Few fans practice the art of keeping score at the game

Sunday, July 13, 2003

CHICAGO -- Like just about everyone else around them in the upper deck at U.S. Cellular Field the other night, Jason Lukehart and his buddy Zak Thompson jumped to their feet when White Sox slugger Magglio Ordonez blasted a homer.

But as everyone else stood and cheered, Lukehart and Thompson were back in their seats, hunched over their scorecards, furiously making all the little marks that needed to be made before the next batter.

"Nobody's doing it," Lukehart, 23, said about keeping score. "It's like I'm in a special club."

It's certainly a small one. On Tuesday, when more than 47,000 fans pack themselves into the same park, it's a good bet only a handful will keep score -- and not just because all the substitutions turn an all-star game into a scorekeeping nightmare.

Walk around any major league park these days and the once familiar sight of fans keeping score is about as common as a balk (BK, if you're scoring).

"It's a lost, lost art," said Michael Babida, the San Diego Padres executive director of merchandising and promotions.

"People buy scorecards, but it's more as a souvenir," agreed Lena McDonagh, the Chicago Cubs' director of publications.

Scoring is given so little thought that some teams don't even bother to sell individual scorecards, choosing instead to include them in the glossier, more expensive programs. At least one team, the Cleveland Indians, hasn't bothered to sell pencils since 1994 when the team moved into its new gleaming Jacobs Field.

U.S. Cellular Field sells the 75-cent pencils, but they seem about as easy to unload as White Sox inflatable chairs.

Winning isn't everything

If you're looking for a place to point a big foam finger of blame, look no further than the ballparks themselves.

With everything from slides to batting cages, from speed pitching machines to cafes, baseball parks, particularly the newer ones, have become baseball theme parks.

"The whole atmosphere is really what we sell and not just the team and who the players are and whether they are winning or losing," said Mario Alioto, San Francisco Giants' senior vice president of corporate marketing.

It all adds up to trouble for scorekeeping.

"There's no use keeping score if you're going to miss an inning at the swimming pool or the batting cages," said Greg Salvatore, an intern with the magazine of the Arizona Diamondbacks, where there is a pool in the park.

High-tech scoreboards

Then there are the huge high-tech scoreboards that have replaced the smaller and far less informative ones of years gone by.

"Everything is shown to you on the scoreboards," said Mac Clark, a 79-year-old retiree in St. Petersburg, Fla., who now sells on eBay a few of the scorecards he kept at Fenway Park in the days of Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr. Scorekeeping, he said, "isn't necessary anymore."

Nor does scoring games with a pen or pencil fit in an age of computers and Gameboys.

With its strange marks and symbols that haven't changed much since the father of "modern" scorekeeping, Henry Chadwick, came up with his system in the 1860s, scorekeeping isn't particularly inviting.

For Norm Sachs, a 50-year-old accountant, it means that when he took his son to a recent White Sox game, he was the one keeping score and his boy was the one eating a hot dog and hoping for a foul ball.

"Kids don't have the patience," he said. "Just to get them to put the names down is a tough sell."

Those who do keep score say they can't imagine just sitting and watching a game.

"It keeps your head in the game," said Thompson, 22. What is more important, he said, scorekeeping connects him to the history of the game -- a big reason why he is holding onto the scorecard from the White Sox-Giants game days earlier.

"It might be the one time I see Barry Bonds and I can say this is when I saw him," he said.

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