Three of the holiday-themed short stories Edward Stratemeyer wrote for the Newark Sunday Call newspaper in the 1890s were timed and themed for Independence Day, July 4th. Another example is “A Lucky Explosion” from 1892. This baseball story, “Proving His Worth”, was published three years later.
Since the newspaper was issued weekly on a Sunday, the nearest date (usually) before the holiday was selected. This baseball story was published on June 30, 1895. In that year, the Fourth of July was on the following Thursday.
Edward’s participation in sports was limited to lawn bowling at the Roseville Athletic Association near his home in the Roseville section of Newark, New Jersey. However, his daughters said that he liked to watch a closely-contested baseball match. He knew that baseball was intensely interesting to many of his readers so it appears in many of his stories.
Another theme which appears in many of Stratemeyer’s personal and early Syndicate stories is the culture clash of a character from the city who visits the country or, as in this case, a boy from the area of New Jersey’s Second Mountain who visits the city of Newark.
The newspaper stories did not include illustrations of any kind. However, in Holiday Stories for Boys (volume 1), and here, some period illustrations from other stories are included.
Proving His Worth.
A Fourth of July Story for Boys.
By Edward Stratemeyer
“Oh, pshaw! he can’t play ball, Tom!”
“I think he can.”
“What! such a slight-built, white-faced chap? Not much. You’ll make the club lose if you put him on.”
“He seems to handle the ball quite well, and Dan said he could play.”
“Oh, I dare say he can play after a fashion. But country boys don’t play like city boys.”
“Sometimes they do.”
But Dick Nargent shook his head. He was satisfied if Bobby Loring was put on the Young Americas that the club would lose its long-talked-of game with the Columbias.
The Young Americas were from the upper end of Newark. they had been organized by Tom Lee two seasons before, and they put up as good a game, to use the common way of expressing it, as any amateur club in the city.
Tom Lee was pitch and captain, while Dick Nargent was catch. They understood their play well and often put out a would-be batter on strikes.
The game with the Columbias would be the first the team had played with an out-of-town club, and , of course, the boys were all anxious to show what they could do.
The club had ten members, but just two days before the Fourth of July one of the boys went off to spend a week in the country with his folks, and another boy, Larry Brown, who played centre-field, was hurt in the leg.
This left only eight players, and Tom was in a quandary concerning a new player to fill center. He asked a a number of boys, but they all had engagements they did not care to break.
Then Tom thought of Bobby Loring, and as he did so his face flushed a trifle, for he felt that he had not done just right by Bobby since the boy had moved down to Newark from up back of the second mountain.
Tom’s cousin Dan had introduced Bobby and had asked that he be taken in as a chum, but Tom had given the newcomer but scant attention, being busy with the club.
“He’ll make friends enough, I dare say,” Tom had said to himself. But he was mistaken. The country boy was too shy to thrust himself forward, and although he never said so, he often found his spare hours hanging heavily on his hands. More than once he wished he had never moved to Newark.
“No swimming place but the public river and no good nooks to go fishing in,” he said to himself. “And none of the boys seem to care for my company.”
Now Tom was resolved to do his duty, although he had to confess to himself that he was doing it as much for his own sake as for Bobby’s.
He found the country boy busy in his back garden making a new dog house.
“Hullo, Bob,” he said, as he came up. “Hard at work?”
“Rover’s house has gone to pieces and I am trying to build him another.”
“Say, I come to see you about the ball game on the Fourth,” went on Tom, as he dropped on the woodpile stump. “Dan said you could play some. Would you like to play on the team?”
“Me?” Bobby’s eyes sparkled, and then he cast them down. “Do you mean on that game with the club from New York?”
“Yes. You know Larry Brown has a lame leg and can’t play. He covers center field and I would like first-rate to have you take the position, if you think you can fill it.”
“I would like to try,” cried Bobby, but then he hesitated. “I—I haven’t had much practice this summer, though.”
Tom felt that this was in some way a dig at himself.
“I know it, and it wasn’t fair for us boys to shove you aside and not let you play with us.”
“Oh, I’m not complaining of that. Only if I play I would like to be a real help.”
“Will you come to the grounds and practice this afternoon?”
“Yes. What time?”
A minute later Harry Wallace, the short stop, whistled from the front gate of what he had done. Harry was of Dick Nargent’s opinion.
“I don’t believe he can catch a fly,” he said. “The other fielders will have to help cover his territory.”
Luckily Bobby did not hear the remark or it would have made him unhappy. As soon as the boys were gone he threw down his tools and ran into the house.
“Mother, I am to play on Tom Lee’s baseball team on the Fourth,” he cried. “What do you think of that? Where is that ball I brought from Willow Nook?”
“I am sure I don’t know what to think of it, Bobby. The ball is on the top shelf in the kitchen closet among your other contraptions.”
His mother wanted to ask him the particulars, but he hardly had time to tell her. He got out the ball, and for two hours practiced in the yard, throwing it at a knot-hole in the fence and catching flies as high as the chimney.
Promptly at 3 o’clock Bobby presented himself at the ball grounds. He knew most of the players and rather looked for a warm greeting.
