He seemed stunned, hugging the telegram against his chest. Then he said to O’Rourke: “Let’s go into your office, Midge; you, too, Red.”
They went slowly into the office. O’Rourke closed the door. Once more that day Midge was afraid to ask a question for fear what the answer would be. Red Dirk ran his tongue over his Dry . lips. They waited.
“Midge,” said Zip, “have you got that contract handy?” O’Rourke’s eyes popped. “Why . . . uh-uh . . . yes,” he stammered. “How long is it for?” asked Zip. Red Dirk’s jaw drooped. He could hardly believe his ears. “Two years,” O’Rourke replied, “same salary as previously.”
“O.K.,” said Zip, “trot it out.” O’Rourke obeyed mechanically. Zip signed the paper. Then he stood up and lo! the solemn air had vanished. He grinned from ear to ear, leaped upon Red Dirk and began waltzing him around the office. Then Zip broke loose and commenced doing dance steps all his own, chanting the while and waving the telegram aloft.
With one accord Dirk and O’Rourke sprang upon him and wrested the telegram away. Dirk being the bigger man got to the paper first. He read it and then let out a yell. “Sufferin’ Moses—wow!” He doubled up with laughter.
“Lemme see. Gangway, you big tramp,” yelled O’Rourke. He snatched the telegram out of Dirk’s hand and this is what he read:
TWO MEN ON BASE AND BOTH OF THEM FULL OF PEP (STOP) NOTHING LESS THAN A HOME RUN FROM YOU WILL DO DADDY (STOP) SIGN YOUR CONTRACT IMMEDIATELY BABIES SHOES COST MONEY (STOP) MUCH LOVE. —JANET.q