(Note: This is a reprint of an article that first appeared in Sportsblah.com, a general sports blog I ran with my friend Greg [hi Greg!] from ’04 – ’07.)
Rain. Just buckets of it. Back in mid-October, the Northeast had days of vicious, torrential, Judgement Day rain. Enough so that my parents’s basement, bone dry for twenty years, flooded. Lots and lots of things had to be thrown out. Among the soggy items that were subsequently tossed were my college textbooks and notes. Notes, mind you, so neat and adhering to the Cornell system that they had my now wife questioning the wisdom and sanctity of our marital bond. Don’t lie, we each have one of those questionable pseudo-serial killer traits. Mine is an overly orderly note taking tick. Greg has those creepy, dress up, paper dolls of the ’88 Yankees under his bed. Regardless, it wasn’t that box that was the true loss. It was the box next to the useless, yet expensive, college crap. No, not my 10 Nomar rookie cards or my complete ’86 Topps set. Those are kept warm and dry in a fireproof safe. The tragic loss was my early scorebooks.
Yup, I’m one of those. My name is Mike and I keep score at baseball games. It’s another of those great defining divides in our society. Chocolate or vanilla, Yankees or Red Sox, Bird or Magic, Ginger or Mary Ann, Red Shoe Diaries or Emmanuelle. It’s one or the other, there’s just no in between with some choices. Some people grow up with a security blanket or stuffed animal. My binky was a scorebook. I took it everywhere. I could blithely toss away my collection of moldering Ground Round sundae cup hats, my creased and yellowing pennants, or assorted Starting Lineup figures I can hardly identify now, but those books were a diary not just of a freakish, orderly and nerdy personality, but a testament to a fledgling baseball fan. Yes, half the notations on the first few pages make little sense or peter out after an inning or two. And yes, the glorious, tri-masted schooner on page six and the bloody stick figure battle royale on page nine probably don’t quite dictate what actually happened on any baseball field. But that’s half the point. The diary and maturation of a fan.
Those books captured my first visit to Fenway (a John Tudor start versus KC), a family vacation to Disneyland including a California Angels game (Rod Carew poster day), a youth soccer tournament in Niagra Falls with a trip to the new SkyDome (Pete Harnisch had a no-hitter into the eighth) and a PawSox extra innings affair ended by a Mike Greenwell homer in the twelfth. Flipping through the pages, you can almost see my interest in the game take root. Notations begin to make more sense. Batters no longer advance on the bases in a star-like pattern. Less ice cream is smeared over the pages. Outs no longer are recorded in the mysterious 17-8-2 fashion. Innings are tallied. Errors are meted out. Games are completed. History is recorded. A dork is born.
I suspect my Dad first taught me how to keep score as a way not to bankrupt him on hot dogs or cotton candy. Now he’d probably just package me off to the KidZone behind right field or tell me to watch the bloopers on the JumboTron. Back in the day though, Fenway barely even had any ads to distract a young kid. It was a choice between John Kiley’s organ stylings, rorschach tests of questionable seat stains or deciphering stanchion graffiti. But whatever the intentions, his ploy worked. Scoring kept me anchored to the action. It still does. Even the most ardent fans will admit baseball is not a speedy game. It may be a game of inches, but the strategy and makeup of a game unfurl slowly. Scoring in basketball is not the same and not really necessary from a fan’s perspective. In football it’s not even really possible, too much is going on. But for baseball, I find it an integral cog of attending. Pitch, hit, catch, record it. Scoring keeps me involved. It blocks out the increasing entertainment-first detritus of the modern “ballpark”; helps dull the migraine enduring the sound of another”Yankees Suck” chant and keeps me from assaulting the loud woman on the cell phone in the row behind me. For me, a mostly antiquated ritual is now a balm for the distractions of the modern game.
Unless it’s two-for-one beer night. That’s also sweet, sweet medicine.
Flickr CC image attribution for photos used in this post: mwlguide, Caitlinator, terren in Virginia