A Sci-Fi Story As Told Through 9 Innings of Baseball

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Baseball and science fiction share more of a fanbase than one might suspect, and every couple years or so a new sci-fi/fantasy baseball story piles into the dugout. Inspired by Harry Turtledove’s House of Daniel, the latest novel in this grand tradition, we wondered… could you tell a brand new story using bits from sci-fi baseball stories both new and old?

You can. And the result is suitably weird. (Anything can happen in the second half of the game. Anything.) Thanks go to Justin Landon for piling us high with sci-fi/fantasy baseball literature recommendations. We also pulled suggestions from Steven Silver’s impressive list of baseball-themed genre stories over on SF Site.

 

First Inning

I ask him if he knows anything about baseball, and he says he knows the rudiments, and I explain my problem to him, that McPherson’s high hard one clocks in at 303 miles an hour, and that even at an average of 287 none of us can even see the ball when Iron-Arm lets loose.

He does some quick calculations in his head, takes about two seconds to verify them on his computer, and then sends me another message: “The human arm is incapable of throwing a baseball at more than 127.49263 miles per hour.”

“Maybe so,” I answer back, “but they clocked him at more than twice that speed.”

“The conclusion is obvious,” sends Einstein. “The baseball is not being thrown by a human arm.”

And suddenly it’s all clear to me. Here’s this kid who’s already got an artificial knee and a replacement eyeball as a result of injuries. Why not get a step ahead of the game by buying himself a prosthetic arm before he can develop bursitis or tendonitis or whatever? And if he was going to buy a new arm, why not the strongest, most accurate arm that science could make?

I thought about it for a while, until I was sure I was right, and then I told Einstein that I agreed with him, but that didn’t help solve my problem, which was that whether McPherson was using his real arm or one he’d gone out and bought, no one could even hit a loud foul ball off him.

“It’s an interesting problem,” responded Einstein. He began tapping in numbers and symbols, and pretty soon his fingers were almost as hard to follow as one of McPherson’s fastballs, and after about five minutes he quit just as suddenly as he started, with a satisfied little smile on his face.

“Are you still here?” his machine asked.

“Yes.”

“I am going to transmit a very complex chemical formula to your computer. In the morning, print it out and take it to the laboratory at the local university—they’re the only ones who will have everything that’s required—and have them mix it up as instructed and put it into a titanium vial. Then rub it onto your bat.”

“And then what?” I asked.

“Then don’t trip on third base as you turn for home plate.” – The Outpost, by Mike Resnick

 

Second Inning

Our first man up grounded to short. I stepped into the batter’s box. Pecona City fans booed me. They booed everybody in an Enid uniform, so I didn’t think anything of it. Edwards threw me a curve just off the outside corner – I thought.

The late ump’s hand went up. “Stee-rike!”

“You missed that one,” I said. I didn’t turn my head toward him. The crowd would’ve got on me, and he would’ve thought I was showing him up. Then my strike zone would’ve been as wide as Big Stu the rest of the day.

“You hit, I’ll umpire, “ he said, which didn’t leave me much of a comeback. So I dug in and waited for the next one.

I guessed right. It was another slow curve, only inside this time. I bunted it down the third-base line and beat it out easy.

“That’s crap,” said their first basemen as I took my lead. His name was Mort Milligan. He had arms and shoulders like a blacksmith and he looked mean, so I didn’t sass him back. I just grinned. – The House of Daniel, by Harry Turtledove

 

Third Inning

As soon as Preacher reached the dugout Billy clenched his jaw and looked toward home plate for the sign. Another fastball. Fast ball, fastball, he told himself, his mind working feverishly. What’ll I throw, what’ll I throw? Well into his windup he realized he had not settled on a specific pitch and he panicked, sending the pitch several feet over Diego Martinez’s head. Henry didn’t even come out of his crouch to try to catch it.

Ball one.

Shitfuck, shitfuck, and agitated Billy mouthed, glaring in at Henry as if it were his fault.

Madre de Dios,” Diego muttered as he stepped out of the batter’s box to cross himself once again.

Henry looked toward the dugout and relayed Preacher’s call, yet another fastball, out to the mound. This time Billy made up his mind well before going into his windup. Slider, slider, he told himself as he whipped the ball past his right ear, breaking his right hand and wrist sharply as he released the pitch. Henry set himself to receive the pitch and adjusted the position of his catcher’s mitt as the ball sped toward him. – Coyote Moon, by John A Miller 

 

Fourth Inning

Miguel was up. He went out into the sun, and just like the numbers predicted, he got a hit. He roped a double, which wasn’t as good as we needed. Then Sammy singled, which moved Miguel to third. If Sammy had tripled, then we would’ve had a chance…but no.

It was down to me, walking out to home plate.

It should have been Miguel standing where I was now. The guy who hits a double on his bad day. If Corcoran had changed the batting order, Miguel could have driven runs in all day long. Instead he liked to get Miguel out there early, and tried to get him to steal bases.

Corcoran was standing at the entrance to the dugout, sweating and shouting for me to make it happen. I stood over the plate. The pitcher was looking at me, smirking. He had runners on first and third, which might have worried him, except he was facing me, a batter he’d struck out every time. He knew that I was the end of the inning – and the game.

Miguel was nodding encouragingly, willing me to bring him home, Sammy was just staring at me. I could tell he hated that he had to depend on a shrimp like me to do something right for once. Too bad for him that I’m a strategizer, not a slugger, I think. I don’t do.

The sun pounded down. The stands got quiet.

And then my mom started clapping.

Everyone swung around to look at her.

There she was, up in that stands, calling “Rabindranath! Ra-bin-dra-nath! Ra-bin-dra-nath!” This crazy Indian lady in a bright yellow sari, with night-black hair in a bun and a red bindi in the middle of her brown forehead, was cheering for me. She didn’t care that everyone was looking at her, or that she was embarrassing me. She was all in, supporting her son.

