Sitting Garrett Cooper for a week with a hamstring injury was like locking a bull in a cage.
When sprung loose from the disabled list, the Sky Sox first baseman reached safely seven times in 10 at-bats – including a 5-for-5 outing Monday.
“I came back and felt like I never took the foot off the pedal,” Cooper said.
This goes deeper than a player who wanted to keep riding a hot bat – he’s batting .353 with 38 RBIs in 33 games – at an age, 26, when he’s growing awfully gray by prospect standards. A competitive fire is simply part of Cooper’s makeup, and also part of the reason he is in position at a somewhat advanced age in the first place.
“Growing up with four older brothers, everything was a competition,” said Cooper, the youngest of Robert and Gail Cooper’s seven children who was born on Christmas in 1990. “Being the youngest, you’re always beat up and beat upon. It was something ingrained in me at a young age, having a fire to win in everything you do.”
That fire kept him from specializing in baseball, as many up-and-coming stars do. Sky Sox center fielder Lewis Brinson, for example, gave up all other sports early in middle school so he could stay injury free and play baseball year-round. Brinson, who just turned 23, is one of the top prospects in the game.
Cooper’s first love was basketball, and he rotated to football or baseball depending on the season throughout high school. The next conquest was always the most important.
“Maybe if I’d chosen baseball a little earlier in high school things would have been different,” he said. “But I regret nothing. … Everyone blossoms differently. You find yourself, you find your swing. As you get older you start to see how your body reacts.”
He made his way to Auburn after two years at El Camino Community College. The Brewers then took him in the sixth round of the 2013 MLB draft, but injuries limited him to 115 games over his first two minor league seasons.
All the while, the calendar was flipping.
In 2015, Cooper was a 25-year-old starting the season at High-A. He hit .310 that season. He then hit .292 in 2016, splitting time between Double-A and Triple-A.
So here he is now, with a slash line of .353/.392/.596 as the No. 4 hitter in the Sky Sox lineup. Manager Rick Sweet sees no reason that the late start means he can’t be an everyday first baseman in the major leagues.
“He’s a late bloomer, that’s all there is to it,” Sweet said. “He’s just coming into his own. He’s figuring this thing out. He’s getting a taste and realizing, ‘I can do this.’”
It’s a good thing Cooper has found his competitive outlet in professional baseball, because it would be unfair for him to continue to unleash it at home. His mother stands 5-foot-1; his father 6-5. His brothers – Rob, Matt, Brad and Dan – each fell somewhere in between at around 6-foot. Cooper, on the other hand, is 6-5, 230 pounds.
So, he caught them. Then passed them. It just took him a while to get there. That’s his way.