Wins Above Replacement

What must a player do to pitch among the stars? (via NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

This piece is appearing as part of a fiction series here at The Hardball Times. We’re thrilled to highlight the baseball-related fiction of seven talented authors and think you’ll enjoy these works, curated by Jason Linden and Amy Ryan, as much as we did.

On Titan, they cut into his elbow and replace the famous ligament there. On Enceladus, they harvest his cells and pattern him two new hamstrings. On Ganymede, they install a new eye over his damaged one, claiming it’s identical to his own, except the iris is the wrong color and the retina woven from carbon fibers.

He loses two toes when the gravity kicks in unexpectedly during a short hop across the asteroid belt for a Winter League game. Winter! As if there’s summer out in the dark. They regenerate them, bone and muscle, nerve, skin, hair and nail. Two uncalloused little extensions, as fresh as baby mice or rookies. They toughen up soon enough.

The League takes its percentage, of course. The suits get on the vid line with him, telling him what fine work he’s doing, traveling here and there, getting new folks excited about an old game. “John,” they say, “that’s some mighty good pitching you’re doing,” and then order doctors to replace his knees. They don’t ask what he thinks about any of it, as if he needs to think about anything but the money and the chance to hurl a ball in 0.8G.

He pitches an exhibition game on Europa, in a stadium shivering on the ice crust there, in front of 30,000 people and 7,000 mechs. It’s a humdinger of a game, his fastball touching 100 miles per Terran hour, his curve meandering into the strike zone, his slider edged and dangerous and unhittable. When he goes into his wind-up, his foot blocks out the pale dot of the Sun.

He goes eight innings, a two-hitter that should be a one-hitter, except for a little bloop of a single that escapes Murphy at second base. The rumor in the League is that Murphy’s garbage defensively, can’t move laterally even with two fake knees and a hip that’s mostly nano; John sees no reason to dispute it.

Ruiz knocks a solo home run off him, but what can you do about that? No shame in giving one up to an MVP, and she trots quick enough around the bases to avoid insulting him. Well, quick for a catcher, anyway, which is to say, slow for anyone else. He tips his hat at her to show there’s no hard feelings.

He loses on Europa, not the game, but the top of his hip bone during an at-bat. An HBP ball that’s meant to hit him in his lower back and misses. Turns out there were some hard feelings, not from Ruiz but from the opposing pitcher, whose fastball looks mighty slow compared to his.

The ball leaves a bruise, a deep contusion that casts off little shards of bone. He waves a hand when they say it would just be easier to give him a new hip, something sturdy and titanium and expensive. No point in objecting. They ask him if there’s anyone to comm before he goes under the anesthetic, but there’s only his agent, and they’ve already commed him.

He recovers in stasis on his way to spring training, only for docs to find a burst of scar tissue in his shoulder. They spend two surgeries ‘exploring’ its extraction before he says, “Screw it,” and they put in something made of pig tendons, spider silk, and little crawling nanobots he shouldn’t be able to feel cascading around but does anyway.

After that, other pieces come in rapid succession–three fingers on his non-pitching hand; an ear he loses when a ship de-pressurizes; a preemptive replacement of connective tissue to avoid ‘rubber fatigue’ in his arm. He spends a game in thin atmo huffing from an oxygen tank, and they expand his lungs with extra lobes.

His liver gives out, unsurprising after 15 Terran years in the League and a few million miles. It’s just a filter, they say, and dig it out and replace it like they would one on an HVAC system. They do the same for seeming feet of intestines, tubes and valves and junctures; the looping vessels that feed his kidneys; plates of muscle in his abdomen and over his left pectoral, guarding the beat of his artificial heart.

When a reporter asks how old he is, he just laughs. After all, baseball’s a kid’s game.

Even as more and more of him becomes pig guts and nano and clone, they leave his brain. He calculates the cost of each fingernail, how much money they’ve spent to provision his palm with blood, to remove metabolic waste from the cartilaginous pads in his knuckles.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

His agent calls him and instead of saying, “Hey, John, they need you for a three-month stint out in the Saturnian moons,” or “Hey, pal, they’re offering a hundred grand a game to go sling a ball in a Lunar exhibition series,” it’s “Hey, friend, how about you come to MLB headquarters and we have a look at that brain of yours?”

He does, and they make the appropriate amount of small talk, praising this or that in his game, telling him to keep that money flowing–that he’ll be needed on Titan, Ganymede, the high-platformed stadiums of Venus. That they need him to be everywhere at once.

They strap him to a machine and extract the contents of his brain onto a replicable chip. It’s an unspectacular little bit of a thing, the entirety of his baseball knowledge pared down to ones and zeros, and he doesn’t like looking at it any more than he would a bloody, extracted tooth.

“You’ll get royalties, of course, son,” they say. “You’ve given so much to this game,” they say, and walk him down a long hallway lined with tanks, each with a body–his body–down to the fabricated eye and false shoulder. Each patterned to look like him. To move and think like him. A player for every planet and moon and rock, ready to throw fire and dazzle the paying crowds.

A kid’s game, after all, and they send his children everywhere, launching them like a dandelion launches its seeds after spring, into the long heat of the summer.

Sydney's work can be found on twitter at @sydrpfp on Twitter and on the Resting Pitchface Podcast.
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I can imagine a lifetime spent playing the game with big contracts and big sponsorships on the line would make a person feel like nothing more than a tool. Interesting read.