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Score one for tradition

Keeping tabs on a baseball game can be as easy as accessing a cellphone. But for some fans, using a pen and paper is still the best way.

July 11, 2008|Chris Hine | Times Staff Writer

Dave Eisenberg had just witnessed baseball history -- his Dodgers became the fifth team ever to win a game without getting a hit. There was only one problem for Eisenberg, aside from the Dodgers' hitting woes.

"I didn't keep score," said Eisenberg, a six-year season-ticket holder. "But I really wish I had. The game was unbelievable."

After the improbable 1-0 Dodgers' win over the Angels on June 28, Eisenberg changed his ways, and began keeping score.

When history was nearly made again on Monday -- as Dodgers pitcher Hiroki Kuroda took a perfect game into the eighth inning -- Eisenberg was ready. Not with a pencil and game program, but with a $50 software application on his hand-held computer.

"I was keeping score Monday. It was one of the most exciting games I've been to in a long time," he said. "I kept score for the chance to record history. We were disappointed that it didn't happen, but we were thrilled for Kuroda."

Eisenberg has embraced a time-honored task that requires a fan to pay reasonably close attention to an entire game -- in an era when the stadium-going experience is full of reasons not to. There are long lines at the bathroom or the beer stand, distractions on the scoreboard and in the stands, and, at least among Dodgers fans, a long-standing tradition of leaving early.

And the attentiveness requirement isn't the only impediment. There's always the danger of ridicule.

"People laugh at me, and they look at me really strange and they say, 'Why do you keep score? What are you going to do with that?' " said South Pasadena resident Kelly Wallace, who keeps score at approximately 30 Dodgers games a season.

The quest for real-time information has led some fans to sign up for a service from MLB.com that makes in-game updates accessible via cellphone. But others, like Eisenberg, see keeping score as a chance to record history as it unfolds, even if it occurs in digital form.

"The numbers aren't enormous, but there are a large number of people in this country that keep score," said Paul Dickson, author of "The Joy of Keeping Score." "They're not as visible as they once were, but they're there."

The scorecard can be a trigger for memories of a special game, a memento that allows scorekeepers to tell stories of a game they attended years earlier.

Morgan Reed, a history teacher from Pinon Hills, keeps his scorecard of Dennis Martinez's 1991 perfect game for the Montreal Expos against the Dodgers in a frame.

"When people see it, they ask about it and what I tell them is that I was there . . . " Reed said. "It's evidence that I was there and I stayed.

"A lot of people can say they were at a particular game, but I can prove it."

Elsa Long, a Sun Valley resident who attends every Dodgers home game, plans on framing her scorecard from the no-hit Dodgers win. Long can be seen at home games scribbling away in her scorebook. Her primary motive to keep score is not so much to document history as it is to become a better fan.

"My main objective is to remember most of the special plays and to know every player," she said.

Long, like other scorekeepers, is also a source of information for people who miss part of the action -- whether in the bathroom or at the concession stand -- to get caught up with the game.

"The person who's keeping score sort of becomes the captain of the row or the captain of the section," Dickson said. "Even if it says what happened on the Jumbotron, people will turn to them and say, 'What did this guy do his last time at-bat?' because scorekeepers have this minutiae in their scorekeeping that it transcends anything you can get on the Jumbotron. Whether it was how many strikes a batter had, or if the pitches were inside or outside."

But those details often depend on the scorekeeper. Some will record the bare bones of a given play. Others track pitch count, where the ball was hit, how hard it was hit, or if a fielder made a spectacular play.

"I think the appeal in a digital age is that it's your own interpretation of the game," Dickson said.

Dodgers broadcaster Charley Steiner has a color-coded system that allows him to easily find information from past games in his scorebook so he can report it on the air quickly.

"There is a method to the madness," Steiner said. "People say, 'How do you remember that stuff?' Well, here's how I remember it. If I lost this book, it would be like somebody losing their cellphone or their computer."

For people like Eisenberg, Allpro software developed K-Force, a program used by high schools, Little Leagues and casual fans alike that allows people to keep score on their laptops, PCs, or hand-held devices.

Overall, cellphones and computers helped bring down the number of scorekeepers at major league games, Dickson said, but scorekeeping doesn't need the major leagues to survive.

"Where I really see scorekeeping is in the minor leagues," Dickson said. "One of the reasons you keep score there is you want to keep records of these guys as they're on their way up."

It is not something that will fade away within a few generations even with advances in technology and stat-tracking, Dickson said.

"You get on an airplane at night, you see all these diamonds, people are playing slow-pitch softball, Little League . . . ," he added. "Even if you're in a B-level softball league, you still want to know your statistics at the end of the year."

--

chris.hine@latimes.com

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