If you turn up at a Herts Little League day and spy some parents glancing at an electronic device, don’t be too hasty in criticising them for not paying attention.Â They are probably not checking their e-mails or writing a shopping list.Â They are much more likely to be playing an important role in documenting the game.
Official scorers at Little League games are an unfamiliar sight in Britain, but they are the latest example of the forward thinking that has become a hallmark of Herts Baseball Club.Â
Adults and Little Leagues working together
The importance of a quality adult league system should not be underestimated in a historically baseball-resistant country.Â However, the future of the sport revolves around Little Leagues.Â Getting kids playing baseball at a young age is crucial in producing good adult players and coaches, as well as ensuring that future generations are interested in the sport.Â
Successful Little Leagues and successful senior set-ups should go hand-in-hand.Â That sentiment was at the heart of the decision by Herts to introduce official scorers to Little League games, as Club President Aspi Dimitrov explains.
“Our Club’s Executive Board came to the conclusion that our Youth Programme has to work alongside our Adult Programme.Â Although the Herts Baseball Little League has existed only for two years it is gradually catching up with the Adult Programme and is incorporating many of the methods and procedures applied by our adult teams.Â Marty Cullen, who is the Herts Little League Commissioner, is also the Manager of one of the Herts adult teams, so he is in a good position to do this”.
“Addicted to stats”
The benefits of keeping score are manifold.Â The activity itself makes the games more meaningful as every hit, stolen base and put-out is recorded as an important event.Â The consequence of recording all of these details is that they make it possible to produce meaningful statistics: the lifeblood of the sport.
“Stats play a key role for our adult teams when analysing player and team performance.Â It also is a fantastic tool for the motivation/self-motivation of players to perform better and to increase their satisfaction from the game.Â All of these arguments apply equally to our youth players and teams.
The first thing on the agenda for most of our club members on a Monday morning is to check their box scores from the day before and how their season stats have been affected.Â Good game stats for a player on a Sunday can be the difference between joy and misery for the next seven days until the next game.Â Our weekly schedules pretty much revolve around baseball stats.Â We hope that our youth members will become just as addicted to stats as our adults”.
Scoring in an electronic age
The art of scoring has captivated baseball fans for over a century.Â Many an old black-and-white photograph of a Major League crowd shows fans intently scribbling notes down on their scorecard and the tradition continues today.Â For most fans and scorers, the traditional method of pencil and paper remains the system of choice, but Herts have decided to go down the electronic route instead and Dimitrov explains that the production of statistics was a key part of this decision.
“In the past we struggled with the time-consuming task of converting the stats from a paper score sheet into a digital form which can then be presented on our website.Â As our club started expanding into two, three and now four adult teams we were desperately short of non-playing members who knew how to score on paper.Â We started looking into alternatives and came across a few software packages.Â Some of them had demo versions available to use which gave a chance to try them out and most of them seemed to be very easy and intuitive to use”.Â
The lure of a shiny Personal Digital Assistant (PDA)Â was seen as another mark in favour of scoring electronically. “I guess the idea of paper and pencil does not look as attractive as holding a hand-held computer device so we thought that it may also help us to encourage more of our players to score so that all of our teams can do it on our own without relying on non-playing scorers.Â As it turned out, these days Herts players simply pass the PDA from one bench player to another and we manage to maintain stats without the need for extra volunteers”.
Making your choice
If scoring electronically is deemed the way to go, a quick Google search reveals a whole host of different software options to be considered.Â Herts researched several and came to a useful conclusion.
“From the various software packages which were on offer we could see that there were some differences in the graphics and one or two of the software features, but essentially the packages were offering more or less the same functions.Â On that basis it came down to the price and at $49.95 (or around Â£30) at the time, it didn’t seem like we were taking too much of a risk by giving it a go with Fixed It!”.
