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Ch. 4: The Call For Candidates

There were five rooms in Dale's suite in the dormitory, and three other sophomores shared them with him. They confined Ken in the end room, where he was safely locked and guarded from any possible chance to escape.

For the first day or two it was irksome for Ken; but as he and his captors grew better acquainted the strain eased up, and Ken began to enjoy himself as he had not since coming to the university.

He could not have been better provided for. His books were at hand, and even notes of the lectures he was missing were brought to him. The college papers and magazines interested him, and finally he was much amused by an account of his mysterious disappearance. All in a day he found himself famous. Then Dale and his room-mates were so friendly and jolly that if his captivity had not meant the disgrace of the freshman class, Ken would have rejoiced in it. He began to thaw out, though he did not lose his backwardness. The life of the great university began to be real to him. Almost the whole sophomore class, in squads of twos and threes and sixes, visited Dale's rooms during that week. No Soph wanted to miss a sight of a captive bowl-man. Ken felt so callow and fresh in their presence that he scarcely responded to their jokes. Worry Arthur's nickname of "Kid" vied with another the coach conferred on Ken, and that was "Peg." It was significant slang expressing the little baseball man's baseball notion of Ken's throwing power.

The evening was the most interesting time for Ken. There was always something lively going on. He wondered when the boys studied. When some of the outside students dropped in there were banjo and guitar playing, college songs, and college gossip.

"Come on, Peg, be a good fellow," they said, and laughed at his refusal to smoke or drink beer.

"Molly!" mocked one.

"Willy-boy!" added another.

Ken was callow, young, and backward; but he had a temper, and this kind of banter roused it easily. The red flamed into his cheeks.

"I promised my mother I wouldn't smoke or drink or gamble while I was in college," he retorted, struggling with shame and anger. "And I--I won't."

Dale stopped the good-natured chaff. "Fellows, stop guying Ward; cut it out, I tell you. He's only a kid freshman, but he's liable to hand you a punch, and if he does you'll remember it. Besides, he's right.... Look here, Ward, you stick to that promise. It's a good promise to stick to, and if you're going in for athletics it's the best ever."

Worry Arthurs happened to be present on this evening, and he seconded Dale in more forceful speech. "There's too much boozin' and smokin' of them coffin nails goin' on in this college. It's none of my affair except with the boys I'm coachin', and if I ketch any one breakin' my rules after we go to the trainin'-table he'll sit on the bench. There's Murray; why, he says there are fellows in college who could break records if they'd train. Half of sprintin' or baseball or football is condition."

"Oh, Worry, you and Mac always make a long face over things. Wayne has won a few championships, hasn't she?"

"The varsity ball team will be a frost this year, that's sure," replied Arthurs, gloomily.

"How do you make that out?" demanded Dale, plainly nettled. "You've hinted it before to me. Why won't we be stronger than last season? Didn't we have a crackerjack team, the fastest that ever represented old Wayne? Didn't we smother the small college teams and beat Place twice, shut out Herne the first game, and play for a tie the second?"

"You'll see, all right, all right," replied Arthurs, gloomier than ever; and he took his hat and went out.

Dale slammed his cards down on the table.

"Fellows, is it any wonder we call him Worry? Already he's begun to fuss over the team. Ever since he's been here he has driven the baseball captains and managers crazy. It's only his way, but it's so irritating. He's a magnificent coach, and Wayne owes her great baseball teams to him. But he's hard on captains. I see my troubles. The idea of this year's team being a frost--with all the old stars back in college--with only two positions to fill! And there are half a dozen cracks in college to fight for these two positions--fellows I played against on the summer nines last year. Worry's idea is ridiculous."

This bit of baseball talk showed Ken the obstacles in the way of a freshman making the varsity team. What a small chance there would be for him! Still he got a good deal of comfort out of Arthurs' interest in him, and felt that he would be happy to play substitute this season, and make the varsity in his sophomore year.

The day of the bowl-fight passed, and Ken's captivity became history. The biggest honor of the sophomore year went to Dale and his room-mates. Ken returned to his department, where he was made much of, as he had brought fame to a new and small branch of the great university. It was a pleasure to walk the campus without fear of being pounced upon. Ken's dodging and loneliness--perhaps necessary and curbing nightmares in the life of a freshman--were things of the past. He made acquaintances, slowly lost his backwardness, and presently found college life opening to him bright and beautiful. Ken felt strongly about things. And as his self-enforced exile had been lonely and bitter, so now his feeling that he was really a part of the great university seemed almost too good to be true. He began to get a glimmering of the meaning of his father's love for the old college. Students and professors underwent some vague change in his mind. He could not tell what, he did not think much about it, but there was a warmer touch, a sense of something nearer to him.

