"MATTY'S" BOYHOODFrom The Literary Digest, June 6, 1914
"I suppose it was just not to be," added Mrs. Mathewson. "And yet sometimes I find consolation in the thought that perhaps he is a preacher. His work has brought him before the multitude in a kindly manner; his example is a cleanly one. He reaches the masses of the people in his own way and he must give them something through his character."
Here Mrs. Mathewson was called to another part of the house and I watched her as she went – tall, straight, strong – a pioneer fit to have founded a race.
But I had not been left alone. Near me sat Mr. Mathewson, whose gaze of an admiring lover had followed his wife out of the room. Over the music-stand at his back was a daguerreotype of him as he had marched forth at Abraham Lincoln's call for troops. There were other portraits and photographs of the family – of Christy's wife with her boy, "Sonny," of Jane and Christine, Christy's sisters, and even one of "Sonny's" pup, "Polo Grounds." Mr. Mathewson was talking to me about each one, not as a stranger, but as tho he and his people had known me all my life. From a window we could see the gymnasium and campus of Keystone Academy, which was founded by Christy's Rhode Island forefathers and where he and his brothers and sisters and his father and mother before him were educated. At the foot of the hill snuggled the village built by the same sturdy great-grandfathers when they moved "out West" to wrest this eastern part of Pennsylvania from the wilderness. Factoryville it is called to-day, even as they named it for a cotton factory that failed. There in its tiny valley it had nestled, forgotten, for more than a century, until a great-grandson "pitched" it back on the map again. There isn't a factory in it, nor one nearer than Scranton, sixteen miles away. Recently it has been proposed, to the town's delight, to rechristen it Christy.
From the very beginning, it appears, Matty was a pitcher. At the age of two he was discovered, in his mother's absence, pitching cups, saucers, plates, and silverware out of the window, just for the fun of hearing them strike. At four he was demanding to play with the gang, and asserting with great positiveness that he knew how to pitch. There was a game called "hailey over" that Mrs. Mathewson taught all her children and upon which the youthful Matty hardened his pitching muscles. It consisted in throwing a ball over a house to a catcher standing on the other side. Inaccuracy in this game went to the profit of the village glazier, and even Matty was compelled to break open his bank to pay for a neighbor's window. One of the rules of "hailey over" seems to have been that each player must pay for his own windows, and it is only fair to suppose that right here was the beginning of Matty's wonderful control. Mrs. Mathewson was Matty's first coach in baseball, but she says that "Sonny," or Christy, Jr., must be content to have his father coach him, and make the best of it, for she is not as spry as she was some thirty years ago. Matty was brought up on corporal punishment and prohibition, and seems to have thrived on them, in spite of opposing theorists. Perhaps the secret lies in the example and precept of the woman who can relate such an incident of him as this:
"I'm going to tell you something that makes me feel I haven't failed with my boy. Last year Christy came to me and told me of an offer that had been made to him to lend his name to a big Broadway amusement place – a drinking and dancing place – just to let it be called The Christy Mathewson and to appear there for five or ten minutes once or twice a week. Great pressure was put on him. The temptation was thousands of dollars a year.
"'Well?' said I, altho I was sure of him.
"'Mother,' said he, 'if I had to make money that way I wouldn't want any.' So you see Christy knows there is something in the world worth more than money.
"Money can cost too much. A play was written for Christy. It was very successful. When he had finished his contract he was offered another and a better one – this is, more money. Jane, Christy's wife, said that all the money in the world would not pay to have her husband away from his home all the time. That is the spirit that makes for a home and home life."
As Mrs. Mathewson led her interviewer about the little town of Factoryville, pointing out the various places famous for their intimate connection with her son's early days, an old villager met them who hailed Matty's mother as "Nervy." Mrs. Mathewson decided that her queer nickname needed some explanation and remarked to her visitor with a laugh:
"You know we are mostly Down Easters around here. With them Minerva is Minervy. But in my case it's 'Nervy' because – well, because –" My pioneer woman was blushing; for the moment actually embarrassed. "Well, you see I've been an outdoor lover all my life. As a girl I was quite a horsewoman. I wouldn't want my girls to do what I did, but I used to break in the young horses on my father's farm. One time I broke a fractious giant of a horse -- an animal that had stumped 'most everybody else. That day the folk christened me Nervy. To all of the old-timers I'm still Nervy Capwell. Even some of the children call me Aunt Nervy."
As Christy grew up to schoolboy age his taste changed to football, and for the time being baseball came second. But, says his mother, when he did play baseball he was always pitcher, and nobody could "fuss" him. Further, she remarked:
"It is my belief – my experience bears it out – that in nine cases out of ten the boy is father to the man or the girl mother to the woman. My boy to-day in his principal characteristics is what he was in the beginning. One day, when Christy was not more than three years old, we were visiting at grandfather's, and he and his little Aunt Jessie paid a visit alone to the stable where Dandy, grandfather's pet carriage horse, was tied in his stall. A fine place to pitch stones, the children thought. Finally they chose Dandy's sleek sides for targets, and Dandy resented this treatment by stamping and prancing. Hearing the noise, grandfather ran to the stable, and discovering the cause, seized a horsewhip. He spoke to the now frightened children in no gentle tones. Jessie made a bee-line for the house, but Christy stood stock-still. As grandfather came within reaching distance of him he said: 'Wait just a minute, grandpa, and let's talk it over first.' Needless to say, after they talked it over, grandfather did not use the whip. But that's my boy to-day.
"I remember one year the Factoryville nine was going to play the Honesdale team. Christy was pitcher for our nine. There was a lit of practising, so much that when the day came for the game Christy's potato patch had not been picked. I had told him that he could not go to Honesdale unless the patch had been taken care of. On the morning of the game he tried to beg off. All of his playmates came to me and tried to beg him off. Without Christy, they said, Honesdale would beat Factoryville. I answered that Factoryville would have to be beaten, then. There and then they saw a light, and every one of the nine pitched in and picked potatoes. They cleaned the field up before noon. I paid them with a good meal, and Factoryville won the game.
"That game was an important event in my boy's career. Little did I dream when I packed his bag and sent him off that day that he was taking his first step toward being a professional baseball player. A man who saw that game at Honesdale made Christy an offer to pitch on a professional team during the following summer. Christy came home and talked it over with us. He could make ten times as much money playing ball as he could at farming. I thought it would last for a little while and that then my hope of his being a preacher would be realized."
The interviewer had many questions to ask concerning Matty's early training, but all of them were well answered in the one paragraph written some time later by Mrs. Mathewson:
"I have not been able to recall anything more than what I told you about Christy's training, except that I was always particular about regular hours of sleep and plenty of plain, wholesome food, good milk, fresh air – and the Golden Rule."