Monday, February 2, 2009

In Defense of The Pad and Pencil

There's a fantastic article over at BaseballGB (that's "GB" for Great Britain) about the positives of score-keeping. As an unabashed scorekeeper, I can only support everything they're saying. Keeping score does teach you more about the sport; it does give you more insight into the game as it unfolds; it does provide one of the best mementos, both tangible and emotional, you can find. They put it best in the article: "Just like a photograph, a fan's scorecard can be a portal back to a moment in time."

I highly recommend reading the article. It's written well, and it looks rather nice (here's the professional-looking PDF).

Being such a fan of keeping score, though, I couldn't let this pass without some thoughts of my own. The guys at BaseballGB already addressed a lot of the main points, so I don't want to repeat what they said. Instead, I'll just make a few brief comments (that has the added benefit of keeping me from writing 3,000 words on this, which I'm sure I could do if left to my own devices...)

  • The story of how I began keeping score is something I could write about at length, but I doubt it'd be interesting to many people beside me. Suffice to say, my oldest brother taught me how to keep score when I was 11 or 12, and that did more to nurture my interest in baseball more than anything else. We created entire leagues and rosters, and played all of the games on paper (well he did, and I copied him). Keeping score was the only way to do this, and it wiled away many a long hour during the long, hot, boring summers.

  • I've been keeping score like that ever since, in one way or another. I love it. It keeps the math/numbers part of my brain entertained, and it gives me the best excuse in the world to focus on the game (which is why I'm at the ballpark to begin with).

  • When I'm keeping score by myself, I can pretty much sit the whole game without getting up for food, beer, or the bathroom. That's how focused I am on what's going down on the field. Now that I have a terrific girlfriend who likes to keep score too and will pick up my pencil when I need to get up, it's even better (hey, I do like getting more beer and cheese fries, after all).

  • They touched on this in the article, but they didn't exactly make this point: when keeping score, your memory of the game improves, even during the game. One of my favorite things about keeping score is looking back at a player's previous at-bats and seeing a particular play - one that you would never think to mention to someone the next day, or even at the bar after the game - and remembering every detail of it. We see so many plays during a given game that, unless they're important plays (or web-gems of some sort), most of them aren't going to stick in our minds. But, when you have the scorebook in front of you, so many of those "little" plays jump out at you because you've had some sort of active participation in the play, even if it is just writing down "6-3" or "lineout 5".

  • A few years back, I spent half a summer getting paid to keep score at the Fresno Grizzlies AAA games. It was a blast, being able to get into the ballpark for free, keeping score, and then going home knowing that I was making money too. Beyond that, though, I attended about 20 games that summer (the first time I had ever attended that many professional games), and I was able to transcribe my "professional" scorecards into my personal scorebook. For the next couple of years, until I stupidly misplaced that scorebook, I could go back into it and relive that summer. I could see those fantastic plays that Chris Burke made at second, or the home run that Joe Thornton hit right to my buddy and me and that my buddy took home... it was the best keepsake of a baseball season I could ever ask for. And with my 20-game pack to the Brewers last season, I did the same thing, and I'll do it again and again. For the rest of my life, I'll be able to pick up any of these scorebooks and breeze through every game that I attended this year, including my first visits to Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium and my first taste of the postseason. I love that idea.

  • Finally (I really did mean to keep this brief), in the summer of 2001, I was going to school on the Central Coast of California. It was the summer of Cal Ripken's "farewell" tour, and I wanted to go to whatever games I could. I was a poor student with no car, though, and both Oakland and Anaheim were 3.5 hours away. Still, I was able to make it to a game at each park during the O's final visit of the season. I think we showed up about 10 mins late to the Angels game and the programs/scorecards were sold out already. I remember asking the little kid next to me - he was maybe 10 years old - if he and his family had any programs (they had like 5) and if he wanted to sell it to me for $10. He said 'no'. I found out later in the game that it was his first baseball game ever, and so I felt bad for trying to get his program. The point is, though, that I really wanted that program/scorecard.

In the end, keeping score at ballgames, and everything that goes into it for me, ends up being everything I love about the sport: watching the game and all its nuances, appreciating the various things a fielder does to make the play, being at the ballpark with all the other fans, being able to vividly recreate those memories at the lift of the scorebook, and, most of all, re-living from now until forever all the great family bonds that helped foster my love for baseball in the first place. Maybe it's not this personal to everyone else, but I think, on some level, it really is, and I always hope that more people will get into it. You know you're with a true baseball fan when you find out they keep score, and I wouldn't mind knowing more of those guys.


Matt Smith said...

Thanks for highlighting our article. It was great to read about your own thoughts and experiences on keeping score.

Paul said...

Beautiful article. I, too, still keep score and love it. I look forward to the day I can teach my daughters the art.

Ryan said...

I think the moral of this article is while you were being a big nerd keeping score, I got a baseball. Hows the score-pad working out for ya!

Michael said...

Big, fat, four seamed amen here.

LOVE to score. I play a lot of tabletop, so I guess it's a natural outgrowth of that.

The Common Man said...

I love to score ballgames. My grandfather taught me how to score (incorrectly, I might add) and I've done it ever since. Well, except that it's hard to keep score these days when I'm trying to wrangle a two-year old. Oh well, maybe next year.

@ Ryan

How old were you? If your answer is anything higher than 15, I hope you gave the ball to a kid (the only decent thing to do). Meanwhile, I get to keep my mementos. Oh look, here's the game where Pat Maholmes gave up 10 runs in the top of the first against the Tigers...

lar said...


Ryan is my buddy who caught the Joe Thurston home run I mentioned. He was just giving me a hard time because, though we were sitting together, he was the one who got the ball since I was hindered by my scorebook. We were the only two people sitting in the section (front row just past the foul pole - got to love minor league ballparks!), so there were no moral quandaries about keeping the ball.

Glad to hear you're a fellow score-keeper, though. It's a big part of the fun of being at the game for me.