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2005-04-25 - 1:08 p.m.

Not interested in baseball?

Sorry. Today is very baseball-heavy. If you want non baseball stuff, my weekend entries should fill that void.

Baseball for Casual Fans: Installment #5

Keeping Score, or, How to be the Most Popular Person in Your Row at the Ballpark

Keeping score is pretty much like shorthand for baseball. It's a way to show what everyone did without having to write, "Patterson hit a fly ball to the outfield and is out. Barrett tagged up and advanced to third base." That would take a lot of time and would also mean that the scorekeeper would miss a lot of the action while writing stuff down.

The scorecards can look fairly intimidating at first, and people often wonder why anyone would want to do this while at the game when there is drinking and carousing to be done.

I keep score because:
1.) If you go to the game to watch the game, this will help you keep your mind on the game instead of the people next to you who are in the drinking and carousing category. if something really exciting is happening, you'll know without having to wait for the 10pm news. An example of this -- say you went to the game in 1998 where Kerry Wood struck out 20 batters to tie for the most ever struck out in one game by any pitcher. I'm guessing that until he got to about 15 strikeouts (by that time enough people had probably noticed so that many of them were cheering loudly every strikeout), most of the people at Wrigley that day had no idea what kind of history they were witnessing. Unless they were keeping score.
2.) It will also make you very popular with people around you. I've had people ask me a lot of weird things that I can answer because of the scorecard. For instance, a guy once wanted to know how many times Kerry Wood had walked a guy who then came around to score.
3.) Sportscasts and discussions with hardcore baseball fans will make more sense to you. Have you ever heard the sports guy on the news say, "Mark Prior got 7 Ks in a row before he walked the next batter. He got out of that when Edmonds hit into a 6-4-3 double play." You'll be able to translate that as, "Mark Prior struck out 6 batters in a row before he walked the next batter. He got out of that when Edmonds hit a ball to the shortstop, who threw to the second baseman, who threw to the first baseman for a double play."
4.) It's a great souvenir. For $1 in most cases you get a scorecard (depending on the ballpark, it could be a smaller version of the program or a single sheet of sturdy paper or anything in between). For $0.25 you get a pencil -- often with a cute little team logo on it. And most important, you have a detailed record of the game along with personalized information that is important to you. My husband has scorecards from both Sammy Sosa's 61st and 62nd home runs and Mark McGwire's 67th and 68th home runs during the 1998 season. We also got (for a wedding present) framed Cubs programs from the 1950s that have filled out scorecards inside them. Aren't they cool?

50s scorecards

Keeping score looks complicated, but if you break it down it's really pretty simple. I personally think it's easier to do at an MLB game instead of at your friend's softball game because you have the benefit of the scoreboard. If you miss something, you'll usually be able to look up and see what it was. But it also may be easier for you to start doing it in a less formal game.

The most important thing to remember when keeping score:
It's YOUR scorecard. Keep score the way you want to. You're the only one who is going to have to translate it.
Often at games, I've turned to my husband and asked, "Wait, how do you show a pop foul?" (or some other play that isn't listed in the scorecard legend). His response is almost always, "Honey, it's your scorecard. Write it down so it makes sense to you."

The actual process is broken down brilliantly by I'm not even going to try to explain it better than he did, so go there and read up. If you're interested in starting to score games and have never done it before, print one of his downloadable scorecards and sit down in front of the TV to watch (and score) your favorite team. If you're shy (maybe you have a brother, husband, boyfriend, or something who is a hardcore baseball fan and looks down on you if you don't already know things), this will allow you to figure some things out on your own without getting confused and stressed. Also, it will allow you to create your own style. If you don't want to show where a ball is hit? Don't. If you want to keep track of balls and strikes? Go for it.

For an example, here is a scorecard I filled out on Labor Day 2003. My husband got the tickets as an orientation event for Northwestern Law School, and so a whole bunch of law students showed up. Then it rained. And rained. And OVER FIVE HOURS after we got to Wrigley, the game started. Since we're hard core, we were still there. Along with two other law students out of the MANY who had started the day at the ballpark. So we moved down into the lower deck where the seats had cleared out quite a bit (I usually look down on anyone who leaves a game early, but to be honest -- I understood that day. Five hours at the park before the game even starts is rough), and watched one of the most amazing games I've ever seen. This was the game that many view as a turning point in that 2003 season; in which the Cubs had been very average, then suddenly turned around and started winning (culminating in the NLCS fiasco I'm not going to go into). Also, I spent almost 9 hours at Wrigley that day. It would have been more fun if I didn't refuse to pay the exorbitant prices for the food and beverages -- we ended up having to spring for hot dogs (what with my propensity towards fainting if I don't eat fairly regularly), but we were NOT happy about it.

Cubs v. Cards '03 scorecard

You may have to right-click and save the picture if you're interested in zooming in to read my writing (or, if it's still too blurry, email me and I'll send you the file). Also, if you have questions either email me or ask in the flickr comments and I'll get back to you about them. If you do, you'll notice a few major things.

First, my handwriting is pretty messy because the lineup information comes from the P.A. announcer right before the game. And he sometimes will read pretty fast, so you have to be ready. A hint -- if you get the player's number, you'll be able to use the sidebar to figure out his name and (usually) position. Some backup players are only listed as IF or OF for Infielder or Outfielder. In these cases, just watch where they go when they run out on the field!

Second, the Cubs (in the bottom section -- the home team is always listed second) had an inning (the 5th) in which they batted around. Meaning, they took up too many spaces to fit into the usual spots. Sosa led off with a single, and once Prior batted (and hit a single), the batting order went back around to Lofton. Once it got back to Sosa, I couldn't use the same box so I skipped over to the section for the 6th inning. Sometimes that is necessary (and it's much more enjoyable when it's your team than when it's the opposition!), so it's a good thing to have in the back of your mind.

Third, there may be mistakes. Like I've said before, it's your own scorecard. Don't worry about small issues where you're not sure what to write. As long as you know how many outs there are and how many runs each team has, you can keep up with it. You might notice that I didn't finish writing all of the totals for pitchers -- I'm not so good at math. Adding. Anything with numbers. So if my husband doesn't do it for me, it doesn't get done.

Fourth, since it's your own scorecard, note things that are of interest. On this one, I wrote down who sang the 7th inning stretch both because it's something I may want to remember and because I had no freaking idea who the guy was. I Googled him when I got home and discovered that apparently I don't listen to WGN Radio enough when the Cubs aren't on. I've also written down things like the attendance that day, important things that happen (like when the Cubs announced they were going to retire Ron Santo's number), and even who else went to the game with me.

Once you know how to keep score, a few different things will happen to you. If you're female, you'll climb a few rungs on the ladder of desirability (how's that for a metaphor!). I've gotten hit on at games with my husband sitting right next to me. It's funny and flattering. If you're male, you're now the popular guy in the section and people will ask you to recap plays and tell you stats. You'll probably get conscripted to keep score at most (if not all) league softball and baseball games you go to. This will often get you free beers afterwards (obviously a perk!). And finally, you'll find that you understand the game far better and are more likely to enjoy the game.

I've never been so mad at public transit as when the CTA caused me to be three innings late to TWO Cubs games last summer. Being late to the game means that I can't keep score. It's pointless if you don't know what else has happened. The Red Line was on my shit list for quite a while after those incidents.

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