Entering the last game of the season, Cooper could be the first player since Ted Williams a century ago to bat .400 — thanks to secret biotechnology giving him superior vision. Riches awaited him in free agency. But would Cooper rather sign a contract for half a billion dollars? Or win a World Series? Find out in this science fiction baseball story.
Sample of “Ted Williams Eyes”
Ted Williams Eyes
Cooper jogged out of the Astros clubhouse and up the dugout steps toward the batting cage. Echoing around nearly-empty TeXolar Power Park, cameras whirred and reporters shouted questions. Magazines, websites, and TV from around the world, all here to see him take batting practice before the final game of the season.
Back in the stands, a hundred fans in team colors cheered. Cooper lifted his batting helmet. Just like the reporters, they didn’t come to find out if the Astros would finish four games out of playoff contention, or five. They didn’t even come to see if tonight’s opponent, the in-state rival Rangers, would make the wild card with a win. They came to see Cooper make history.
No matter what happened tonight, Cooper would have the highest single season batting average since Gwynn way back in ’94. With a couple of hits, he would be the first ballplayer in almost a century to reach—
”Four-oh-oh! Four-oh-oh!” Twelve rows back, a pudgy fan in a retro ’70s-style Astros jersey, with a flat-brimmed cap and a dime-sized beard patch between his mouth and chin, chanted. Others joined in.
Playfully, Cooper shook his head, then put on his helmet and went to the warm-up circle. He slid donut weights onto his bat handle.
A reporter in the front row called out, “Even if you miss .400, you’ve gained a hundred points in batting average over last season! Is it true performance-enhancing drugs explain it?”
Cooper checked his warm-up swing and peered at the reporter. Bob Jackson, from purebaseball.com. Jackson needed to trim the hair in his nose and do a better job concealing the pimples on his neck. “You know how many times I’ve peed in a cup this year.” He looked at the other clustered reporters. “Anyone have a real question?”
A reporter from Japan asked, “How else can you explain your great improvement in all offensive statistics?”
Despite his long-sleeved uniform and the slice of blue, cloud-puffed Texas sky through the open roof, Cooper shivered. Could anyone have found out? His childhood friend, Derek Liu, now a biotech entrepreneur in Singapore, had paid all of his travel expenses to Derek’s new CRISPR/Cas9 clinic. He’d checked into the hotel under an assumed name….
He rested the bat across his shoulders. No one would ever know. “I’m seeing the ball better. That’s all.” He lowered the bat and tapped the handle on the ground. The donut weights clattered to the grass. “Time for me to get to work.”
Cooper strode to the batting cage, waggling his bat. Among the group waiting their turns stood the team’s three next best batters. Odysseus Skelton, the stocky first baseman, rolling his lips while undoing and redoing the hook-and-loop fasteners on his batting gloves. Chalo Dominguez, the rookie left fielder, his hand on the crucifix hanging around his neck and his eyes squeezed in prayer. For a 22-year-old, Dominguez had a broad tracery of crow’s-feet at the corners of his eyes. Jordan Himmelblau, the shortstop, facial muscles bunched and jaw working like a piston on his chewing gum.
Sometimes, your teammates became friends. Others, they were just guys you worked with.
Himmelblau spoke. “Here comes Mr. Ted Williams eyes.”
The Hall of Famer, last man to bat .400, but—”What about his eyes?” Cooper asked.
”Legend has it Williams had 20/3 vision. Talk about seeing the ball better.”
Cooper shivered again. Did Himmelblau somehow know?
No. He wanted to know his secret, of course, no less than the reporters. But the reporters just wanted click bait. His teammates wanted the magic to rub off on them so they too could become rich free agents after their contracts expired.
Cooper returned a flat stare. Only one player could become baseball’s first half-billion dollar man.
”Next group, your turn,” the BP coach called. “Coop, get in here.”
Cooper gave Himmelblau, Skelton, and Dominguez one last look. “Watch and learn, boys.”
Inside the cage, he stopped outside the right-handed batter’s box and raised his bat in front of his eyes. Fine details in the wood grain and minute scorched curlicues in the manufacturer’s brand seemingly jumped to his eye. Used to it now, but the first time he’d studied a bat after Derek Liu’s gene therapy, newly-visible details had stunned him.
He shut his eyes, drew in a breath. An early summer day came to him, cloudless sky, field greened by dozens of child-league fathers. Eight years old, coming up to bat against a kid from the opposing team for the first time.
The other boy put the ball over the middle of the plate. A smooth swing. The ping of the ball against the aluminum bat. The white dot shrinking as the ball flew up and away. His lips parted, his gaze rapt, his heart soaring with the ball.
He’d liked baseball before then.
From that moment, he’d loved it.
Cooper opened his eyes and stepped into the batter’s box.
The coach swiped and tapped his phone. The pitching machine light glowed green, ready to fling balls in the style of Huerta, tonight’s opposing starting pitcher.
The machine whipped forward its arm and released the ball. It looked as big as a full moon. Cooper read the seams pulsing across the visible face as if he watched slow motion video. He swung, arms whipping the bat head through the zone.
The ball sliced to right-center, higher than a second baseman could catch, low enough to fall in front of the outfielders.
Slider, thigh-high, outer half. He nodded to himself, then dug in his cleats for the next pitch.
A different pulse of seams, a different trajectory leaving the mechanical hand. He swung.
Line drive. The ball clattered against the pitching screen. The coach jumped, then nodded and gave a thumbs-up. “Do that in the game and he won’t try his curve.”
Cooper set his feet, cocked his bat. Dust motes drifted in air near the machine’s arm. “Ready.”
Fastballs, cutters, changeups, curves, sliders. He read them all an instant after the machine released them. He pulled some, went the opposite way on others, lining most for what would be singles or doubles. He sent one ball to Tal’s hill, the flagpole mound inside the fence in dead center, another into the boxes behind the short fence in left field.
He nodded to himself. He’d found his groove. “I’m ready to play, coach.”