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Sandlot Baseball – Reasons to Keep Score

June 10, 2010

I became a fan of baseball many years ago, thanks, in part, to a ramp and a scoreboard.

Trips to Boston to see the Red Sox play were mystical experiences for me. I recall that first time with my father walking up the ramp that led to Fenway Park.

In 1958, I was 7-years-old, about as tall as the scorecards and pennants brushing my head as fans pushed forward to enter Jersey and Lansdowne Streets’ inner sanctum. With the scent of mustard in the air, the suds of beer spraying my cheeks and the crunch of peanut shells beneath my shoes, I happily rode the crowd’s wave of excitement.

I was totally unprepared for what I was about to see at the top of that popcorn-lined ramp. What kid is, the first time he or she sees Fenway Park? I will always remember the sudden explosion of green – the majestic, emerald outfield and the infamous left field wall known as The Green Monster. There it was in living color – a far cry from black-and-white TV: Fenway Park, alive and green.

There were many thrills that day: sitting in box seats next to the visitor’s dugout, watching Ted Williams crank one out, and rooting for Pete Runnels as he hustled down the line for an infield base hit. What I really found intriguing, though, was the scoreboard on the left field wall. In addition to tracking the Red Sox game, I found myself watching the section that listed other games in progress. I wondered what the kids were like in Pit as the number next to it changed. I imagined sitting in a box seat in Det or catching a foul ball in Mil as the updated numerals were posted. I watched in sadness as the letter R went up next to the game being played in Cle against KC. Some kid’s long awaited dream was being rained out. 

All in all, though, I’d have to say I was happy with life in Bos back then. There would be more trips to Fenway and I would go onto play Little League ball at Watson Park in Braintree, Massachusetts. I would also go onto to become the keeper of scores there on Saturdays when my team, Penguin AC, was not playing.

The scoreboard at Watson Park was a well-seasoned, rectangular board perched above the wall in centerfield. To keep score you placed numbered shingles, with holes at the tops, through the jutting nails over each inning’s panel. If you wanted to keep score, you simply asked the ladies in the refreshment stand for The Box. That’s where the numbers were kept.  But – you had to be the first one to the park. And I usually was.

Sometimes, I’d talk my brother into coming with me. He must have thought I was crazy to want to sit on that sun-baked platform bench below the scoreboard just to change numbers. For some reason, I enjoyed keeping track of runs crossing the plate, recording each kid’s proud step home.

There were other beneficial sides to scorekeeping as well. Soon, I was on a first-name basis with every centerfielder in the league. During pre-inning warm-ups, we’d talk about our batting averages, the baseball cards in our bicycle spokes and our favorite Red Sox players.

Over time, I learned about the players in the league – which ones daydreamed or dove for line drives. There were those who paid attention and those full of idle chatter. There were those who scrambled down the first base line and those who simply went through the motions, trotting in surrender.

There was nothing worse than watching a kid, with all the skills in the world, play at half-speed. And there was nothing finer than watching a kid with little talent run full-tilt to his position in right field.

Long ago, I became a fan of the game thanks to a ramp, a scoreboard and a Green Monster. I’m a fan today because of those kids who still sprint to the outfield, ready to play. From my view in center, I learned a little about desire, a lot about life.

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