DOVER-FOXCROFT — It’s a tradition for the youngest of baseball fans that has spanned the history of the sport, sitting by a radio or television keeping score of games involving their favorite teams.
And as those statistic-minded youngsters grow up, the tradition lives on recreationally for some through scorecards available at most major- and minor-league parks across the country.
There’s also a few who pursue a more official path, perhaps serving as the scorekeeper for a local team.
Even today that paper-and-pencil mode of keeping track of America’s pastime perseveres, with each scorekeeper meshing the rules of the sport with his or her unique language for charting games.
But as artificial turf, designated hitters and instant replay represent the modernization of the sport, so, too, may be the manner of scorekeeping for baseball and, ultimately, all other sports.
Dan Decker is the baseball scorekeeper at Foxcroft Academy, but you won’t find any pencil-lead smudges on his hands — or a scorebook, for that matter.
Instead he uses an Apple iPad tablet computer to keep track of the Ponies’ games. Once Decker enters the information regarding each pitch and play into the wireless device by pushing icons on a screen that displays each position on the diamond, it immediately registers not only on a computerized scorecard that looks like the old-fashioned version, but also on an updated boxscore as well as a play-by-play chart — so there’s no compilation required once the game has ended.
“I thought the old book actually made me a lot busier,” said Decker. “This takes less time than the other one. Even if it’s a complicated play, I can usually get everything done before the next pitch.”
The application software used by Decker, ESPN iScore Baseball, also is linked to a website that makes it easy for players and coaches to access statistics for individual games or an entire season, and includes an iScore gamecast that enables fans to follow the game as it is happening based on the information provided by Decker.
“It saves a lot of time and is just way more accurate,” said Foxcroft baseball coach Mark Chevalier. “It also keeps hit charts for every guy, so by the end of the year we can look at each player and see that he’s pulling the ball 90 percent of the time or that he’s using all fields well. There are all kinds of uses for it.”
Chevalier first considered using a computer-based scorekeeping program earlier this spring after receiving an iPad as part of a pilot program at Foxcroft that, if successful, could result in all students in the school getting similar computers next fall.
“At the beginning of the season we had one scrimmage where we kept the scorebook the traditional way, and then it dawned on me on the ride home, ‘Why don’t I at least search and see if there’s an electronic way to do this?’” said Chevalier, an English and film-making teacher at the school.
“I had no idea at the time, but I figured there would be something,” Chevalier said, “and within 10 minutes of starting to research it I came up with some things and started reading about it, and it was even better than I imagined because not only could you score games electronically in a more intuitive way, but it also automatically compiled the stats for you.”
Chevalier ultimately settled on the ESPN iScore app, which cost $10, and also paid a modest $20 for a team website that imports and compiles the stats from each game.
“I got really excited when I was reading about the app and then I downloaded it and tried it out to see if it worked well,” Chevalier said.
Chevalier then turned to Decker, a sophomore who scored most of Foxcroft’s junior varsity games a year earlier.
“I knew he understood how to keep score and was the kind of kid who would pay attention and take it quite seriously,” Chevalier said. “I think he would have done it anyway, but to give him more incentive I approached Jon Pratt, our academic dean, and asked him if I could have an independent study with Dan where this would be part of that independent study.”
Decker didn’t have much experience using an iPad, but quickly warmed up to the device as a means of keeping score.
“This was probably the first time I’ve used an iPad consistently,” he said. “I hadn’t done anything like this before probably ever, except keeping the book last year.
“But this way makes it easier to put the more specific points of the plays in. It has something for every aspect of the game, rather than writing something random down for situations I’m not even sure how to score.”
The iScore program provides additional assistance by asking the scorekeeper questions about given plays after Decker begins entering information — to the point where it can differentiate between a swinging strike and a called strike, or a softly hit grounder and a hard-hit ball.
“You don’t have to put down 6-4-3 for a double play,” he said. “It asks which player touches it first so you touch the shortstop, and then it will ask you who touches it next and you go from there. You can find a button for virtually everything.
“For the most part I can usually watch the whole play because I’ve gotten used to where all the buttons are so at the end of the play I can put down everything that happened before the next pitch.”
Chevalier sees additional applications for the iScore program, including using the stored information and play-by-play in conjunction with other technology to develop video presentations that could be put on the Internet.
“I have two other students in independent study who film the games and help me do editing so we have highlight packages for each game, and I thought Dan could work with them because since he was scoring the games he’d know that in the fourth inning there was a big hit and we’d need to make sure to get that in the package,” Chevalier said. “We haven’t really streamlined that yet, I’ve been doing the editing up to now, but that’s the direction I want to go in.”
It also can be valuable as a coaching tool, given its ability to show such trends as where a player hits the ball during a given game or throughout the season.
“We can use it to let defensive players know where a batter has hit the ball during previous at-bats,” said Chevalier, “and it really helps with pitch counts, and that’s huge because that’s sometimes hard to keep track of with things like foul balls after two strikes. We don’t want to abuse anybody’s arm, and when I ask about how many pitches someone’s thrown, Dan’s got the answer for me immediately every time.”
Chevalier and school administrators envision similar computer-based programs easing the task of compiling information for other activities within the athletic arena and beyond.
“This is a wonderful tool for so many reasons,” said Foxcroft athletic administrator Tim Smith. “It’s linked to our school website so people can follow the games there, you now have archived stats instead of having to go through scorebooks and just the educational benefit Dan’s getting from doing this makes it worthwhile.”