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Die-Hard Fans Still Fill The Grids With Balls And Strikes


And before R. A. Dickey headed off to the ballpark, I tossed him one more question about a decades-old baseball ritual - following the game with a pencil and a scorecard - keeping score.

R. A. DICKEY: I grew up watching WGN and TBS from my living room and having a scorebook there and, like, keeping score off the television. At the end of it, it's like you've put together this really neat puzzle and woven this story, and you've somehow played a part in it.

I'll never forget watching WGN and trying to get Shawon Dunston over 300 for the year. So I wanted him to be a 300-hitter for the year. And I remember he was, like, two-for-three in one of the last days of the season, and he needed another hit.

And I thought, you know, here I am with my scorebook. If he can just get one more hit, we will have done it. You know, we - we will have done it. And so I think that's part of the lure, you know?

GONYEA: Go to any game from T-ball to the big leagues, and you'll likely see people marking down every play, inning by inning, in a grid of tiny boxes on their scorecard. I've been doing it since I was maybe 10 years old. But it's also something fewer and fewer fans bother to learn. At Shirley Povich Field in Bethesda, Maryland, home of the Bethesda Big Train, a summer team for college players, we talked to some who still see it as an important part of the game.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Batting third, the designated hitter, number 27, Danny Bermudez. Batting fourth, the right fielder, number 20, Ryan Lukach...

GONYEA: You have scorecards here?


GONYEA: I'll take one.


GONYEA: How much is that?


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) The land of the free and the home of the brave.



GONYEA: So the national anthem has been sung, and here comes the first pitch of the game. And it's a ball, low. So let's head down the third base line there. I think I saw somebody with a pencil and a scorecard.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Leading off at the Big Train, the shortstop out of New York, New York, number two, Stephen Alemais.

GONYEA: We're out in the grand stands, just off third base. There are some people keeping score out here, including...

SUZANNE KELLER: Suzanne Keller (ph).

GONYEA: So what is it about it?

KELLER: To tell you the truth, I think that it is going to keep me from getting dementia. I'm convinced you will never find a baseball scorekeeper who has Alzheimer's. (Laughing) Caught stealing. And...

GONYEA: OK. So let's score that.


GONYEA: Catcher to the shortstop, which is...

KELLER: Correct, which is two-to-six. And I put a little CS there. And I usually would make a little line out - so - with the CS.

GONYEA: So the CS, again, means caught stealing?

KELLER: Caught stealing, yeah.


KELLER: The other thing I do is I keep track of the foul balls with Fs. I mean, I know that that's not part of the balls and strikes, but I like to know the pitch count if I can focus that much.

GONYEA: Got it. Suzanne, thanks for letting us interrupt you.

KELLER: Thank you.

GONYEA: Now we're going to go find Bruce Adams who is the founder of the Big Train baseball team playing right here.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Batting second, the center fielder from Huntsville, Alabama, number five, Tyler Brazelton.

BRUCE ADAMS: You know, everybody keeps score a different way. I mean, that's one of the beauties of it. You can do it any darn way you want as long as it make sense to you and you can go back and look at it and figure it out. And my daughter's totally picked it up. My son has not picked it up, but my daughter loves to keep score.

GONYEA: What happens to your old scorecards?

ADAMS: Well, my wife is really upset about that. I definitely have been called a hoarder more than once. And I have this theory that I someday am going to rationalize and figure these all out.

But, you know, I'll go back some time when things slow down and look at, you know, what my kids did in their college career and everything. And it'll be - that'll be enormous fun.

GONYEA: How many people would you say are here tonight?

ADAMS: I'd say there's probably three - 350 maybe. It's really hot and humid tonight. It's a weeknight. Most nights we'll have 700 or 800.

GONYEA: Can you make a guess as to how many people are keeping score?

ADAMS: Oh, geez. I bet there aren't four or five. There's an official scorekeeper. You should go up and see Glenn Orlin. He's been keeping score for us for the 16 seasons of Bethesda Big Train baseball. He's fantastic.

GONYEA: All right. Let's go find him. So on our way to the press box, we bump into Peggy Engel. You are married to Bruce...


GONYEA: ...Who we just talked to. You are a scorekeeper.

ENGEL: Well, I am. Although I tend to write little narrative notes in the side, which drivers Bruce and every serious scorecard holder crazy. But I like to put in a little color. What happened? You know, they charged the mound. The umpire got mad. I like to say what happened in the game besides just backward Ks.

GONYEA: What is it about this - this art, this craft? What do we call it?

ENGEL: Male knitting.

GONYEA: It's male knitting.

ENGEL: Yeah. It's a way to relieve tension while you're watching something exciting, and it keeps a record of the game. But I think it's like knitting.

GONYEA: All right. Thanks for talking to us.

ENGEL: All right. Great.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: The left fielder, a senior at High Point University, number 13, Cody Manzella.

GONYEA: So we're now in the press box above the field. And standing here with me is Glenn Orlin. Glenn, your title - your job here?

GLENN ORLIN: I'm the official scorekeeper for the Bethesda Big Train.

GONYEA: Are your scorecards neat? Do they look like architectural drawings? Or are they more like mine, kind of a little bit messy?

ORLIN: I'd say they're so-so neat. I mean, I can read 20 years later, 25 years later what I put down. And I can totally understand what I put down. But I'm not - my penmanship isn't that precise.

GONYEA: As you're sitting here at one of these Bethesda Big Train games or any game and you look out over the stands - and you can spot the people keeping score.

ORLIN: Very few. It's a dying breed. Very few people keep score. What I find remarkable is that there are still a few people who bring the spiral-bound scorecards. And it's not the scorecard you buy at the game. It's a spiral-bound thing that you can buy at, I guess, certain stores where they just keep track on each page of that particular game. Those are the really serious scorers. There are a few of those.

GONYEA: Well, as one member of the dying breed to the next, thank you for taking the time.

ORLIN: Thank you. Appreciate it.

GONYEA: And if you're interested, the home team won this game. The final line from the official scorekeeper - the Bethesda Big Train - five runs, seven hits, no errors. The Alexandria Aces - two runs, four hits and five errors. Our theme music was written by B. J. Leiderman. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Don Gonyea. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.