mud hensMajor League Baseball is now about a month into its marathon season, and I’ve been enjoying watching the D-Backs on my iPad, very often with Micah. He especially likes when they’re in San Francisco since he likes seeing the Coke bottle and huge mitt beyond left field.

The D-Backs are still over .500. Never mind that the front office shipped off one of my favorite players in Justin Upton over the offseason. Also never mind that he’s tearing it up in Atlanta playing alongside his older brother. Anyway, I’ve been enjoying watching baseball, but I miss going to the games. I used to take in about five games a month. Not Major League games, of course. I’ve never lived in a Major League city. It’d be too expensive regardless. No, I miss going to see the Mud Hens play.

Before the iPad and before MLB began streaming live and archived video, I used to listen to the radio broadcast. We moved from Arizona to Toledo in 2001, the year the D-Backs won it all. That season I would listen to games while I worked at the office. We didn’t even have a computer at home at the time. Eventually we would get one and I would print blank score sheets so I could keep score. I’ve always been much more visual, and it helps to “see” the action on a score sheet.

A few years later the D-Backs were terrible, and Curt Schilling, World Series co-MVP, left for Boston. Eventually, Randy Johnson, the other MVP, would leave too, to play for the loathsome Yankees. But I still listened to games. Though I can’t remember why I wanted a different one, I searched online for a better score sheet template. It didn’t much matter. The D-Backs would continue to play terribly, losing 111 games in 2004.

In my search, I ran across a link for scorers needed in Toledo. Baseball Info Solutions was recruiting people to chart minor league baseball games. They weren’t looking for scorers necessarily. That would have been easier. Still, I thought I might be able to do it, despite that I’d never actually played baseball. I’d been watching and “listening” to plenty.

Tracking Every Play

I was charged with tracking every play, including every pitch. I didn’t have to note pitch location, which would be impossible from a seat in the stands. TV cameras are better for that. I notated every hit, whether a ball was, in my estimation, a line drive, a fly ball, or a pop up. I charted on a field diagram either where the ball was caught or where it hit the ground. I kept track of “good plays,” when a fielder made an exceptional play. I noted when the catcher blocked pitches in the dirt and when first basemen scooped errant throws from the other infielders. There were more notations, but I can’t remember them. It’s been almost four years since my last game.

It was a pretty easy gig. I didn’t get paid much considering the time I put in. But I’d sign up anytime I could get paid to go to a baseball game. Most summer nights at the new(ish) stadium in downtown Toledo were gorgeous. Of course, being from Arizona, I liked the heat. But there were some rough games in April, at least one of which had to be called because of snow. I always had to wait around for an hour after an initial delay to make sure a game would be canceled. Though I could hide from the rain, there was no way to hide from the cold.

A Little Help from My Friends

Earlier in the season it was usually easy to get an extra ticket or two near my seat. I was always seated about six rows up from the backstop, just to the right of the home dugout on the third base side. I would bring one of our girls to a game, a sort of bring-your-daughter-to-work outing. Other times I’d bring a friend or two. I couldn’t always chat because I had to pay attention, but we always had a good time.

Once, I invited a few guys to come. They all lived in the suburbs west of the city, so they agreed to hop in a minivan and pick me up on the way. I was getting anxious as I waited for them because they were late. I had to account for every pitch when I would input into my computer the data that would be transmitted to BIS. My friends finally arrived, and we sped to the stadium. We were still cutting it close, so I said to my friend who was driving, “Hey, would you be able to drop me right there at the gate. I can’t miss the first pitch. Your tickets are waiting at will call,” which was down a little farther.

I’d gotten there just in time. I was still writing in the lineups on my sheet when they met me at my familiar seat, beers and hot dogs in hand. I’d been frazzled earlier but was relaxed once the first inning was over. One of the guys had assumed I was a huge Mud Hens fan because I “had to be there for the first pitch.” He didn’t know I got paid to chart the games. So he was confused when he’d asked, “So how’re the Mud Hens doing this year?” To which I responded, “I don’t know. I don’t really care if they win or not. I don’t follow them in the standings.”

The Gambler

Triple-A baseball is high-caliber, just shy of the Majors and far less expensive to take in. Plus, there were always Major Leaguers making rehab starts in Toledo. I remember one time arriving for a Sunday afternoon game just in time for the first pitch. I scribbled in the lineups, not recognizing the unfamiliar Toledo pitcher named Rogers. Must be a new prospect from Double-A, I thought, though he did look a little old. The crowd went crazy when he picked off a runner at first and went further insane when he departed after just three innings. I consulted my phone and realized it had been perennial All Star pitcher Kenny Rogers, who would go on to win Game 2 of the World Series for the Tigers and was, it seemed, the only Detroit pitcher in that series not to make a throwing error.

In 2009, when we realized we’d be moving to the Dayton area, I was thrilled there was a minor league team where I could continue to get paid to watch baseball — at a smaller Fifth Third Field. Alas, I discovered the Dragons to be a Single-A team, and BIS only works with Double-A and Triple-A teams.

So, I miss regularly going to baseball games. But we’ve been able to see the Dragons a few times and a couple Reds games a year down in Cincinnati. We’ll see the D-Backs visit in August. Hopefully both teams will be vying for a playoff spot. Maybe someday we’ll live in a Triple-A town again, where the baseball is affordable and always a great time.