Bo Knows Baseball Position Numbers, Do You?

bojackson

Bo knows…he’s awesome. Still.

I admit, I never liked baseball growing up. I didn’t play, and we didn’t have a team, except for the double-A “Memphis Chicks,” short for the region’s native Chickasaw Indians, and no one ever thought to be offended.

I also found the game to be as exciting as milk. (Even the “South Park” kids hated it for stealing their summer.) The three most memorable things I recall were:

Bo Jackson living in the apartment next door to my sister while he played for us en route to becoming one of America’s all-time greatest athletes

—The “Medicine Man” mascot—a white dude in a loincloth and buffalo horns (again, no one was offended, and I kinda think we should have been?) and

Looks like I wasn't the only one excited to meet The Chicken.

I wasn’t the only one excited to meet The Chicken.

—Meeting the San Diego Chicken when he (she? Aren’t chickens girls?) visited our ballpark. He was a lot shorter than I expected.

Baseball was also confusing to a seven-year-old word nerd. A “hit” only counted if a player hit the ball and reached base—but the way I saw it, guys hit the ball—like made contact with the bat—all the time. And didn’t the word “strike” also mean “to hit?” (Hell, the games wouldn’t have been so interminable if they played my way.)

Who’d-a thunk then that I would eventually wind up working for a baseball team, handling their public relations and keeping score—a skill that I have found not only fairly easy once you get the hang of it, but literally a game-changer for me. Because once I understood the positions, it was logical.

baseball positionsImagine you are standing behind the batter’s box, like the umpire, facing the field. The players are numbered in a sort of backwards question mark order:

1—Pitcher
2—Catcher
3—First baseman
4—Second baseman
5—Third baseman
6—Shortstop
7—Left fielder
8—Center fielder
9—Right fielder

Once you have that down, the game, specifically defensive plays and outs, are not only easy to spot, but fun to record. It’s pretty obvious on offense when you see a player single (1B) to first base or hit a home run (HR). But to understand the announcer when he says “a 6-4-3 double play” or “F8!” is more satisfying because you understand the numbers, and those numbers translate into images in your scorebook. If you think baseball is all math and stats, remember there is a lovely visual component to it as well.

Baseball (softball too) became fascinating to me when I realized on a scorecard you can see patterns develop right before your eyes—kind of like a photo in a darkroom, or knitting a sweater—but with men in tight pants. For example, marking this in your scorebook column…

F-7, ♦, L5, 6-3

 …isn’t some maddening Morse code, it’s simply:

  • a flyout to left (out #1)
  • a 2-run homer (you color in the diamond for home runs – my favorite part, as long as it’s my team)
  • a line drive out to the third baseman (out #2), and
  • an out from the shortstop (position 6) to the first baseman (position 3, thus three outs, and the half-inning is over with one run scored).

When you process a game visually, noted by your own hand, it is imprinted in your memory. Plays happen fast, but when you’ve recorded them, they are yours forever. My friend Bob has a scorebook he kept with his dad in the ‘60s, and he remembers each game, right down to the weather that day. These are some of his most cherished memories, not of just baseball but his now departed father.

SCORECARD-yankees-20080921-640

The Yankees scored seven runs in this 2008 game against the Orioles. (James Teresco, Creative Commons)

I will get into the basics of scoring in a later post. But for now, scoring keeps your head in the game (handy for parents whose children are in weekend-long tournaments) and makes statistics and trends easier to follow. And unlike other sports’ box scores, just columns of numbers, you can “see” an entire baseball game’s progression just based on a series of numbers and symbols—sort of like Neo in “The Matrix” when he finally understands everything in binary code, 10010110101.

There are many tutorials on the interwebs about how to score a baseball game (here is just one), and any paper game program or scorebook will also have a key. But even if you are just watching (or, OK, still bored off your butt waiting for little Timmy’s turn), maybe now you will follow along a little more because just like Bo knows, now you now who is who too.

PS–Don’t forget to enter our sports short essay contest! Free entry, great prizes! Deadline August 31!

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