This is going to be a long post, because there’s a bit of background I have to fill in before I get to my point. Sorry about that…
Earlier this month, I wrote quite a bit about the effect keeping score at a baseball game has on how well I remember a game. To put it briefly, the two Major League games I went to in 2002 (before I started keeping score) have completely eluded my memory, and even intense efforts to reconstruct those two games have failed to bring back any tangible memories, at least as far as the games themselves. Meanwhile, with a few notable exceptions (and you can see the notes I’ve already made on this subject in the write-ups of my visits to Phoenix and Baltimore), the games where I did keep a card are considerably more memorable.
So, this may have had you wondering why I wasn’t keeping score before 2003, and how I picked up the custom in the first place. To explain, I have to go back to when the Dukes left Albuquerque. It wasn’t quite the angst-fest of the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn, but it did leave a lot of Burqueños feeling betrayed and abandoned. The best way to describe the relationship between Albuquerque baseball fans and the Isotopes is like when a marriage falls apart because one spouse was taking the other for granted, he might be prone to overcompensate with the next woman he meets. The city built a larger and nicer brand new stadium for the Isotopes, costing quite a bit more than the renovations the Dukes had requested for the existing stadium, and heck, we even let them get away with calling themselves “Isotopes,” (which, in case you didn’t know is a rip-off of an episode of The Simpsons).
Personally, I was so thrilled to have baseball back in the Duke City, I grabbed a permanent marker and made myself what just might be the first Isotopes jersey ever. I got as much Isotopes gear and souvenirs as budget and space would allow. Of course, I made sure to get tickets for the first ever home game, and because they started that season on the road, I seriously considered traveling to Memphis for their first game. That never happened, but somewhere in that week, I got the idea that my opening night program wouldn’t be “official” unless I filled in the scorecard.
I remember April 11, 2003 quite clearly. Strangely enough, that game has gotten a little hazy as well, but I remember just how beautiful a night it was, in the mid-80s with the slightest of breezes, in this gem of a ballpark, and just how gratifying it was to know that baseball was back and it wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Oh yes, and the ‘Topes lost, 5-3. But I was already hooked on scorekeeping by then.
I’d never filled in a scorecard before. I gave it a try for the game at Dodger Stadium and was so confused that I didn’t even get through the top of the first. I decided I needed to practice first. Because the ‘Topes started their inaugural season with 8 road games, I had some games I could listen to on the radio, and that would help me—first of all, to get to know the players on this team I’d already sworn my loyalty to, but also plenty of chances to hone my scorekeeping skills.
I picked up a sheet of scrap paper which was already stained and festooned with white-out and drew a 9×9 grid on it. I remember wondering how to deal with certain plays, how I would denote a well-executed hit-and-run, and so on. I was also idly wondering what a perfect game¹ would look like. I deduced that a perfect game had to be nothing more than three parallel lines running diagonally down the page.
Now, the only reason I’d even start my practice scorecard on such a filthy piece of scrap is that I was absolutely certain that I’d throw it out once the game was over, if I hadn’t given up before then. Well, I still have that card, I keep it partly as a monument to an obsession, but also because of the remarkable nature of the game. On April 7, 2003, the Isotopes played their first-ever game against the Nashville Sounds (Albuquerque and Nashville. How’s that for a Pacific Coast League matchup?)
Because I wasn’t going to keep the card, I was pretty lax about getting folks’ names right. I scribbled “Lasdo?” into the Nashville pitcher’s slot in the lineup. After John Wasdin, Nashville’s pitcher, shut down the ‘Topes and threw a perfect game (and, in doing so, confirmed my conclusion of how such a game would look on a scorecard, among many other things), I corrected it. Wasdin’s perfecto was (at the time) only the second 9-inning, one-pitcher perfect game in the history of the league. It also got me hooked on scorekeeping.
¹ A perfect game is the most celebrated and rarest single-game pitching acomplishment. A pitcher must face an opposing lineup three times without allowing a single batter to safely reach first base.