Sunday, April 1, 2007

Keeping score is a joy: Here's how to jump in

(The video is a time lapse of last year's Opening Day at Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals.)

Grab your scorebook, pull out a pencil, and get ready for the most exciting day in sports. Nah, not the NCAA basketball championship. We’re talking Opening Day, a day where every baseball fan has dreams, not nightmares – and a day where we reconnect with our past, recounting days spent playing catch with our dads or of afternoons spent running around a freshly mown baseball field. The sweetly cut grass overcome only by the more nostalgic smell of a leather glove, still glistening and soft and forgiving on this first day of the season.

(Excuse me while I grab a glove from the closet, where I keep one used by my father when he played in the 1930s and 1940s. The MacGregor Gold Smith (G114) is barely bigger than my hand, but it caught many a baseball when my father was playing in Hoboken and Jersey City, N.J., dreaming of being the next Joe DiMaggio. It was oiled last winter in anticipation of this day, so I can play catch with my girls like I used to with my father on Sunday afternoons after church.)

Yes, this day is for nostalgia – and for making future memories, which is why I will go throw the ball around with my daughters before their travel softball games this afternoon.

And, tonight, I will turn on the television and watch the pseudo-opening day game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Mets. But we all know the real Opening Day is Monday afternoon, when the sun can shine and the field can sparkle and the fans can relax in the relative warmth and promise of a new spring. Fans in thirteen ballparks will watch their teams start a 162-game schedule that begins in cool spring, rolls through a hot summer, and ends in the frost of autumn, when we hope our team will be playing in the World Series. That’s my dream.

I am fortunate to have recently watched my team play in the Fall Classic, unlike fans in Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cleveland. But that does not mean these teams will not be the surprise team of 2007. All is possible on Opening Day. August can wait.

If you are one of the fortunate few to attend (or cover) a game this weekend, you should consider keeping score, something a few consider a chore. I consider it a blessing, a time to anoint those who prostrate before sliding into second or who spring, dive, and fly through the air, glove outstretched, faithfully believing the ball will find the sweet spot. After all, isn’t baseball a religious event?

Annie Savoy makes this argument near the beginning of "Bull Durham,” one of the finest, and most hilarious films, about baseball: "There are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball." (Yes, I know the modern rosary has only 59 rosary beads, but that does not diminish the transcendent, spiritual connection here because the original rosaries did match the stitching of a baseball – and isn’t the original always the best.)

To keep score, you’ll need a few things: A scorebook, a pencil and some basic knowledge. My daughters have kept score since they were eight, so don’t despair. You can get a really basic scorecard in a game programs at stadiums, but those who take this more seriously might want to purchase a more detailed book that allows space for balls, strikes and other key stats. You can download some scorecards online as well, although some websites charge for this service. Those who cover a baseball beat should purchase a scorebook so they can more easily refer to other games as the season progresses.

Players are assigned numbers that correspond with their positions, something that makes keeping score easier and more streamlined. For example, a grounder to shortstop is recorded as ‘6-3,’ meaning the shortstop caught the ball and threw it to the first baseman for the out. A fly ball caught by the left fielder would be recorded as ‘F-7.’ These citations fit more easily into the small scoring squares for each batter in the book.

Here are the assigned position numbers:
1 – pitcher
2 – catcher
3 – first baseman
4 – second baseman
5 – third baseman
6 – shortstop
7 – left fielder
8 – center fielder
9 – right fielder

Note: Notice the shortstop is ‘6,’ and not ‘5.’ Positions are not assigned as you pan across the field. Instead, base positions are cited first, which is the reason the third baseman is ‘5.’

Next, you will need to know the abbreviations used for recording other action on the field. A single is ‘1B,” a home run is ‘HR,’ a strikeout is ‘K,’ and a double play is ‘DP.’ A strikeout can be recorded two ways: a regular note of ‘K’ can mean the batter struck out swinging. A backwards ‘K’ can denote a player caught looking as the third strike landed in the catcher’s mitt. Also, a walk is a ‘BB,’ since it refers to a base on balls.

Fielder’s choice, or ‘FC,’ means a player reached base at the same time another player was called out on the play. Say a player hits a grounder to the shortstop, who then tags out a runner going to third base. That play would be recorded in two different player squares. The runner going to third base would have a note of ‘6U,’ meaning the shortstop tagged the runner out unassisted. Next, you would write ‘FC’ in the box of the player who hit the ball. A ‘FC’ counts as on official at-bat and an out. So this batter would be 0-for-1. No credit would be given for reaching first since an out had been made on this play.

A passed ball, or ‘PB,’ is recorded when the catcher misplays a pitch that rolls away and allows a runner to advance at least one base. If the pitch were uncatchable, the event would be recorded as a wild pitch, or ‘WP.’

A sacrifice fly, where a runner scores by tagging up from third base on a fly ball, is a ‘SF,” while a sacrifice bunt, or ‘Sac,’ is where a batter advances a runner on a bunt. (Don't confuse this with 'SB' for stolen base.) If a wild pitch hits a batter, ‘HBP’ is recorded.

A balk is where a pitcher stutters, fails to stop properly in the stretch, or touches his mouth while on the mound, among other things. (To learn more about this play consult the MLB rules book.) In any case, a balk means all runners get to advance one base and a ball is added to the batter’s count.

Here are the key abbreviations you will use
1B – single
2B – double
3B – triple
HR – home run
BB – base on balls (walk)
HBP – hit by pitch (awarded first base)
PB – passed ball
WP – wild pitch
SF – sacrifice fly
Sac – sacrifice bunt
SB – stolen base
FC – fielder’s choice
E – error (batter reaches base on fielder’s mistake)
BK – balk
CS – caught stealing (for any base)
DP – double play (although you probably record this as 6-4-3, for example)
DH – designated hitter
IW – intentional walk (when a batter is purposefully issued a base on balls)

A great tutorial for keeping score can be viewed at baseballscorecard, which also offers additional resources and tips about baseball. You can also learn more at baseball-almanac or by reading Paul Dickson’s book The Joy of Keeping Score. (You can also learn more about covering baseball on this blog by going to the 'Tips: Game coverage' section.) So get on out there, whether you are a fan or a sports reporter, pull out a scorebook and record the joys of an afternoon, or evening, spent at the ball park.



Joe Gisondi said...

Post your own stories about keeping score, opening day or baseball here. Hope your team does well this season.

Carlos said...

Great article Joe. I have always wanted to keep score, but could never find the information on how to do it.

Thanks for the video.

Brian said...

Another day, another dig a the Brewers I see. (Although an A+ for subtly).

Matt Daniels said...

Good blog Joe. One of the perks of being a sports intern is covering a Cardinals series. It will be slightly weird for me, but ever since I can remember, I've always kept score at baseball games. It keeps me involved in the game and keeps me interested throughout.

Marco said...

There is nothing better than Opening Day. Especially as a Cubs fan because we still think there is a chance this could be the year. In high school, whenever I wasn't in the game, I always volunteered to keep score. I wanted to make sure any statistics being kept were accurate. I've always been a stats nerd.