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You should score youth baseball, even when you don’t need to

Back when I started this blog, I could have hardly imagined that baseball would be what brings me back to blogging after several years of blog dormancy. But my older son has become obsessed with baseball and has been playing since the second grade.

I’ve been keeping scorecards of his games, even back in the machine-pitch league where there is no record of scoring and no standings. It might seem against the recreational spirit to keep a scoresheet for a game where there isn’t supposed to be a winner or a loser. But even in such a game, there are many things to keep track of, and keeping a scoresheet using some version of the traditional scorekeeping methodology is the best way to do this.

Without an electronic scoreboard, it turns out to be easy to lose track of the inning, and even the number of outs. Youth baseball innings can last a long time; in the bottom of the 2nd you might wish it was the bottom of the 4th. In a machine pitch game, there are no balls or called strikes. There is usually a maximum number of pitches per plate appearance, but if your pitching machine keeps placing balls way out of the strike zone, you’re reluctant to charge the batter with pitches if the adult pitching machine operator is struggling to tweak and adjust the machine. Your memory can only hold so many events, and before you know it, you’ve forgotten how many are out.

Likewise, games can tediously drag on in the first season of kid pitch as well, when most pitchers are wildly inaccurate. You’ll have a sequence of several walks in a  row, occasionally interrupted by a strikeout and maybe a hit-by-pitch. Youth baseball games have a two-hour time limit, and even so, I’ve been at games that barely get into a third inning. And most everyone–players, coaches, parents–would expect that more of a game could have been played in that timeframe. And so without a scoreboard to glance at, one loses track.


So at the youngest levels, it’s not so much scorekeeping, but outs-and-innings-keeping. One could do this with the sort of click-wheel counter that umpires use. I’ve used these, but it’s not that difficult to get an extra errant click. Or to forget whether you’ve clicked, especially on a drawn-out play.

In addition to outs and innings, a scorecard also tells you who is up next to bat, and if your team uses a different batting order each game (which it probably should), then the players will likely not always be aware of their turn to bat. There is a lot of sitting around in baseball, and young players will often find ways to amuse themselves which don’t involve paying attention to the game. So somebody needs a definitive record of who is up next to bat.

Many leagues have rules to keep a game from becoming too lopsided: a team might be restricted to hitting once through the batting order in an inning, or there may by a maximum number of batters. There’s also a common rule that limits a team to scoring 5 runs in any inning that’s not the last inning. In all of these situations, you’ll need some sort record of what’s happened, and they’re automatic if you’re keeping a scorecard.

Perhaps one could come up with an alternative method of tracking outs, innings, runs, and batters, but it’s hard to imagine a system that would be simpler than the traditional baseball scorecard. At its essence, a baseball scorecard is a grid with columns for each inning and rows for each batter. Defensive players are numbered 1-9, and a strikeout is a K. The result of a batter’s plate appearance in a particular inning is recorded in the appropriate box on the grid. There are many common conventions but little else is standard. As a player grows older and the game becomes more competitive, you might need to track more things; the scorecard can become as complex as need be. And an advantage of using a traditional scorecard from the start is that it gives you practice for the more sophisticated scorecards that will come later.

So, keep a scorecard, even if you aren’t keeping score.



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