Fixed It! have been producing scoring software since 1996 and their products cover several different sports, from basketball to football.Â Full details about the baseball version,Â including the price increase since Herts bought their copy,Â are available on their website at http://www.fixedit.com/baseball.shtml
“The software is quite versatile and it gives us options to use it on a desktop or laptop computer, or on a Pocket PC or Palm hand-held devices” said Dimitrov.Â “Members in our club already had such hand-held devices so they were happy for the club to use them for scoring, which meant no hardware costs.Â Like every software product we became better at it the more we used it and in the process became more aware of the intricacies of baseball scoring and how every player’s contribution to the team is recorded as well as judgement calls on hit or error, wild pitch or passed ball etc.Â I would say that anyone can score a game using the software with as little as a 10-15 minute tutorial”.
Getting to grips with the full intricacies of scoring requires some consultation with the official rule book, but the basics of scoring should come naturally to anyone familiar with the sport.Â Using Fixed It! to do the task clearly doesn’t make things any more complicated.
“It is quite simple.Â You watch the game and after every play you click one or two buttons to transfer what you have seen into the device.Â For example, the pitcher throws a strike and you click the strike button.Â Â Then the batter manages to reach first base safely so you click a button to indicate that the player got on base after which you are asked to indicate how he got on base (e.g. hit a single, double, triple, was hit by pitch etc.).Â The software is very user-friendly so at every stage it is prompting you the available options.Â All the scorer has to do it select the appropriate option to describe what has just happened”.
From there, you can upload all of the data onto your website once the game is over, allowing the players to see how their stats have been affected and making visitors aware of how individuals are progressing over the course of a season.Â This capability comes as part of the Fixed It! software, although Herts have taken it a step further.
“Initially, we used the HTML stat reports which the software provides and which could be easily uploaded on our club’s website at a touch of a button.Â With the evolvement of the Club’s website, the Club appointed Greg Bochan as the Statistics Officer.Â He has programming knowledge and together with Webmaster, Jason Greenberg, created code which allowed visitors of www.hertsbaseball.com to have a more interactive experience with the player and team stats”.
Parents getting involved
As with anything in British baseball, the success of the project relies on volunteers getting involved.Â Herts are fortunate to have a good group of parents more than willing to do just that.
“At the start of the Herts Baseball Little League we were not sure whether the parents would be interested to contribute in various volunteer roles or whether they would see our baseball programme as going to an entertainment venue for a bit of fun for the kids on a Saturday.Â With every week we are becoming more and more impressed how passionate the Little League families are about the Herts youth baseball programme.Â Everyone has been so positive about volunteering and we have even reached the stage where the families are becoming really pro-active about wanting to contribute and make the baseball programme better”.
That enthusiasm has carried over to Herts’ latest project.Â “Irrespective of this, we didn’t know how they would react to the idea of scoring on a PDA.Â But the response has been amazing.Â In Spring Training we had brought a few PDAs to see if we can convince the parents to give it a go.Â Â So many mums, dads and even some players stepped up that we did not have enough PDAs and had to ask them to rotate in groups of 3-4 per PDA.Â Some have become so interested that they have installed the free desktop version on their home computers to practice and have even referred to various scorekeeping handbooks online to learn more about judgement calls etc.Â We are quite lucky actually to have such great people among our Little League families”.
Following Herts’ lead
Such goodwill may not immediately exist in all areas, but Herts are proof that dedication, ingenuity and enthusiasm can win people over.Â Whether it’s developing playing facilities, successful player recruitment drives or introducing official scorers to Little Leagues, ballclubs throughout Britain are constantly coming up with new ideas, and sometimes learning from mistakes, that could be of great use to others.Â
Away from the competition of ballgames, greater cooperation between ballclubs is the best way to make the sport stronger overall.Â There’s growing evidence that this is becoming more common and that should be encouraged.Â Perhaps some other teams will be keen to learn more about how they can develop their scorekeeping practices. Â If so, I’m sure Aspi and the folks at Herts will be more than happy to provideÂ some further advice on their system.
For more information on keeping score in theÂ UK, please visitÂ the Great Britain Baseball Scorers Association website.