Recently, The New York Times sports section featured a story on how nobody keeps score at baseball games anymore, especially younger generation fans. They proclaim "it can take an unusual young person to be content with a pencil" in an age when "today's fans go to ballparks that feature upscale restaurants, play areas for children and other attractions besides the game. Digital apps aside, there are also e-mails and social media to check, photos and videos to shoot, phone calls to make."
The Atlantic promptly shot down this diagnostic, however, claiming we've been crying wolf on the death of scorekeeping for half a century.
But both possess a critical oversight: they only interview men. This omission reflects an underestimation on the part of baseball traditionalists, not only of young fans, but also of female fans. In the ongoing debate about the future of this dying beloved art of scorekeeping, then these voices, namely women's voices, represent hope for renewal.
I have been a devout Atlanta Braves fan since I was ten years old, the '91 season that catapulted a worst-to-first team all the way to the World Series and infected an entire city with Braves fever. I watch Braves broadcasts, read the write-ups online the next day, and attend whenever they're in town. For each of the last three seasons, their exit has have left me in tears, inconsolable (no crying in baseball)--not simply because the Braves season was over but because the last game signals six months with no baseball, and I have no idea what to do with myself in the off-season. But this is not the stuff that surprises people.
The fact that I keep score at baseball games does. A girl. At a baseball game. With a scorebook. This may not seem like a feminist act, and it's not why I do it, but every time I catch a nod from a fellow scorekeeper, grizzled and tan from days in the bleachers, every time I can look down and answer the question of the father in the stands who wants to know how the officials scored a play, with every backwards K and BB, I am making a silent proclamation: chicks dig this, too.
Without exception, every game I've scored has yielded comments from fellow fans in the stands, ranging from baffled to impressed, from thinking it's adorable to believing it hardcore. The fact that it is so surprising underscores not only that not many young people score, but also that not many women do. I concede, I am usually in the minority on both fronts. But it doesn't have to be this way.
For me, it started as mimicry and continues as ritual. During those pitching-studded years of the nineties, my father, brother and I would go to baseball games throughout the summers on bright hot days, carting subs and sodas. Before the national anthem, when lineups were announced, my father would scrupulously take down each player's name, batting average, and position, and then throughout the game record in letters and numbers what each player did on the scorecard on his lap. Inning after inning, he wrote these indecipherable letter-number pairings that suggested fluency in ancient sanskrit.
Teaching us how to score the game was never my dad's overt intention, but to combat our boredom between innings or our whining about the heat, he showed us this thing he does, and at some point we wanted in on it. So he'd let us trade off half-innings in his scorebook, which made for a game within the larger game, one in which we could participate. It turned passivity into agency. With the absence of television announcers, keeping score provided a through-line, a narrative of the day's contest. When I was eighteen, we each got our own book.
This book has followed me to summer camp, college and grad school, two stints in New York City, accompanied me with family, friends, co-workers and would-be dates, all of whom are impressed/dismayed that anybody, much less a girl, would care to do this. A record of the game, of the summer, of the heroes of the day; a diary and archive, my scorebook, which spans ten years, is one of my most prized possessions. One of the best things I've ever written.
In the beginning, I didn't find it particularly remarkable that my dad had taught both my brother and me to keep score: I was just as much a fan as they were, and I was a curious kid. But over time, I've realized the power of this simple act. This practice of scorekeeping, this coded language, is a legacy in more ways than one. It is an extension of his beliefs that women are just as capable as men, moreover that we need not keep our pastimes segregated, our leisure activities divided by traditional gender lines. It's also super fun. Parents, take note: sons and daughters can enjoy access to this rarefied world.
I don't keep score to make a political statement, I keep score because I love the game and it keeps me locked in. I keep score to carry on my dad's tradition and to partake in something not everybody knows how to do. I keep score because it's satisfying to watch the columns fill up in systematic order that tracks the rhythm of the game. Each completed sheet is a continuation of my childhood ritual, each revisited sheet a relic from the past.
If the end result happens to be that people take notice of female scorekeepers, and decide to take up the practice themselves and teach their kids, all the better.