The Art of Scorekeeping

If it’s possible to inherit baseball appreciation, then it’s certainly baked into my DNA. A penchant for scoring games was passed down too. My mom has great memories of summer days spent sitting (and sweating) on their porch in O’Fallon, Illinois, crowded around a radio, listening to Cardinals games brought to life via the radio. My great aunt Ca was often on that porch, making sure the kids maintained a respectful volume, so as not to interfere with her dutifully keeping score.

Years later, when I started playing Little League softball and my team needed a volunteer scorekeeper, my mom continued the family tradition by offering up her services. She’s been scoring baseball games ever since. I took up the mantle right alongside her. I inherited my mom’s love for keeping book like it was hair color, and as a result, I’ve forged a more profound connection to baseball. Keeping score is an award-winning soundtrack to an already great movie, and there’s some kind of sensory witchcraft that happens when the perfect audio track is married to a scene.

  • Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” is responsible for one of the greatest dance scenes of all time in Pulp Fiction.
  •  “Where is My Mind?” by Pixies creates the perfect unnerving final minute of Fight Club.
  • And blasting Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” from a handheld boombox in Say Anything helped set a high bar for romantic gestures.

Filmmakers understand that stimulating multiple senses can have a mystical effect. It’s the same in sports. They activate the full reach – from things seen on the field, to hot dogs waiting to be eaten, to shouts overheard in the crowd, even freezing my fingers off at games in April. Keeping score adds another level to the experience, beyond just feeling a pen hit paper. Not only does it secure your engagement for three plus hours, but it makes you feel closer to the action than mere observation. There is an enigmatic interactive quality to it that I can’t adequately describe. I hope you’ll experience it first-hand instead.

If want to learn how to keep score, or pick up the trade after a long absence, here are a few tips from a continuous learner.

BYOB

Not that BYOB. “Bring your own book,” is lesser known, but it’s more widely applicable. It might require a little extra work and initial investment on your part but trust me, it’s worth it. Scorekeeping is an art and you’re a da Vinci in the making. You deserve a decent canvas.

Buying a scorecard at the ballpark is a great choice for those just starting out, especially if you only catch a few games a year. It’s also a relatively affordable option (typically $1-2), considering all the competing interests vying for your wallet’s attention on game day. Team-issued scorecards usually list both team rosters, a few relevant game notes, and have a “How to Keep Score” section, making them a useful resource for beginners.

The downside of these scorecards is that the columns/rows are usually small, limiting the room for what relevant data you can include. You might want space to tally balls and strikes for instance, or to include where in the field Julio Rodríguez’s latest double landed. You can find more detailed scorecards online for free, like this one, that you can print out and bring to the game attached to a clipboard. I did this for several years.

Not sure what was going on with my handwriting on this particular day in 2017, but let’s just say I am deeply ashamed of my penmanship.

I love saving my scorecards, so eventually the ever-multiplying collection of loose papers drove me a little mad. I knew it was time to graduate to my own scorebook. There are lots of possible choices floating around out there, but the important thing is to find what works for you. Some people like a vertical scorecard. Others prefer horizontal. They range from pocketbook size to comedically gigantic and run the gamut in between. You’ll probably need to try on a few before finding that glass slipper.

As for where to find scorebooks, sporting goods stores like Big 5 typically have some squirreled away. My mom bought me a stack of their scorebooks for Christmas one year and it turned out to be quite the present. Each one became a worn-out keeper of memories. A one-of-a-kind flip book that releases yelps of joy or groans of anguish every time you skim the pages.

I was using one of the Big 5 scorebooks when I went to Fenway Park for the first time to see Yankees @Red Sox. I was also very invested in BOS beating NYY to help the M’s with their Wild Card race.

If your local sporting goods store is out, there’s also plenty of places to find scorebooks online. As with anything else, I try to support small businesses when possible. I buy a new scorebook every year to mark the season, and I’m loving my latest find, courtesy of Drew Kemp-Baird on Etsy.  

Remember that time we beat the Astros 11 to 1 this year? That was fun.

“Adapt or Die”

Once you’ve found your perfect scorebook, and you feel like you’re hitting your true scorekeeping stride, there will come a day when you leave your book at home. Or maybe you wind up at a game spontaneously, thanks to a late invitation. Do you capitulate and go score-less? No. Now is when you embrace the famous words uttered by Billy Beane in Moneyball, “Adapt or die.” We’ll dial it back on the hyperbole, because no one’s institutional survival is at stake here. But the basic concept still applies.

These are the moments in your scorekeeping journey when you’ll need to embrace imperfect conditions.

I will never forget the time my mom made a scorecard out of a paper bag. She and my dad were in Cincinnati to see the Cardinals play at Great American Ballpark for the first time. She attempted to buy a scorecard at the first game they attended but was told that they are only available inside the team’s game day magazine, at the going rate of $8. That reached beyond my mom’s price anchor. So what did she do? After the game she found a paper bag, a ruler, a pen and got to work. The next day, she was set.

I channeled my mom’s ingenuity when I found myself at my first Arizona Fall League game spontaneously last year. I was in Phoenix to visit my best friend, and the timing worked out perfectly for me to jet away and catch a baseball game while she was working. There I was in the beautiful desert sunshine with great baseball to watch and no way to record the action. I mulled over potential solutions while eating a hot dog, and when I looked down at my napkin, I knew I found my canvas.

It’s not always pretty, but painters gotta paint.

Add Notes

Even if there is no designated “game notes” section on your scorecard, find a way to add your own. Detail the experience however you like. I usually jot a quick note about who I went to the game with, where we sat, and anything historic or particularly entertaining that happens in the game. Even if you opt to recycle yours and don’t want to stockpile scorecards like this weirdo (I’m doing double thumbs towards myself), you’re still committing the details to memory by writing them out. And one day you might want to pull up that memory with as much vividness as possible. I’m thinking about the lucky few with a scorecard from Félix’s perfect game with extreme envy right now.

In conclusion friends, I stand by my claim that each one of you is a professional scorekeeping artist in the making.

You just have to pick up a brush and start creating.

Share this

Post navigation

6 Comments
Randy Griffin May 15, 2022
| |

Great read Lydia..!!  I would love to see some of your finished canvas’     🙂

Lark11 May 15, 2022
| |

Great read, thanks! In fact, it might just inspire me to start keeping score.

Kevin May 14, 2022
| |

I remember as a kid my dad and my uncle would go to Spokane Indian games. My uncle never missed a game, and he keep score at every one of them. This was back in the 60’s. He taught me how to keep score and I loved every minute of it. Great article!