Yet it was only Tom who said a pleasant word. The others merely nodded stiffly or said “How are you?” in tones that meant nothing. It was plain to see that the other members of the Young Americas did not particularly fancy their captain’s choice of a substitute.
Bobby instantly became miserable and he felt very much inclined to turn on his heel and walk off. But Tommy began to talk to him and gave him a few instructions and soon Bobby was in the field practicing. His reception had made him nervous and he let the first two balls which came his way slip through his hands.
“What did I tell you?” called Dick to Tom. “He can’t play. He’s a regular butter-fingers.”
“Give him a chance,” replied the captain. It was about all he could say. He half wished he had let the selection of the new fielder to the members themselves instead of taking it upon his own shoulders.
By and by Bobby began to do a little better so far as catching flies was concerned. But his arm was stiff and he had hard work to get the ball in and near the plate.
“Better throw it to second and let Martin throw it in!” called out Harry Wallace to Bobby, but the country boy paid no attention to the slur.
The other members, all but Tom, grinned at Harry.
“He won’t help the game a bit.”
“Can he bat?”
That was another question to settle. Bobby was called up, and it was Tom himself who sent in to him his swiftest balls.
The boy’s batting was very much like his fielding. He missed at first, but soon managed to strike out some pretty hard ones, one of which went through Harry’s fingers with a rush.
At last the practice was over and Bobby went home alone. Tom would have walked away with him but Dick and several others called him back.
“You ought to have somebody else on hand in case he gets too had,” was the suggestion made to Tom. “I don’t believe he can play a whole game in the hot sun.”
“He does look frail, that’s a fact,” said Tom. “He was very sick last Winter. Who can we get?”
The matter was talked over, and finally Dick promised to have a cousin on hand from Irvington.
Fourth of July dawned bright and clear. There was a gentle breeze blowing, and this made the glaring sunshine seem less hot than otherwise.
Every member of the Young Americas put on his baseball suit directly after breakfast, so as to have it on in time, and they practiced the game and shoot off their crackers and pistols until noon.
Directly after dinner the grounds were roped off, and then the crowd began to assemble—a regular holiday gathering. Many of the boys’ parents were there to see the great game, and among those present were Bobby’s father and mother.
Tom and Dick had gone over to the Erie depot to meet the New York club. Half and hour before the time for the game to start they came back, followed by the young fellows in uniform, with the word Columbia on their breasts, and about a score of others from the metropolis.
A shout went up.
“Here they come!”
“Now, Young Americas, show ’em what you can do!”
“Don’t let them win the game from you!”
The New York boys were all large for their age, and as Tom looked them over his heart sank just a trifle. It might be that they would bat his swiftest balls all over the field.
The New Yorkers smiled to themselves. Certainly they had the advantage in size and weight. Especially were their fielders heavy, the boy who played centre, being nearly twice as heavy as Bobby.
“They’ll bat all right enough.”
“They’ll make ten runs to the Young Americas’ one.”
“Our boys are beaten this time.”
An umpire had already been decided upon. He called the two baseball captains to him and tossed up a cent.
The New Yorkers won the toss and of course took the field.
Harry was the first to the bat. Amid a dead silence he walked over to the plate.
“Play!” called out the umpire, and the great game began.
The first ball was too high and it was a called ball. The next came lower and Harry struck at it. He knocked a foul over near the third baseman and was caught out.
Then Dick went to the bat and was put out at first on a ball knocked into the short-stop’s hands.
“Bobby Loring to the bat.”
A little paler than usual Bobby walked out, the ash stick grasped firmly in his hands. It was his first appearance in a regular game, and all eyes were on him. No wonder he was nervous.
A low ball came along and he struck at it and missed it.
Again the ball came, this time waist high. He made a crack at it which turned him completely around.
The crowd began to murmur as the catcher for the Columbias came up behind the bat and put on his mask.
“Take it easy, Bobby,” called out Tom. “That ball was no good. Make him give you one where you want it.”
Again the pitcher bent back. Once more the ball was sent in, just where Bobby wished it. He struck out and a foul went flying far over the catcher’s head.
“You can’t get it, Barkley!”
“Let it go and catch him out on the next.”
Once again the ball came in and Bobby made another attempt to meet it.
“Strike three! Batter out!”
A cheer went up from the New York boys. The Young Americas looked glum.
“Said he couldn’t do anything,” remarked Harry, and Bobby caught the words and they made his ears tingle.
The Young Americas now took the field. They put out two of the Columbias in short order. Then a two-bagger was knocked to right field, and another to left, and the Columbias scored two runs ere they retired.
“These boys think they can play, but they can’t do anything with a New York team!”
Several more innings were played in short order.
At the beginning of the fifth the score still stood 2 to 0.
Tom was very much downcast.
“We must do something, fellows,” he said. “Now, Dick, do line it out.”
“I will,” replied Dick.
He felt almost as bad as Tom, and in sheer desperation whacked at the sphere and sent it well out into the field.
“Run, Dick, run!”