I wanted to die. – Zombie Baseball Beatdown, by Paolo Bacigalupi

 

Fifth Inning

Holzman went into his slow, deliberate windup. Everybody in the stadium was leaning forward, everybody was holding their breath. Though there were almost ten thousand people in the stands, nobody was making a sound. Even the TV announcers were tense and silent. Hey, there it is! The pitch.

Some pundits later said that what was about to happen happened because the game was so tight, because so much was riding on the next pitch–that it was the psychic energy of the thousands of fans in the stands, the millions more in the viewing audience at home, every eye and every mind focused on that particular moment. That what happened was caused by the tension and the ever-tightening suspense felt by millions of people hanging on the outcome of that particular pitch…

And yet, in the more than a century and a half that people had been playing professional baseball, there had been many games as important as this one, many contests as closely fought, many situations as tense or tenser, with as much or more passion invested in the outcome–and yet what happened that night had never happened before, in any other game.

Holzman pitched. The ball left his hand, streaked toward the plate…

And then it froze.

The ball just stopped, inches from the plate, and hung there, motionless, in midair.

After a second of stunned surprise, Rivera stepped forward and took a mighty hack at the motionless ball. He broke his bat on it, sending splinters flying high. But the ball itself didn’t move. – “The Hanging Curve”, by Gardner Dozois, collected in Field of Fantasies

 

Sixth Inning

Waiting for the pitcher to get set, Roy wiped his palms on his pants and twitched his cap. He lifted Wonderboy and waited rock-like for the throw.

He couldn’t tell the color of the pitch that came at him. All he could think of was that he was sick to death of waiting, and tongue-out thirsty to begin. The ball was now a dew drop staring him in the eye so he stepped back and swing from the toes.

Wonderboy flashed in the sun. It caught the sphere where it was biggest. A nose like a twenty-one gun salute cracked the sky. There was a straining, ripping sound and a few drops of rain spattered to the ground. The ball screamed toward the pitcher and seemed suddenly to dive down at his feet. He grabbed it to throw to first and realized to his horror that he held only the cover. The rest of it, unraveling cotton thread as it rode, was headed into the outfield. – The Natural, by Bernard Malamud

 

Seventh Inning?

He saw a familiar figure come into the dressing room, wearing a uniform like his own. “Why, coach Magill,” said Boley, turning with his hand outstretched. “I did not expect to meet you here.”

The newcomer frowned, until somebody whispered in his ear. “Oh,” he said, “you’re Boleslaw.”

“Naturally I’m Boleslaw, and naturally you’re my pitching coach, Magill, and why do you look at me that way when I’ve seen you every day for three weeks?”

The man shook his head. “You’re thinking of Grandaddy Jim,” he said, and moved on.

Boley stared after him. Grandaddy Jim? But Coach Magill was no granddaddy, that was for sure. Why, his eldest was no more than six years old. Boley put his hand against the wall to steady himself. It touched something metal and cold. He glanced at it.

It was a bronze plaque, floor to ceiling high, and it was embossed at the top with the words World Series Honor Roll. And it listed every team that had ever won the World Series, from the day Chicago won the first Series of all in 1906 until – until –

Boley said something out loud, and quickly looked around to see if anybody had heard him. It wasn’t something he wanted people to hear. But it was the right time for a man to say something like that, because what that crazy lump of bronze said, down toward the bottom, with only empty spaces below, was that the most recent team to win the World Series was the Yokohama Dodgers, and the year they won it in was – 1998.

1998.

A time machine, though Boley wonderingly, I guess what he meant was a machine that traveled in time. – “The Celebrated No-Hit Inning”, by Frederik Pohl, collected in Platinum Pohl.

 

Eighth Inning??

A chilly January night in Roswell. Joe Bauman has discovered that’s normal for eastern New Mexico. It gets hot here in the summer, but winters can be a son of a bitch. That Roswell’s high up—3,600 feet—only makes the cold colder. Makes the sky clearer, too. A million stars shine down on Joe.

One of those stars is his: the big red one marking the Texaco station at 1200 West Second Street. He nods to himself in slow satisfaction. He’s had a good run, a hell of a good run, here in Roswell. The way it looks right now, he’ll settle down here and run the gas station full time when his playing days are done. – “The Star and the Rockets”, by Harry Turtledove as published on Tor.com.

 

Ninth Inning…

We have been trading promises like baseball cards, Shoeless Joe and I. First I had to keep my rashly given vow to finish the baseball field. As I did, Shoeless Joe, or whoever or whatever breathed this magic down onto my Iowa farm, provided me with another live baseball player each time I finished constructing a section of the field: another of the Unlucky Eight who were banished for life from organized baseball in 1920 for supposedly betraying the game they loved.

I completed the home-plate area first. In fact I was out there the very next morning digging and leveling, for besides being the easiest part to do, it was the most important to me. Home plate cost $14.95 at my friendly sporting-goods store in Iowa City. It surprised me that I could buy a mass-produced home plate, although I don’t know why it should have, considering that one can custom-order a baby nowadays. But somehow I had pictured myself measuring and cutting a section from piny-smelling plank, the sawdust clinging like gold to my jeans. I installed it carefully, securely, like a grave marker, then laid out a batter’s box and baselines.

But nothing happened.

I continued to work on the rest of the field, but less enthusiastically. Bases cost $28.95. for a set of three, starched and glazed white as the smock of a fat baker. It was weeks before the stadium appeared again in the cornfield. Each evening I peered surreptitiously through the kitchen curtains, like a spinster keeping tab on her neighbors, waiting and hoping. – Shoeless Joe, by W.P. Kinsella

 

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