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Keeping Score At Spring Training: Challenging, But Fun

Here’s how to keep track when there are nearly 60 players in a game.

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — The art of scorekeeping at a baseball game is slowly dying, due to the vast amounts of information you can get at the ballpark either on the video boards, or via your smartphone.

So it is that I get asked all the time, “Why do you keep score?” Or, occasionally, “What is that you’re doing with statistics?”

I keep score partly because I’ve always done it, it’s a personal tradition that I enjoy at ballgames. It’s also a way of making my own personal history of every game I attend. It doesn’t take much time, it helps me keep my head in the game, and I can instantly glance and see what every player’s done during that game.

As you can imagine, doing this at spring-training games, especially early in the spring where no starting player plays all nine innings, is quite the challenge.

To demonstrate how I keep track with the dozens of changes, I present to you the full version of what’s above, my scorecard from Monday’s Cubs game against the White Sox. I chose this scorecard primarily because of Rick Renteria’s multiple changes at several positions, use of pinch-runners, etc. Ricky wound up using 30 players on Monday, and Joe Maddon wasn’t far behind with 27.

Here’s a full version of the card you see at the top of this post (link opens .pdf) so you can follow along.

One of the things the Cubs do that helps out is these free roster cards available at Sloan Park:

If that’s too hard to read (and it probably is), click here for a larger version.

So that’s the 40-man roster plus the 26 non-roster invitees. All of these Cubs players wear jerseys with name and number, so they’re relatively easy to identify. But what of the minor-league guys, who get only a jersey with a number? And what happens if/when those numbers match one of the guys with a name on the back?

That happens more frequently than you’d guess. You’d think teams would simply issue numbers that aren’t being used, or that coaches wear, but they don’t. So occasionally, you see duplicate numbers in the game at the same time — as happened yesterday at Sloan Park, where the Angels had two No. 97s not only in the game, but both on base at the same time.

The most difficult thing is when the opposing team uses guys who aren’t listed on their 40-man roster or NRI list. At that point I have to count on Tim Sheridan, the Sloan Park P.A. announcer, who’s been doing an excellent job at this for many years. This year, announcements of substitutes who aren’t on rosters have been accurate and timely.

When teams make multiple substitutions at the same time, as often happens in spring training, I used to try to outguess the manager at where they were going in the batting order. That rarely worked, so — and here’s where the smartphone comes in handy — I use Gameday as a cheat sheet. Sometimes that doesn’t work either, because as you know if you follow Gameday for spring games, it’s not done nearly as completely as it is during the season. Most of the time — not all, but most — Gameday is only updated after each at-bat, not pitch-by-pitch, for spring games. There are times when it stops completely for a few innings.

See the inning numbers I mark down on my card indicating when a substitute came into the game? What I’ll do when multiple changes are made in the same inning is to simply mark that inning number down, then wait till the player comes to bat before filling in his name and number. Some managers make straight switches, in other words, the new player at a particular position takes the original player’s batting order spot. I’ve noticed Joe Maddon in particular doesn’t do this. Maddon usually winds up putting the players he wants to see get the most at-bats in the spots that would lead off the next inning. And at least this early in the spring, Joe generally uses only one substitute per batting-order spot. In the case of this game, a third second baseman entered, but only because Jemile Weeks left with a minor injury.

Regarding the pitching boxes, the reason they have only five lines is because when Mike Bojanowski sent me this scorecard form, teams didn’t usually use eight or nine pitchers, even in a spring-training game. So I give the starting pitcher his own line, then double up on the rest. Slowly, over the course of the rest of camp, the number of pitchers in any one game should be reduced so I can fit them all in.

So that’s how I keep track of the myriad of changes made during a spring game. It’s not only a bit of a challenge, and a way to hone my scorekeeping skills after a winter off, but a way to learn about the players from other teams and how they get used.

Two final notes about my scoring method that you might ask about: the check mark next to a number indicates a player who made an excellent defensive play. That’s a note for me to check out the video replay after the game. And a small number above a larger number indicates an infielder who made a putout in the outfield. I’ll make a similar notation (there was none in this game) if a player makes a play away from his usual position, for example, if a third baseman shifts to a spot where a second baseman would normally play in a shift against a lefthanded hitter.