The Young Pitcher: April 2021

THE YOUNG PITCHER Excerpted from the novel by Zane Grey
Ken Ward had not been at the big university many days before he
realized the miserable lot of a freshman.

At first he was sorely puzzled. College was so different from what
he had expected. At the high school of his home town, which, being
the capital of the State, was no village, he had been somebody. Then
his summer in Arizona, with its wild adventures, had given him a
self-appreciation which made his present situation humiliating.

There were more than four thousand students at the university. Ken
felt himself the youngest, the smallest, the one of least consequence.
He was lost in a shuffle of superior youths. In the forestry department
he was a mere boy; and he soon realized that a freshman there was the
same as anywhere. The fact that he weighed nearly one hundred and sixty
pounds, and was no stripling, despite his youth, made not one whit of

Unfortunately, his first overture of what he considered good-fellowship
had been made to an upper-classman, and had been a grievous mistake.
Ken had not yet recovered from its reception. He grew careful after
that, then shy, and finally began to struggle against disappointment
and loneliness.

Outside of his department, on the campus and everywhere he ventured,
he found things still worse. There was something wrong with him, with
his fresh complexion, with his hair, with the way he wore his tie,
with the cut of his clothes. In fact, there was nothing right about
him. He had been so beset that he could not think of anything but
himself. One day, while sauntering along a campus path, with his hands
in his pockets, he met two students coming toward him. They went to
right and left, and, jerking his hands from his pockets, roared in
each ear, “How dare you walk with your hands in your pockets!”

Another day, on the library step, he encountered a handsome bareheaded
youth with a fine, clean-cut face and keen eyes, who showed the true
stamp of the great university.

“Here,” he said, sharply, “aren’t you a freshman?”

“Why–yes,” confessed Ken.

“I see you have your trousers turned up at the bottom.”

“Yes–so I have.” For the life of him Ken could not understand why
that simple fact seemed a crime, but so it was.

“Turn them down!” ordered the student.

Ken looked into the stern face and flashing eyes of his tormentor,
and then meekly did as he had been commanded.

“Boy, I’ve saved your life. We murder freshmen here for that,”
said the student, and then passed on up the steps.

In the beginning it was such incidents as these that had bewildered Ken.
He passed from surprise to anger, and vowed he would have something to
say to these upper-classmen. But when the opportunity came Ken always
felt so little and mean that he could not retaliate. This made him
furious. He had not been in college two weeks before he could distinguish
the sophomores from the seniors by the look on their faces. He hated the
sneering “Sophs,” and felt rising in him the desire to fight. But he
both feared and admired seniors. They seemed so aloof, so far above
him. He was in awe of them, and had a hopeless longing to be like
them. And as for the freshmen, it took no second glance for Ken to
pick them out. They were of two kinds–those who banded together in
crowds and went about yelling, and running away from the Sophs, and
those who sneaked about alone with timid step and furtive glance.

Ken was one of these lonesome freshmen. He was pining for companionship,
but he was afraid to open his lips. Once he had dared to go into Carlton
Hall, the magnificent club-house which had been given to the university
by a famous graduate. The club was for all students–Ken had read that
on the card sent to him, and also in the papers. But manifestly the
upper-classmen had a different point of view. Ken had gotten a glimpse
into the immense reading-room with its open fireplace and huge chairs,
its air of quiet study and repose; he had peeped into the brilliant
billiard-hall and the gymnasium; and he had been so impressed and
delighted with the marble swimming-tank that he had forgotten himself
and walked too near the pool. Several students accidentally bumped him
into it. It appeared the students were so eager to help him out that
they crowded him in again. When Ken finally got out he learned the
remarkable fact that he was the sixteenth freshman who had been
accidentally pushed into the tank that day.

So Ken Ward was in a state of revolt. He was homesick; he was lonely
for a friend; he was constantly on the lookout for some trick; his
confidence in himself had fled; his opinion of himself had suffered
a damaging change; he hardly dared call his soul his own.

The novel, The Young Pitcher was originally published in 1911 by Zane Grey, who would go on to become a prolific author of popular westerns such as Riders of the Purple Sage. Beginning in 1900, Grey began spending time visiting the Delaware River, and his first published story was about the river. In 1905, he and his wife purchased a home in Lackawaxen, PA, with a porch overlooking the Delaware…and Sullivan County, NY just beyond. Today, his former home is operated as the Zane Grey Museum by the National Park Service. The Young Pitcher is one of a handful of baseball stories he wrote. It is in the public domain, and as a tribute to the opening of baseball season in April, we offer this excerpt.