3:19 pm - Thursday February 24, 5149

The Rube-by Zane Grey-Novel and Ebooks

Novel Name:The Rube

Written by: Zane Grey

Category:Fiction, Classics

PAGE 1:

It was the most critical time I had yet experienced in my career as a baseball manager. And there was more than the usual reason why I must pull the team out. A chance for a business deal depended upon the good-will of the stockholders of the Worcester club. On the outskirts of the town was a little cottage that I wanted to buy, and this depended upon the business deal. My whole future happiness depended upon the little girl I hoped to install in that cottage.

Coming to the Worcester Eastern League team, I had found a strong aggregation and an enthusiastic following. I really had a team with pennant possibilities. Providence was a strong rival, but I beat them three straight in the opening series, set a fast pace, and likewise set Worcester baseball mad. The Eastern League clubs were pretty evenly matched; still I continued to hold the lead until misfortune overtook me.

Gregg smashed an umpire and had to be laid off. Mullaney got spiked while sliding and was out of the game. Ashwell sprained his ankle and Hirsch broke a finger. Radbourne, my great pitcher, hurt his arm on a cold day and he could not get up his old speed. Stringer, who had batted three hundred and seventy-one and led the league the year before, struck a bad spell and could not hit a barn door handed up to him.

Then came the slump. The team suddenly let down; went to pieces; played ball that would have disgraced an amateur nine. It was a trying time. Here was a great team, strong everywhere. A little hard luck had dug up a slump–and now! Day by day the team dropped in the race. When we reached the second division the newspapers flayed us. Worcester would never stand for a second division team. Baseball admirers, reporters, fans–especially the fans–are fickle. The admirers quit, the reporters grilled us, and the fans, though they stuck to the games with that barnacle-like tenacity peculiar to them, made life miserable for all of us. I saw the pennant slowly fading, and the successful season, and the business deal, and the cottage, and Milly—-

But when I thought of her I just could not see failure. Something must be done, but what? I was at the end of my wits. When Jersey City beat us that Saturday, eleven to two, shoving us down to fifth place with only a few percentage points above the Fall River team, I grew desperate, and locking my players in the dressing room I went after them. They had lain down on me and needed a jar. I told them so straight and flat, and being bitter, I did not pick and choose my words.

”And fellows,” I concluded, ”you’ve got to brace. A little more of this and we can’t pull out. I tell you you’re a championship team. We had that pennant cinched. A few cuts and sprains and hard luck–and you all quit! You lay down! I’ve been patient. I’ve plugged for you. Never a man have I fined or thrown down. But now I’m at the end of my string. I’m out to fine you now, and I’ll release the first man who shows the least yellow. I play no more substitutes. Crippled or not, you guys have got to get in the game.”

I waited to catch my breath and expected some such outburst as managers usually get from criticized players. But not a word! Then I addressed some of them personally.

”Gregg, your lay-off ends today. You play Monday. Mullaney, you’ve drawn your salary for two weeks with that spiked foot. If you can’t run on it–well, all right, but I put it up to your good faith. I’ve played the game and I know it’s hard to run on a sore foot. But you can do it. Ashwell, your ankle is lame, I know–now, can you run?”

”Sure I can. I’m not a quitter. I’m ready to go in,” replied Ashwell.

”Raddy, how about you?” I said, turning to my star twirler.

”Connelly, I’ve seen as fast a team in as bad a rut and yet pull out,” returned Radbourne. ”We’re about due for the brace. When it comes –look out! As for me, well, my arm isn’t right, but it’s acting these warm days in a way that tells me it will be soon. It’s been worked too hard. Can’t you get another pitcher? I’m not knocking Herne or Cairns. They’re good for their turn, but we need a new man to help out. And he must be a crackerjack if we’re to get back to the lead.”

”Where on earth can I find such a pitcher?” I shouted, almost distracted.

”Well, that’s up to you,” replied Radbourne.

Up to me it certainly was, and I cudgeled my brains for inspiration. After I had given up in hopelessness it came in the shape of a notice I read in one of the papers. It was a brief mention of an amateur Worcester ball team being shut out in a game with a Rickettsville nine. Rickettsville played Sunday ball, which gave me an opportunity to look them over.

It took some train riding and then a journey by coach to get to Rickettsville. I mingled with the crowd of talking rustics. There was only one little ”bleachers” and this was loaded to the danger point with the feminine adherents of the teams. Most of the crowd centered alongside and back of the catcher’s box. I edged in and got a position just behind the stone that served as home plate.

Hunting up a player in this way was no new thing to me. I was too wise to make myself known before I had sized up the merits of my man. So, before the players came upon the field I amused myself watching the rustic fans and listening to them. Then a roar announced the appearance of the Rickettsville team and their opponents, who wore the name of Spatsburg on their Canton flannel shirts. The uniforms of these country amateurs would have put a Philadelphia Mummer’s parade to the blush, at least for bright colors. But after one amused glance I got down to the stern business of the day, and that was to discover a pitcher, and failing that, baseball talent of any kind.

Never shall I forget my first glimpse of the Rickettsville twirler. He was far over six feet tall and as lean as a fence rail. He had a great shock of light hair, a sunburned, sharp-featured face, wide, sloping shoulders, and arms enormously long. He was about as graceful and had about as much of a baseball walk as a crippled cow.

”He’s a rube!” I ejaculated, in disgust and disappointment.

But when I had seen him throw one ball to his catcher I grew as keen as a fox on a scent. What speed he had! I got round closer to him and watched him with sharp, eager eyes. He was a giant. To be sure, he was lean, rawboned as a horse, but powerful. What won me at once was his natural, easy swing. He got the ball away with scarcely any effort. I wondered what he could do when he brought the motion of his body into play.

