The Beauty and Nostalgia of Keeping Score

I remember the first time my Dad taught me how to keep score at a baseball game. The miniature diamonds with lines and numbers and the sharp, black blocks that separated each inning. Adding up hits and distinguishing between runs and earned runs. Double-checking the scoreboard to properly record if the play had ended with a hit or an error. Even as an enthusiastic young baseball fan, it all was a bit overwhelming at first. I knew what all these things were. But recording them on a hard piece of cardboard paper supplied by the ballpark that would record the game for eternity? It was a magical discovery.

Numbers define baseball. More than any other sport, baseball and statistics and numbers are inherently intertwined. 714. 2,632. .406. 56. There is no other game on Earth in which hard numbers with no context are immediately understood by even amateur baseball fans. But those are the numbers everyone knows. What about 4 2/3 IP, three runs on seven hits with four walks and three strikeouts?  That’s the pitching line for James McDonald when he was given a big lead but couldn’t get out of the fifth inning to qualify for the win on June 21, 2011, when the Pittsburgh Pirates hosted the Baltimore Orioles. And 4-5 with a single, two doubles, and a home run? That’s the game A’s catcher Josh Phegley had at the plate on May 3, 2019, when Oakland came to PNC Park and hammered the Pirates 14-1. Obscure, long-forgotten moments. But remembered when looking at an old scorecard.

Much like the game itself, a scorecard is orderly and rhythmic. There’s a clear flow and passage of time as the game reaches the deeper innings. A scorecard can help a beginner fan realize trends and statistical anomalies. Is there anything more satisfying as a scorekeeping fan than looking down at the scorecard and seeing a box marked with a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning? Or what about a solid line tracing the whole diamond signifying a home run? Order. Flow. Easy to follow.

But, of course, baseball isn’t always a pastoral, calm game. It can delve into chaos. As can a scorecard. What happens when a team bats around? All of a sudden, the clear, defined innings on a scorecard get scratched out as the fan makes his or her own edits. Or when (one of my own personal annoyances when keeping score) the same spot in the batting order is pinch hit for more than once? Now, the scorekeeping fan has to go down to the bottom of the scorecard where he or she can find extra space, write down the inning and pinch hitter, and continue with the at-bat. The order and flow are interrupted.

The sudden interruption of a scorecard defines, however, why we love baseball. Twists and turns with one pitch or swing of the bat recorded on a scorecard for eternity. No matter the moment. No matter the stakes of the game. We still record the action in those little boxes on a piece of paper or in the game program.

Games otherwise lost to history, preserved by a fan’s scorecard. In what other sport can a fan go back to an exact game he or she attended and have a play-by-play recollection of all the action? Or, taking it a step further, only in baseball could a fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates want to relive some of those losing seasons in the early 2000s.

There’s a magic that comes from reveling in baseball’s beautiful, flawed, and fantastic history. Thus, the scorecard and, in turn, the process of keeping score, becomes highly personal and important to oneself. A random game in the dog days of summer may mean nothing to me. To someone else though? It could have been his or her first game. Maybe the game contained a spectacular performance on the mound from a veteran pitcher longing to rediscover his youth. A scorecard is an express ticket back to that very game. A ticket that allows us to relive our own youth. Or a memory long ago left in the bleachers.

Featured Photo: @Pirates

Nate Kanuch

Long-suffering Pirates fan looking forward to an outfield patrolled by Hudson Head, Bryan Reynolds, and Oneil Cruz. Put Shoeless Joe in the Hall of Fame. @njkanuch

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