When it comes to the Chicago Cubs, particularly over the past few seasons, I think a lot of people would prefer to disregard the scores of the games. Or, better yet, that the Cubs were just on the winning side more often. But this isn't youth rec sports, and scores, perhaps unfortunately, are kept.
Growing up, we didn't have sports leagues open to kids as young as 3 and my dad still maintains that kids shouldn't be playing organized sports until they're at least 10. But my daughter, who will turn 8 in a couple months, has already participated in soccer, basketball, and softball, along with theater and dance. My 5-year-old son has done much of the same.
I'm neither the doting stage parent nor the screaming sideline psycho, though I am quick to both encourage and criticize. As an aside, my son decided to walk off the soccer field during his last game, thus forcing me to withhold him from the celebratory post-game tunnel run. But I digress.
What I'm getting around to here is that neither child has yet played a sport in which scores are kept...yet. Of course, the kids themselves know the tally, but the parents are usually only concerned with how many goals or baskets their own kid scored. As a coach, my main concern is to make sure all the kids are actually on the field of play and that no one dies, so I have only a general concept of the score.
I'm very much looking forward to the advent of Addison and Ryne receiving awards and accolades for performance instead of mere participation, but that's not really what I want to share with you today. When it comes to baseball games, I've treated them just like my kids' sports: I've never kept score.
But when we made the trek to Chicago for the series-ending game between the Chicago Cubs and the Miami Marlins, I decided I'd try something a little different. This was to be my daughter's 5th game at Wrigley (6th overall) and I figured she might like learning about the finer points of the game.
With that in mind, I bought two programs and set about teaching her to keep score of a baseball game. Things weren't exactly smooth at first, as she got frustrated by keeping up with the names being read off (I helped her fill in later) and the concept of the different shorthand notations. But as the game wore on, I could see that she was getting it, that she understood what players were doing out there.
I started pointing out little nuances as the game continued, particularly pointing out how the outfield would shift for different batters. When Nate Schierholtz came to the plate in the bottom of the 6th inning, I showed Addison how far off the line the right fielder was positioned. In fact, all three outfielders were playing Nate to go oppo.
My daughter astutely noted that if he hit the ball to either corner, he could run for a long time before they got it in. But the expanse of green in right was particularly inviting and we jumped up cheering when Schierholtz shot a ball just under Garrett Jones's glove and into that unoccupied space.
We got to mark a triple and circle two previous ABs, and all was looking right with the world. Interestingly enough, there was a little confusion over a close play at first base that actually helped to set up the three-bagger. Initially ruled an infield hit, we were forced to change the scoring to E3 after the inning.
Marlins pitcher Henderson Alvarez had landed awkwardly after fielding a high throw (thus the error) from Garrett Jones (who was the starting 1B for the Pittsburgh Pirates when my daughter attended her first-ever Cubs game) giving the bang-bang play even more drama than usual. Of course, I could only see it once in real-time.
Would that I had a large video screen upon which to review the play a couple times to see what had actually happened. As it was, I could only run through it in my head from the one angle my seat would grant. I suppose I could have used our camera's telephoto lens to co-opt the broadcast from the TVs in one of the club boxes up and to our right, but that's a little creepy, right?
In any case, Luis Valbuena was safe at first and Dan Jennings came on in relief of Alvarez, promptly surrendering the go-ahead hit. Of course, that also marked a turning point in the game, which had been motoring right along through its first 6 frames. The last third of the contest seemed to crawl toward a sad eventuality, all excitement sucked from the ballpark.
I'm sure blanket vendors made a killing, but seats in the shade were vacant by the 7th. And by the time my daughter and I marked K's for Rizzo and Castro to officially end the game, maybe one-third of the reported 33,134 remained. Now part of that was no doubt due to the hoards of families lined up down the first-base side of the concourse for the chance to run the bases, a thrill for the parents as much as it is the kids.
We had done that last year, waiting in the crush of people like spectators at a Brazilian soccer match. Ah, but daddy got smart this time, though I guess it was as much luck as anything. I was almost ready to trash the email ad for Clark's Crew when I saw these magic words: VIP Fast Pass for Kids-Run-the Bases on Sundays. Boom, done!
"This is just like Fast Pass at Disney World," exclaimed my daughter as our quartet zoomed past thousands standing and waiting and stepped into a line of maybe 20. The kids ran, my wife snapped pictures, and we walked out to catch our bus back to remote parking, passing the end of the run-the-bases line as we did.
Sitting down to dinner after the game, my wife asked the kids about their favorite part of the weekend. My daughter's answer: "Keeping score of the game with daddy." After scooping up my heart from its puddle on the floor, I agreed with her. I'm far from a perfect father and I mess up all the time, but every once in a while I get something right.
The Cubs lost, I could barely feel my hands by the end of the game, and I still had to make a 3-hour drive home when it was all over. But I'd drive longer to sit through a colder and more lopsided game if I knew I'd get the same response from either of my children.
So if you've never done it before, buy a couple programs the next time you visit a ballpark with your kid(s). It doesn't have to the official one; you can pick up a knockoff and a pencil for $1 apiece outside the gates. I'm not a huge fan of the trophies-for-everyone mentality, but when you keep score with your kid, everyone wins.
Follow me on Twitter: @DEvanAltman
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