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Scoring baseball games

by Matt Smith

What really hits you when you start getting interested in baseball is just how many different avenues there are for you to explore, such as the history of the sport or the world of stats. They are fascinating by themselves but more than anything they help you to appreciate and love the game more as a whole. A couple of weeks ago I looked at one of these off-shoots; Fantasy Baseball. Today, I'm going to concentrate on the process of scoring baseball games.

As with much of my baseball education, it was FIVE who introduced me to scoring ballgames. Many a time you will find Jonny and Josh frantically recording the last out on their scorecard as the coverage heads back to the studio. A few years ago (it seems like a few years ago anyway!) they also dedicated one show to provide a scoring master class. I can't think of a better way to introduce scoring to newcomers and if this post sparks your interest I would encourage you to send off an e-mail to FIVE asking if they will do it again this season.

Why would you want to score balllgames?

Well, from the point of view of a broadcaster it is obviously important to accurately track the game. This allows you to keep on top of the current situation (e.g. even for the basics such as knowing which inning you are heading in to) whilst being able to refer back to important plays during the analysis of the game as it unfolds. Scoring has the same benefits for the casual fan, but there are additional ones as well.

Scoring ballgames is the best way to move from being an enthusiastic newcomer, to a knowledgeable fanatic. When you begin watching baseball you are drawn in to the action, the excitement and the passion. That's what gets you hooked. But you can often find everything happens at a blistering speed and it's hard to take it all in when you are being bombarded with strange terms, puzzling rules and complicated stats.

Scoring allows you to delve into the finer points of the game, to move from the broad perspective to close-up. And this should not be intimidating. When I started scoring games what struck me most was how many of the general aspects had sunk into my brain just by watching. There were lots of little things that I wasn't completely sure about (some of the rules in particular), but scoring exposed the gaps in my knowledge and allowed me to fill them in.

You notice the little things more when you have to concentrate and note them down. For example, it can be easy for in-game substitutions to pass you by a bit when you are watching at first. That certainly doesn't happen when you have to write them all down! Whether it's pitching changes, bringing in a pinch hitter or runner, or making fielding replacements in the later innings. The many tactical changes that can take place during a baseball game become clearer, which is extremely useful if you are a Brit who has never played the game before. And where the real benefit comes in is that soon you not only notice these tactical changes are taking place, but understand why.

Whilst scoring games is a great way to take the next step in your march to an obsession with baseball, there's no reason to stop once you've finally worked out what a “Fielder's Choice” is all about. Scoring is just another part of enjoying a baseball game. It might not suit everyone, but I love tracking the game as it is in progress. However, the best thing about scoring is probably the end product. Maybe this is a bit sad (!), but I get a small sense of pride and satisfaction when I look down at a completed scorecard. It's wonderful to have your own personal record of a ballgame to look back on in the future.

Where should you start?

My advice would be to head over to www.baseballscorecard.com . Here you can find an excellent “Keeping score” tutorial along with a very useful glossary. The process of scoring really isn't complicated. Have a read through the tutorial to get a grip on the basics and then just give it a go. After a few games you will find yourself filling in plays without needing to think about what you have to write down. Baseballscorecard is also great because it contains downloads of lots of different scorecards for you to choose from. Have a browse, print a few out and see which one(s) you like the best.

I generally use two different scorecards, depending on my mood. If I just want to track the main plays I will use the first scorecard listed on the site's Downloads page (“Vertical scorecard”). However, my favourite scorecard is from another site by a guy called Christopher Swingley; http://www.frontier.iarc.uaf.edu/~cswingle/baseball/index.phtml .

I use the “Scorecard with pitching statistics in black”. I prefer this scorecard because it allows you to track the sequence of balls and strikes, and I think being able to note down how the batter got on base simply by circling the relevant abbreviation is pretty neat. This site also contains a comprehensive scoring guide based on filling in this particular scorecard which is great. Finally, in the “Daily Scorecard” section you can take a look at a recent example of a completed scorecard from an A's-Yankees match up from April 5th this year.

As with Fantasy Baseball, how far you want to take it is purely up to you. Pick the scorecard that suits your needs best, record as much or as little detail as you want, and use your own scoring methods if you find them easier (or more fun). And please feel free to post your experiences in the comments section below this post.

I certainly don't score every game I watch. Thanks to the wonders of MLB.TV I watch bits of lots of different games, and unless I know I will complete the scorecard then I don't bother. But if I know I'm going to watch the game from first pitch to the last, I will normally get myself set with my A's cap on, a few drinks and snacks all ready to go, and a scorecard and pencil by my side. I find scoring helps me enjoy baseball even more, and hopefully that is reason enough to encourage you to try it.

P.S. I had hoped to attach some pdfs of some of my scoring efforts but I can't find our scanner at the moment (don't ask!). I will try to add some if possible in the next couple of days.

UPDATE: here is my basic scorecard from the A's game against Texas on Sunday April 16th.Oakland Texas 16.04.2006

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