“Don’t stop at first! Go on!”
And Dick did go on and reached second on a slide, covered with dirt, but safe.
“Bobby, see if you can’t follow up that hit,” cried Tom. “Take your time at it, though.”
“Oh, he won’t do anything!” muttered Harry.
“I guess he can do as much as you’ve done,” retorted Tom. He was getting just a bit “riled.”
“I’ll do my best,” said Bobby, in a low tone.
“Here comes paleface!” cried several. “He’s safe for another out!”
“See him saw the air!”
The last cry came as Bobby hit out and missed the ball.
The country boy heard the remark and his face began to burn.
“I will do something!” he thought. “I must!”
The ball was coming again. It was just right, neither too high nor too low, and directly over the plate.
Around came the ash stick with all the force that Bobby could put into the strike.
Crack! He had connected with the ball at last and done so fairly and squarely. Out over the heads of the shortstop and the fielder if flew, on and on.
“My! look at that!”
“Run, Bobby, run!”
“Come on home, Dick!”
Dick was tearing up to third like one possessed. He passed that base and dashed over the plate amid loud applause.
And Bobby? He had reached first—now he was at second—he was coming to third—he was there. He looked down in the field. The fielder was just stooping to pick up the ball. He resolved to race the ball home. He set his teeth and started.
It seemed as if a thousand voices were ringing in his ears. He was half way up to the plate, and now the ball was coming. The catcher was reaching out his hands for it. What if he should be put out—if that great hit should go for nothing?
He gave a tremendous leap and slid into the dust and dirt. Ah! the catcher had the ball at last. He made a jump at Bobby to find him—safe on the plate!
“Who said he couldn’t play ball?”
“The best rap ever made on these grounds!”
He cared nothing that he had a scratched arm and a bruised shin and that he was dirt from head to foot. He was the hero of the moment.
Tom ran out and, catching his arm, let him back to the bench.
“I knew you could do it,” he said. “Keep it up Bobby, keep it up!”
The score was now a tie, and so it remained until the beginning of the final inning.
Then the Young Americas went in “for blood,” as Tom put it. By hard work they managed to get five hits and scored twice. One of the hits was made by Bobby, but he was left on base, so it did not count.
“We have won!” cried the Newark boys. “They must make three runs to win or two to tie, and they can’t do it.”
The Young Americas went into the field confident that they would win the game, yet resolved to “play ball” to the very last.
“Don’t get easy on them” whispered Larry to Tom. “They mean to do something if they can.”
The first boy at the bat was put out on a short ball to third.
“One man gone!” shouted several. “Now down the other two!”
But the next fellow was a heavy batter. He struck a safe one to left field and got to first amid the cheers of the lads from the metropolis.
The boy to follow at the bat punted the sphere half way to third. The baseman and short stop ran up to field it, but before they could do it the batter was on first and the other man had reached second.
Then the New York boys let loose. Two on base and only one out. They might yet win the game.
“Now Darragh, see what you can do!”
“Knock a homer like Loring, Darry!”
Thus encouraged the New York boy did his best. But that was only a weak ball to centre field and he was put out. But meanwhile the runners reached second and third and neither was put out, although the Young Americas tried their best to catch one and then the other.
Two out, two men on bases and two runs to tie the score and three to win the game.
Both clubs began to grow nervous. It was a fearful strain on the lads. Just then that game seemed to be the most important thing in the world.
The next batter of the Columbias came up to the plate. He was a large, well-built boy, the same who had made the first run for his side. The crowd clapped hands.
“Bring ’em home, Field!”
“We only want three runs, remember!”
There was a dead silence as Tom pitched the first ball.
It had been too high for Field and he had refused to strike at it.
Again Tom launched the sphere forth.
Crack! Field struck it finely and out it sailed to centre.
“Run, Field! Go it!”
“Here comes one man over the plate!”
“The score is tied?”
The two boys were in true enough, and Field was already coming up to third.
Down in deep centre Bobby was still racing after the ball, still high in the air. It looked as if it was going to land directly on the back fence or just beyond.
Hardly a soul in the vast crowd thought the boy could catch that fly. It was too far out of his reach—it would strike the ground before he got within ten feet of it.
Bobby did not stop to think. He realized that failure meant three runs in for the Columbias and the loss of the game for his own team.
The ball was almost down. He looked up as he ran. It was just in front of him. He made a mad leap and stretched out his left hand.
He had it in his fingers. It began to slip, but he brought his right hand around and saved it from dropping to the ground. Another step and he struck the fence with a crash—and then all became a dark blank.
When Bobby came to his senses he found himself on the players bench with a big crowd around him. His head was swollen and his shoulder bruised, but that was all.
“Did—did I catch it?” was the first question which passed his lips. “Did I get it, Tom?”
“Of course you did, old man,” replied the captain. “You caught it and the game is ours.”
“Yes, the game is ours,” put in Harry. “And Bobby Loring is the best player on the team.”
“So say we all of us!” shouted Dick. “Three cheers for Bob!” And the cheers were given with a will.
–Newark Sunday Call, June 30, 1895