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The Winning Ball
by [?]

One day in July our Rochester club, leader in the Eastern League, had returned to the hotel after winning a double-header from the Syracuse club. For some occult reason there was to be a lay-off next day and then on the following another double-header. These double-headers we hated next to exhibition games. Still a lay-off for twenty-four hours, at that stage of the race, was a Godsend, and we received the news with exclamations of pleasure.

After dinner we were all sitting and smoking comfortably in front of the hotel when our manager, Merritt, came hurriedly out of the lobby. It struck me that he appeared a little flustered.

“Say, you fellars,” he said brusquely. “Pack your suits and be ready for the bus at seven- thirty.”

For a moment there was a blank, ominous silence, while we assimilated the meaning of his terse speech.

“I’ve got a good thing on for tomorrow,” continued the manager. “Sixty per cent gate receipts if we win. That Guelph team is hot stuff, though.”

“Guelph!” exclaimed some of the players suspiciously. “Where’s Guelph?”

“It’s in Canada. We’ll take the night express an’ get there tomorrow in time for the game. An’ we’ll hev to hustle.”

Upon Merritt then rained a multiplicity of excuses. Gillinger was not well, and ought to have that day’s rest. Snead’s eyes would profit by a lay-off. Deerfoot Browning was leading the league in base running, and as his legs were all bruised and scraped by sliding, a manager who was not an idiot would have a care of such valuable runmakers for his team. Lake had “Charley- horse.” Hathaway’s arm was sore. Bane’s stomach threatened gastritis. Spike Doran’s finger needed a chance to heal. I was stale, and the other players, three pitchers, swore their arms should be in the hospital.

“Cut it out!” said Merritt, getting exasperated. “You’d all lay down on me–now, wouldn’t you? Well, listen to this: McDougal pitched today; he doesn’t go. Blake works Friday, he doesn’t go. But the rest of you puffed-up, high- salaried stiffs pack your grips quick. See? It’ll cost any fresh fellar fifty for missin’ the train.”

So that was how eleven of the Rochester team found themselves moodily boarding a Pullman en route for Buffalo and Canada. We went to bed early and arose late.

Guelph lay somewhere in the interior of Canada, and we did not expect to get there until 1 o’clock.

As it turned out, the train was late; we had to dress hurriedly in the smoking room, pack our citizen clothes in our grips and leave the train to go direct to the ball grounds without time for lunch.

It was a tired, dusty-eyed, peevish crowd of ball players that climbed into a waiting bus at the little station.

We had never heard of Guelph; we did not care anything about Rube baseball teams. Baseball was not play to us; it was the hardest kind of work, and of all things an exhibition game was an abomination.

The Guelph players, strapping lads, met us with every mark of respect and courtesy and escorted us to the field with a brass band that was loud in welcome, if not harmonious in tune.

Some 500 men and boys trotted curiously along with us, for all the world as if the bus were a circus parade cage filled with striped tigers. What a rustic, motley crowd massed about in and on that ball ground. There must have been 10,000.

The audience was strange to us. The Indians, half-breeds, French-Canadians; the huge, hulking, bearded farmers or traders, or trappers, whatever they were, were new to our baseball experience.

The players themselves, however, earned the largest share of our attention. By the time they had practiced a few moments we looked at Merritt and Merritt looked at us.