Then suddenly a blow fell upon the whole undergraduate body. It was a thunderbolt. It affected every student, but Ken imagined it concerned his own college fortunes more intimately. The athletic faculty barred every member of the varsity baseball team! The year before the faculty had advised and requested the players not to become members of the summer baseball nines. Their wishes had not been heeded. Captain Dale and his fast players had been much in demand by the famous summer nines. Some of them went to the Orange Athletic Club, others to Richfield Springs, others to Cape May, and Dale himself had captained the Atlantic City team.

The action of the faculty was commended by the college magazine. Even the students, though chafing under it, could not but acknowledge its justice. The other universities had adopted such a rule, and Wayne must fall in line. The objections to summer ball-playing were not few, and the particular one was that it affected the amateur standing of the college player. He became open to charges of professionalism. At least, all his expenses were paid, and it was charged that usually he was paid for his services.

Ken's first feeling when he learned this news was one of blank dismay. The great varsity team wiped off the slate! How Place and Herne would humble old Wayne this year! Then the long, hard schedule, embracing thirty games, at least one with every good team in the East--how would an untried green team fare against that formidable array? Then Ken suddenly felt ashamed of a selfish glee, for he was now sure of a place on the varsity.

For several days nothing else was talked about by the students. Whenever Dale or his players appeared at Carlton Hall they were at once surrounded by a sympathetic crowd. If it was a bitter blow to the undergraduates, what was it to the members of the varsity? Their feeling showed in pale, stern faces. It was reported about the campus that Murray and Arthurs and Dale, with the whole team, went to the directors of the athletic faculty and besought them to change or modify the decision. Both the trainer and the coach, who had brought such glory to the university, threatened to resign their places. The disgrace of a pitiably weak team of freshmen being annihilated by minor colleges was eloquently put before the directors. But the decision was final.

One evening early in February Worry Arthurs called upon Ken. His face was long, and his mustache drooped.

"Kid, what do you think of 'em fat-heads on the faculty queerin' my team?" he asked. "Best team I ever developed. Say, but the way they could work the hit-and-run game! Any man on the team could hit to right field when there was a runner goin' down from first."

"Maybe things will turn out all right," suggested Ken, hopefully.

Worry regarded his youthful sympathizer with scorn.

"It takes two years to teach most college kids the rudiments of baseball. Look at this year's schedule." Worry produced a card and waved it at Ken. "The hardest schedule Wayne ever had! And I've got to play a kid team."

Ken was afraid to utter any more of his hopes, and indeed he felt them to be visionary.

"The call for candidates goes out to-morrow," went on the coach. "I'll bet there'll be a mob at the cage. Every fool kid in the university will think he's sure of a place. Now, Ward, what have you played?"

"Everywhere; but infield mostly."

"Every kid has played the whole game. What position have you played most?"

"Third base."

"Good! You've the arm for that. Well, I'm anxious to see you work, but don't exert yourself in the cage. This is a tip. See! I'll be busy weedin' out the bunch, and won't have time until we get out on the field. You can run around the track every day, get your wind and your legs right, hold in on your arm. The cage is cold. I've seen many a good wing go to the bad there. But your chance looks good. College baseball is different from any other kind. You might say it's played with the heart. I've seen youngsters go in through grit and spirit, love of playin' for their college, and beat out fellows who were their superiors physically. Well, good-night.... Say, there's one more thing. I forgot it. Are you up in your subjects?"

"I surely am," replied Ken. "I've had four months of nothing but study."

"The reason I ask is this: That faculty has made another rule, the one-year residence rule, they call it. You have to pass your exams, get your first year over, before you can represent any athletic club. So, in case I can use you on the team, you would have to go up for your exams two months or more ahead of time. That scare you?"

"Not a bit. I could pass mine right now," answered Ken, confidently.

"Kid, you and me are goin' to get along.... Well, good-night, and don't forget what I said."

Ken was too full for utterance; he could scarcely mumble good-night to the coach. He ran up-stairs three steps to the jump, and when he reached his room he did a war dance and ended by standing on his head. When he had gotten rid of his exuberance he sat down at once to write to his brother Hal about it, and also his forest-ranger friend, Dick Leslie, with whom he had spent an adventurous time the last summer.

At Carlton Hall, next day, Ken saw a crowd of students before the bulletin-board and, edging in, he read the following notice:


BASEBALL!


CALL FOR CANDIDATES FOR THE VARSITY BASEBALL TEAM

The Athletic Directors of the University earnestly request every student who can play ball, or who thinks he can, to present himself to Coach Arthurs at the Cage on Feb. 3rd.

There will be no freshman team this year, and a new team entirely will be chosen for the varsity. Every student will have a chance. Applicants are requested to familiarize themselves with the new eligibility rules.


Zane Grey