”Bub, what might be the pitcher’s name?” I asked of a boy.

”Huh, mister, his name might be Dennis, but it ain’t. Huh!” replied this country youngster. Evidently my question had thrown some implication upon this particular player.

”I reckon you be a stranger in these parts,” said a pleasant old fellow. ”His name’s Hurtle –Whitaker Hurtle. Whit fer short. He hain’t lost a gol-darned game this summer. No sir-ee! Never pitched any before, nuther.”

Hurtle! What a remarkably fitting name!

Rickettsville chose the field and the game began. Hurtle swung with his easy motion. The ball shot across like a white bullet. It was a strike, and so was the next, and the one succeeding. He could not throw anything but strikes, and it seemed the Spatsburg players could not make even a foul.

Outside of Hurtle’s work the game meant little to me. And I was so fascinated by what I saw in him that I could hardly contain myself. After the first few innings I no longer tried to. I yelled with the Rickettsville rooters. The man was a wonder. A blind baseball manager could have seen that. He had a straight ball, shoulder high, level as a stretched string, and fast. He had a jump ball, which he evidently worked by putting on a little more steam, and it was the speediest thing I ever saw in the way of a shoot. He had a wide-sweeping outcurve, wide as the blade of a mowing scythe. And he had a drop–an unhittable drop. He did not use it often, for it made his catcher dig too hard into the dirt. But whenever he did I glowed all over. Once or twice he used an underhand motion and sent in a ball that fairly swooped up. It could not have been hit with a board. And best of all, dearest to the manager’s heart, he had control. Every ball he threw went over the plate. He could not miss it. To him that plate was as big as a house.

What a find! Already I had visions of the long- looked-for brace of my team, and of the pennant, and the little cottage, and the happy light of a pair of blue eyes. What he meant to me, that country pitcher Hurtle! He shut out the Spatsburg team without a run or a hit or even a scratch. Then I went after him. I collared him and his manager, and there, surrounded by the gaping players, I bought him and signed him before any of them knew exactly what I was about. I did not haggle. I asked the manager what he wanted and produced the cash; I asked Hurtle what he wanted, doubled his ridiculously modest demand, paid him in advance, and got his name to the contract. Then I breathed a long, deep breath; the first one for weeks. Something told me that with Hurtle’s signature in my pocket I had the Eastern League pennant. Then I invited all concerned down to the Rickettsville hotel.

We made connections at the railroad junction and reached Worcester at midnight in time for a good sleep. I took the silent and backward pitcher to my hotel. In the morning we had breakfast together. I showed him about Worcester and then carried him off to the ball grounds.

I had ordered morning practice, and as morning practice is not conducive to the cheerfulness of ball players, I wanted to reach the dressing room a little late. When we arrived, all the players had dressed and were out on the field. I had some difficulty in fitting Hurtle with a uniform, and when I did get him dressed he resembled a two-legged giraffe decked out in white shirt, gray trousers and maroon stockings.

Spears, my veteran first baseman and captain of the team, was the first to see us.

”Sufferin’ umpires!” yelled Spears. ”Here, you Micks! Look at this Con’s got with him!”

What a yell burst from that sore and disgruntled bunch of ball tossers! My players were a grouchy set in practice anyway, and today they were in their meanest mood.

”Hey, beanpole!”

”Get on to the stilts!”

”Con, where did you find that?”

I cut short their chaffing with a sharp order for batting practice.

”Regular line-up, now no monkey biz,” I went on. ”Take two cracks and a bunt. Here, Hurtle,” I said, drawing him toward the pitcher’s box, ”don’t pay any attention to their talk. That’s only the fun of ball players. Go in now and practice a little. Lam a few over.”

Hurtle’s big freckled hands closed nervously over the ball. I thought it best not to say more to him, for he had a rather wild look. I remembered my own stage fright upon my first appearance in fast company. Besides I knew what my amiable players would say to him. I had a secret hope and belief that presently they would yell upon the other side of the fence.

McCall, my speedy little left fielder, led off at bat. He was full of ginger, chipper as a squirrel, sarcastic as only a tried ball player can be.

”Put ’em over, Slats, put ’em over,” he called, viciously swinging his ash.

Hurtle stood stiff and awkward in the box and seemed to be rolling something in his mouth. Then he moved his arm. We all saw the ball dart down straight–that is, all of us except McCall, because if he had seen it he might have jumped out of the way. Crack! The ball hit him on the shin.

McCall shrieked. We all groaned. That crack hurt all of us. Any baseball player knows how it hurts to be hit on the shinbone. McCall waved his bat madly.

”Rube! Rube! Rube!” he yelled.

Then and there Hurtle got the name that was to cling to him all his baseball days.

McCall went back to the plate, red in the face, mad as a hornet, and he sidestepped every time Rube pitched a ball. He never even ticked one and retired in disgust, limping and swearing. Ashwell was next. He did not show much alacrity. On Rube’s first pitch down went Ashwell flat in the dust. The ball whipped the hair of his head. Rube was wild and I began to get worried. Ashwell hit a couple of measly punks, but when he assayed a bunt the gang yelled derisively at him.

”What’s he got?” The old familiar cry of batters when facing a new pitcher!

Stringer went up, bold and formidable. That was what made him the great hitter he was. He loved to bat; he would have faced anybody; he would have faced even a cannon. New curves were a fascination to him. And speed for him, in his own words, was ”apple pie.” In this instance, surprise was in store for Stringer. Rube shot up the straight one, then the wide curve, then the drop. Stringer missed them all, struck out, fell down ignominiously. It was the first time he had fanned that season and he looked dazed. We had to haul him away.

Filed in: Classics, Essays, Fantasy, Fiction

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