Novice scorekeeper gets a K at the ballpark

Observations

June 08, 2008|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,Sun Reporter

Baseball and I never hit it off. I'm a pro-football guy, but with the Orioles playing pretty well, maybe it's time someone makes the first move.

So, take me out to the ballpark and leave me for an afternoon with a stubby pencil - and fresh scorecard. Let me join the diminishing but faithful club of fans who keep score. No other sport pays such close attention to itself. No other major sport has such a unique, idiosyncratic artifact known as the scorecard, where myriad details are enshrined, not shunned.

"The world is divided into two kinds of people: those who keep score at the ballgame ... and those who have never made the leap," Maryland author Paul Dickson wrote in his 1996 book, The Joy of Keeping Score. "Keeping a scorecard gives you a sense of empowerment. You become the captain of your row."

The captain of your row ...

The Pirates come to town Friday, but first the O's have a three-game stand in Boston. Last month, when Baltimore swept the Red Sox and then the Washington Nationals were in town, I made the leap and scored two games.

There is no single system of scoring. Everyone has their "personal hieroglyphics," as Dickson calls them. But there's a general structure that has been in place since newspaperman Henry Chadwick (borrowing from cricket scoring) formalized baseball scoring in 1863, about 17 years after the first recorded baseball game. Among other nomenclature, the English chap gave us the "K" for strikeout because, as Chadwick theorized, a "K" was easier to remember than an "S."

The standard system dictates the pitcher is No. 1, the catcher No. 2 and so on as you continue counterclockwise around the base path, then to the shortstop, and then clockwise through the outfield. The oft-heard 6-4-3 is a double play in which the shortstop (6) throws to the second baseman (4) for one out, who throws on to the first baseman (3) for the second out. If nothing else, I should learn 6-4-3.

At the O's-Sox game May 14, it was overcast, temperature 82 degrees - all of which I noted on an "Unofficial Game Program" with its double-sided scorecard - the cheap seats of scorecards. (A freebie pencil came with the $2 program.) I also have "A Fan's Guide to Keeping Score" from Orioles magazine. So simple a child could do it, which means I'm in trouble.

I'm sitting in Section 58, Row LL in the belly of the Red Sox Nation. I feel like I'm the only O's fan and scorekeeper in the ballpark. Fewer people do score these days, says Jim Gates, library director at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. With 24-hour sports networks, the Internet and ballpark JumboTrons practically scoring games for you, most people don't bother with do-it-yourself, Gates says. He wonders if parents are passing along the tradition.

"I scorekeep like my mother taught me 45 years ago," he says. "I find it difficult to go to a game and not keep score."

Dickson isn't so sure scorekeeping faces extinction. "I get letters all the time from people who keep score. People love it, but they are not everywhere," he says. Dickson believes more women than men keep score, perhaps because it was often their role to scorekeep at children's Little League games.

At 3:10 p.m., the Red Sox's Jacoby Ellsbury leads off the game with a single. I print "1B" in the batter block. Ellsbury, without permission, steals second and his Boston teammate Dustin Pedroia singles to drive him home. What is the meaning of this?! I have no idea - nor do I have the time to figure it out. We scorekeepers can't take a play off.

The next three Red Sox batters fly out. As the Orioles' Brian Roberts leads off the bottom of the first, I foolishly relax. Not enough, of course, to hail the Coors Light man who just steamrolled by me. Alcohol might dull my hand-eye coordination, and I can't take that risk. I now know relationships require real sacrifice.

After Orioles outfielders Jay Payton and Nick Markakis fly out, a nearby Sox fan peeks at my scorecard. She leans in and asks who's the new kid in centerfield for Boston. I check my scorecard. I don't know who is in centerfield. The Red Sox fan nearly turns blue. I have let down an entire nation. Some captain of my row.

The game speeds along. In the seventh, Payton hits a grand slam for the Orioles, and I draw a baseball diamond and shade it in. I like the coloring aspect of scorekeeping. Feeling good, feeling confident - until I notice I've missed a key step.

No 6-4-3, no nothing. I haven't recorded a single out. What have I been doing all day? Rattled, I spend the remaining two innings obsessing about putouts. I don't smile. I don't talk to another person. And I certainly don't have a beer.

The game ends at some time (who cares) and some how (I lost track of who hit last), but I finally penciled in a few 6-3s, and my first 6-4-3. Sweet mother of baseball! So, where was my Red Sox companion then? Probably on a train back to Boston because the Orioles won 6-3. I have the scorecard to prove it.

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