Thanks to this seemingly endless winter and a few new responsibilities here around The Times Sports desk, I haven't been able to get out and cover as many baseball and softball games as I usually would have by this point of the spring.
It's something I hope I can do more of in the coming weeks and months. Unlike most of my fellow sports reporters and editors, the spring prep sports season is far and away my favorite of the three (I'll take a folding chair and a 5-4 fielder's choice over a sideline and a 3rd-and-10 or a bleacher seat and a 1-and-1 any day), but things such as weather and in-the-office job requirements both land quite literally in that "it's in the hands of a higher power" category.
One of the few ballgames I did manage to get out to this spring featured a play that put a big smile on my face — even though it really wasn't anything all that special. I doubt anyone else there batted an eye. No runs scored. No one reached base. In fact, no one even hit the ball.
It was a strikeout, but not your ordinary strikeout. First base was open, there were two strikes, the batter swung and missed at a fastball, and the catcher's mitt completely missed the ball. The baseball hit the knee of the catcher's leg guard and ricocheted immediately and directly toward the mound, where the surprised pitcher took a couple steps forward, bent down, picked the ball up and tossed it to the first baseman ahead of the batter-runner to retire the batter with the strikeout.
A big "K" is what I wrote down in my trusty, gigantic Ultimate Scorebook, with "2-1-3" in little numbers right below it.
Then I smiled and thought to myself, "Huh. I've never scored that one before."
If I had to take a guess, I'd say I've put pen to paper (rarely pencil, and definitely never GameChanger or any other electronic scorebook unless compelled to) to score well over 1,000 baseball and softball games over the years. Probably closer to 1,500.
There are all the games — high school, college, summer youth, etc. — I've scored for The Times over the past almost two decades, as well as the scorecards I've kept at Wrigley Field or Comiskey/The Cell/Guaranteed Whatever It Is on occasions I make it to a big league game and fill my hands with a scorecard instead of a frothy beverage. Plus there's the stack of scorebooks collecting dust in my garage from my Streator Youth Baseball coaching days, not to mention a folder of scorebook pages somewhere from a fun but incredibly busy summer spent as an official scorer for the Class A Peoria Chiefs.
The Chiefs gig, like more and more scorekeeping jobs in dugouts these days, required me to "keep the book" electronically, but no matter how many times Voice of the Peoria Chiefs Nathan Baliva told me I was wasting my time scoring games by hand too, I always did. There's something that just feels more baseball (if you'll allow me something can feel "more baseball") about a pen/pencil and a piece of paper, no matter how quickly you can post statistics after the final out with a computer or a tablet.
So over the course of a thousand games, a thousand and another half thousand games, somehow in this one late-March high school baseball game on this one innocuous, ultimately meaningless play I saw and got to record something I'd never seen — and scored — before: a 2-1-3 strikeout.
Much like the late, great Yogi Berra saying "Nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded," about a restaurant, as oxymoronic as it sounds things that almost never happen almost always seem to happen in the game of baseball.
Batted balls go into players' jerseys, and pitched ones stick to catchers' chest protectors. Baseballs hit birds in flight. Routine flyballs land on outfielders' heads and bounce over the wall for home runs. I saw a starting pitcher leave a professional baseball game with no runners on base in a scoreless tie and had to stick him with the loss. Things such as perfect games, stealing home and unassisted triple plays happen somewhere, on some field, at some level, multiple times every sunny summer day.
It's one of the things that makes baseball and its cousin softball such special games.
Whether you're keeping score or just watching for fun, keep your eyes on the field and eventually you'll get the chance to appreciate an unusual little piece of it.