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John Blanchette: Lost art of scorekeeping is ‘central to a full life experience’

UPDATED: Thu., Aug. 22, 2019, 10:13 p.m.

Nancy Engard and Jim Shaules arrive early to the Spokane Indians vs Eugene Emeralds game to fill out their scorebook, Monday, Aug. 19, 2019, at Avista Stadium. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Nancy Engard and Jim Shaules arrive early to the Spokane Indians vs Eugene Emeralds game to fill out their scorebook, Monday, Aug. 19, 2019, at Avista Stadium. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Baseball’s reliquary fills by the day, the old pushed aside by the advent of openers, launch angle math and the notion – this will be the end of days, by the way – of extra innings that begin with a runner on second base.

The game’s lost arts have their own museum.

The steal of home. Pepper. Complete games.

Keeping score.

Yes, there’s a person hired by the home team to do that for you, and a scoreboard beyond the outfield fence that displays the barest of numbers in lights.

But there was also, once upon a time, a stab at interactivity long before that became a marketing buzzword. At the stadium’s front gate, you bought a program with a scorecard and they handed you a 3 1/2-inch pencil – no eraser – with which to keep a history of how the game unfolded, in hieroglyphics concocted by an 19th-century sports writer named Henry Chadwick and then popularized to the point where keeping score was as essential to the ballpark experience as the prize was to the Cracker Jack.

And today, not so much.

“You don’t see many people keeping score,” said Nancy Engard, who tracks Spokane Indians games in a scorebook while sitting just below the Diamond Club at Avista Stadium, “and when you do, it’s us older people doing it.”

On any particular game night at Avista, there might be a half dozen spectators keeping a scorebook, in varying levels of detail and with their own distinct motivations.

“It just keeps us in the game,” said Mary Cayer, who is pretty close anyway, sitting in the box seats. “It’s like that feeling you have when you leave the house and you don’t have your phone. That’s the feeling when I don’t have my scorebook.”

She and Engard are both accountants by trade, so there’s the possibility some of this is just baked in, too.

Mark Koslowsky, a retired postman, is one of those hooked by the game’s statistical basis, remembering the revelation of discovering the old Sporting News as a kid and its trove of the week’s box scores.

“It’s just more of a personal record of having been there,” he said.

And then there’s Wanda Powell, who at 91 is well beyond the age of couching her obsession in anything other than unadulterated truth.

“It just entertains me,” she said, “because sometimes – and forgive me for saying this – baseball is as interesting as watching grass grow.”

The fact is, everybody has their own threshold of just how involved in a game – or real life – they want to be. For every person keeping score at an Indians game, there are 100 – easy – texting, tweeting or streaming a video on their phones. There are people reading novels and doing word searches, and of course there are kids occupying themselves on the Wiffle ball field behind the grandstand oblivious to the big-boy action.

Possibly there are even a few scoring on their hand-helds using one of a half-dozen apps – GameChanger and iScore are among the popular ones – available.

“I tried the app and I didn’t like it,” Cayer said. “But we use the electronics during the game, too. We follow Dave Nichols (of The Spokesman-Review) on Twitter and the Indians feed, and if we miss something or don’t know what happened there’s someone nearby listening to Mike Boyle on the radio.”

Even Powell is tuned in to Boyle. So it’s not a ruthlessly retro endeavor.

But the language devised by Chadwick – call it Old Battin’ – still is. “F8” is a fly out to center. A ground-ball out to the third baseman is 5-3. The backward K is a called third strike. There is room, however, for personal preference – Cayer only scores the Indians’ halves – and invention.

“I just started this year noting whether errors are catching or throwing,” Engard said. “Then I have my most famous code: WW, which means ‘wasn’t watching.’ I also have a CS, which means people were standing in front of me and I couldn’t see.”

All use a scorebook they’ve purchased and brought because there is no more scorecard in the Indians program. That was phased out years ago, and for a time a grid appeared on the reverse side of the K cards handed out to fans. But about three years back, even that was replaced by a “Go Indians” cheer – though senior vice president Otto Klein said anyone who feels like keeping score can visit the club’s information booth for a blank scoresheet.

“You know, even our official scorer does it on an iPad now,” Klein said.

In an era in which a running box and play-by-play is a few taps away on your phone, the idea of keeping your own scorecard might fall somewhere between quaint and mystifying. Or not.

“I heard on the radio yesterday that there’s a pitcher who was here in Spokane just last year and now he’s pitching for the Texas Rangers,” said Koslowsky, referring to 21-year-old reliever Emmanuel Clase. “It’s very unusual to make a jump like that. So I looked in my scorebook and, sure enough, I had seen him at least two or three times last season.

“Now, I had no inkling this guy was going to be in the majors this soon. Then you see a guy like Joey Gallo – we saw him hit three home runs in two games, including one over the scoreboard. You didn’t figure it was going to be that long for him to get there. I don’t know, it just seems like keeping score helps build that connection you get with players. I can’t imagine going to the game without scoring it.”

Art – even a lost one – being central to a full life experience.

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