Read CHAPTER VIII of Rival Pitchers of Oakdale , free online book, by Morgan Scott, on ReadCentral.com.

READY FOR THE GAME

Never before had the Barville baseball team brought such a crowd of supporters into Oakdale. They came, boys and girls, wearing their school colors, bearing banners, and bringing tin horns and cowbells. The manner in which they swept into Oakdale and hurried, eager and laughing, toward the athletic field, plainly betokened their high confidence in the outcome of the contest. Even a few older persons came over from Barville on one pretext or another, and found it convenient to spend a portion of the afternoon watching the baseball game.

“Jinks!” chuckled Chipper Cooper, as he watched the visitors pour in and fill up the generous section of bleachers reserved for them. “They certainly act as if they thought they were going to have a snap to-day. Barville must be depopulated. Never fancied so many people lived over there.”

“Beyond question,” said Roger Eliot quietly, “they believe their team has at least an even chance for the game; otherwise, not half so many would have made the journey to watch it.”

“It must be on account of their new ketcher,” muttered Sile Crane. “I cal’late they think he’s the whole cheese; but mebbe they’ll find août he ain’t only a small slice of the rind. What’s he look like, anyhaow?”

“There he is,” said Roger, as the visiting team came trotting onto the field, led by Lee Sanger, its pitcher and captain, “that stocky, red-headed chap. See him?”

“My!” grinned Cooper. “He’s a bird. Looks like he could eat hardware without getting indigestion.”

The Barville crowd gave their players a rousing cheer, although they did not yet venture to blow the horns or jangle the cowbells. Those noise-producing implements were held in reserve, with apparent perfect assurance that an especially effective occasion for their use must arise during the game.

Captain Eliot shook hands cordially with Sanger, and suggested that he should at once take the field for practice.

“Hello, Roger!” called Bob Larkins, the Barville first baseman. “Great day for the game. We’re going to make you fellows go some. You won’t have the same sort of a cinch you had last year.”

“I hope not,” answered Eliot pleasantly. “There’s a big crowd out to-day, and I’d like to see you fellows make the game interesting.”

“Oh, don’t you worry, it will be interesting enough,” prophesied Larkins, getting his mitt and turning to jog down toward first.

At Eliot’s elbow Phil Springer remarked, with a short laugh, in which there seemed to be a trace of nervousness: “They certainly have got their pucker up. They’re boiling over with confidence.”

“And it’s a mistake to boil over with anything confidence, doubt or fear,” said Roger. “When the kettle boils aver, the soup gets scorched. Come, Phil, shake the kinks out of your arm with me, while they’re taking their turn on the field.”

His calm, unruffled manner seemed instantly to dissipate the nervousness which Phil had felt a touch of.

The practice of the visiting team was closely watched by nearly all the spectators, and it became apparent that the Barville boys had profited by the coaching of some one who had found it possible to train them with good effect. They were swift, sure and snappy in their work, displaying little of the hesitation and uncertainty usually revealed by an ordinary country school team, even in practice. Copley, the stocky, red-headed catcher from Roxbury, received the balls when they were returned from the infield and the out, catching the most of them one-handedly with the big mitt, although he seemed to do this without flourish or any attempt at grand-standing. Now and then he grinned and nodded over some especially fine catch in the outfield or clever stop of a grounder or liner by an infielder; nevertheless, he let Sanger, who was batting, do all the talking to the players.

Roy Hooker, wearing the crimson colors of his school, sat on the bleachers at the edge of the group of Oakdale Academy students, endeavoring to mask his feelings behind a pretext of loyal interest in the home nine; but, nevertheless, in spite of his inwardly reiterated assertion that he had been used “rotten,” he was annoyed by a constantly recurring sense of treachery to his own team. The skill displayed in practice by the visitors in a measure set at rest the doubts he had continued to entertain concerning Rackliff’s wisdom in backing Barville.

“I’ll win some money to-day, all right,” he thought; “but, really, I’d rather be wearing an Oakdale suit, even if we lose.”

As the Barville nine came in from the field and Oakdale went out, Roy saw Herbert Rackliff saunter forth and speak to Newt Copley, who shook hands with him. Then Herbert drew Copley aside and began talking to him in very low tones, and with unusual animation. Still watching, Hooker beheld Copley nodding his head, and even at that distance Roy could see that he was grinning.

“Hey, old Rack!” Chipper Cooper shouted from the field. “Brace him up that’s right. Tell him he’s got to win or you’re financially ruined.”

Herbert pretended that he did not hear, and, after a final word with Copley, slowly sauntered back into the crowd. He was not wearing the Oakdale colors.

“I’m glad nobody knows that part of the money he put up was furnished by me,” thought Hooker. “He’s got an awful crust. I couldn’t do a thing like that, and be so cheeky and unconcerned. Gee! but he’ll get the fellows down on him.”

And now, as the time for the game to begin was at hand, the umpire, supplied with two new balls in their boxes, called the captains of both teams and consulted with them for a moment or two. Directly Eliot sought the body protector and mask, and Bert Dingley, standing at the end of the bench on which the visitors had seated themselves, began swinging two bats. There was a rustling stir among the spectators as they settled themselves down to watch the opening of the contest. The Oakdale players took their positions on the field, Rodney Grant going into right, while Chub Tuttle remained on the bench as spare man. Phil Springer had peeled off his sweater and was pulling on his light left-hand glove as he walked toward the pitcher’s position.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” called the youthful umpire, facing the crowd, “this is the opening game of the high school league, Barville against Oakdale. Battery for Oakdale, Springer and Eliot. Play ball!”

With that command, he tossed a clean, new baseball to Phil, who caught it with his gloved hand, glanced at it perfunctorily, gave it an unnecessary wipe against his hip, made sure his teammates were ready, and placed his left foot on the slab.