Wednesday, July 24, 2013

This isn't a post about baseball, it's a post about me being an emerging curmudgeon

According to this article from The New York Times, fewer and fewer people score baseball games by hand anymore.

The funny thing is, many reading this post have no idea what the phrase "score baseball games by hand" means.

For the uninitiated, one scores a baseball game by recording the result of every at-bat on a cardboard scorecard. Or at least they used to be cardboard back (say it with me) IN MY DAY.

There's a whole intricate system involved in scoring, the idea being that afterward you can relive the game by following the symbols and abbreviations that represent runs, hits, errors, strikeouts, fly outs, ground outs, line outs, and every other possible outcome.

One might justifiably ask why one would want to relive a baseball game one has already watched in person.

And I have no good answer.

Other than when I used to be a sports writer, I don't think I've ever gone back and retraced a baseball game solely by reviewing a scorecard. The real value of doing it, I always thought, was to really immerse and engage yourself in the game as it unfolds.

I learned to keep score from my dad. Which, as far as I'm concerned, is the only good way to learn. It's a skill that must be learned from your father.

I taught Jared to do it a few years ago, though it isn't something he has practiced much, so he's probably a little rusty. But given a scorecard and a pencil, he could get by.

Anyway, like I said in the headline, this isn't a post about baseball. This is a post about me lamenting the slow death of yet another great American tradition.

I generally get bored when people talk about sinking moral values and the fall of Western Civilization as represented by the loss of some old-fashioned habit or pastime.

Yet here I am doing exactly that. Guilty of hypocrisy as charged, your honor.

I guess the fact that most people don't keep score anymore shouldn't have much of an effect on me. If I want to do it myself, I still can.

But finding fewer and fewer people in the stands with their scorecards brings home to me the reality of baseball's declining popularity. It used to be the American Sport. Now it's largely The Old Person's Sport.

Baseball is slow. Or at least it's slow compared to football, basketball and hockey. It's a game of strategy and thought. Yes, a certain amount of pandering and posturing has infected baseball in recent years, but for the most part, it's still a very 19th- and 20th-century game.

I love all sports, don't get me wrong. But to quote Mike Tyson, if baseball "fades into Bolivian," it will mean a large part of our culture has gone out with it.

And I'm pretty sure I hate that. Or at least I dislike it intensely, which is just about all the emotion I can muster these days.

Is this what it's like to get old? First your music goes out of style. Then the clothes you wear. Then the people you saw as vibrant adults growing up start to go away. Then it starts happening to your generation.

Somewhere in there is also the decline and fall of the things you thought were eternal. Like baseball.

Your own mortality looks you square in the face and laughs.

And the only way you know to fight back is to grab a scorecard and a pencil and take in a ball game on a warm summer afternoon.

Just remember, it's a backwards "K" when the batter strikes out looking. A regular "K" when he goes down swinging. The rest is pretty easy to figure out.

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