Hartsock: Obsession adds to zest for game

When asked about when they had developed an interest in, and ultimately a passion for, keeping baseball scorecards, almost everybody that was interviewed earlier this week at Peoples Natural Gas Field could pinpoint a definitive moment in time.

Mine occurred as a player in the Hollidaysburg Area Little League more than four decades ago, when I returned from the field on a hot summer day and noticed a scorebook lying on the dugout bench.

After thumbing through the pages that documented each of our team’s games, I noticed at the very back of the book a completed scorecard detailing a Pittsburgh Pirates game with the Montreal Expos.

The concept that every aspect of a baseball game, from the first out in the first inning until the final pitch in the ninth inning, could be concretely recorded for review months – and even years – later, fascinated me.

An obsession was born.

I began learning all that I could about the intricacies of putting together and keeping my own scorecards, and after buying my first scorebook at an area sporting goods store, I could not put it down.

Baseball had already consumed virtually all of my waking summertime moments then – from collecting cards, to playing in 6-against-6 or 7-against-7 sandlot pickup games in the mornings and afternoons, to participating in organized league games in the early evenings.

Now this new scorecard hobby became a way for me to while away the nights as well. The more I learned about keeping track of Major League Baseball games that I kept in that scorebook, the more that I wanted to learn.

That first scorebook had details about scorekeeping that stick with me to this day. Strikeouts are recorded as “K” and walks as “BB,” with the option of sticking a hyphen and number after each to signify total. Thus, if a pitcher had struck out his fifth batter of the game, simply writing “K-5” in the box next to that batter’s name would enable me to discern the strikeout total at a quick glance.

Putouts should always total 27 for the winning team, and if there were any less, I knew that a mistake had been made, and that I would have to refigure my totals.

Everybody keeps score at least a little differently, but I began to make some of the same notations on my scorecards then that I still do to this day – notations that helped me to mark how hard a single or double was hit, if it landed in the outfield on a bounce or a straight flight, if a line drive was a soft, hump-back pseudo pop-up, or a hot smash that tore the glove off an infielder’s hand.

The Pirates were an outstanding team in the early 1970s, World Champions in 1971, and going to newly-built Three Rivers Stadium to watch them play was one of the highlights of my summer. So was plopping down 35 cents to purchase a “scorecard, lineup”- as the vendors there would holler throughout the stadium concourses back then.

Even today, after having kept records of thousands of games over the past 40-plus years, the first thing that I do when I get through the ticket turnstiles at any major or minor league ballpark is to make a beeline for the scorecard/program stand.

I can certainly identify with the sentiments of those people whom I interviewed about keeping scorecards the other day.

Some people need a cigarette with their morning coffee.

Others need a scorecard to feel like we’re actually at a baseball game.

“I enjoy it,” said Charlie O’Rourke of Warriors Mark, who said he learned how to keep score of baseball games from his late mother, Jeannette. “It enhances the game for me. It’s part of the game.”

Not for most people, though – something that New Yorker Ron Vetter could never understand.

“How can you remember what you saw if you didn’t keep score?” he wondered.

It’s that aspect – the fact that baseball, more than any other sport, lends itself to complete play-by-play documentation of each game – that makes scorekeeping so intriguing for certain people.

“I think that people go to baseball games for different reasons,” said Mike Harris, who drove here by himself all the way from Maine to see the Curve play. “There are usually one or two people around at every ballpark who are keeping score. It keeps you involved in the game, and it keeps you paying attention to everything that’s going on.”

Amen.