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Score a Baseball Game

Sunday, April 10, 2005; Page M03

Now that the District has its own boys of summer, baseball fans can head to RFK Stadium for evenings of homers (we hope) and hot dogs (a must). But locals who've grown rusty on the game -- Washington's last team, the Senators, skipped town 34 years ago -- or new fans looking to figure out the national pastime may need to learn the basics of tallying who's on first.

"Keeping score is a great way to learn the game," says John Dever, the Nationals' director of baseball information. "It's a way to chronicle what's happening. It's like telling a story." When the Nats take the field against the Arizona Diamondbacks for their first home game Thursday at 7:05 p.m., be ready to keep score like a pro.

Scorecards help you follow the game -- not to mention they make better souvenirs than those cheap plastic cups. (Nate Lankford For The Washington Post)

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LINE 'EM UP. Get a scorecard. Many programs sold at games come with a double-sided card, making it easy to track each team's progress by flipping the card between innings. You also can print your own scorecards online. As the game begins, write each team's batting lineups down the left-hand sides of the cards. Be sure to note each player's name, position and number -- that will make tracking lineup changes easier. You'll be working top to bottom through the lineup, then from left to right through the nine innings (each of which has its own column).

LEARN THE POSITIONS. Fielding plays are identified by player position (Nos. 1 through 9, see diagram), so you need to learn how to code them. In the infield, the pitcher is No. 1, the catcher is No. 2, and the first, second and third basemen are Nos. 3, 4, and 5, respectively. Shortstop is No. 6, and the three outfielders are, from the left, Nos. 7, 8 and 9.

FOLLOW THE BALL. Watch each play, and mark what happens on your scorecard. Each square of your grid has a diamond that represents the bases on the field, so you can outline each batter's progress as he advances. Signify hits by marking "1B" outside the diamond and outlining one leg of the diamond for a single, "2B" with the two right-hand borders traced for a double, and so on. If the batter crosses home plate, color in the diamond to indicate a run scored. But if he makes an out, use the numerical position codes to indicate how it happened. Let's say the pitcher fielded a grounder and then threw the ball to the first baseman, who tagged the player out -- you'll fill in the box with "1-3": pitcher (1) to first baseman (3). Other shorthand to know: A walk is marked "BB" for "base on balls," a strikeout gets a "K," and a "looking" strikeout -- one on which the batter doesn't swing -- gets a backward "K."

MOVE ON UP. Once you've got the basics down, try a few advanced calls. These describe not what happened, but why it happened. Professional scorers use these to note, for instance, whether a player gets credit for a hit. Learn the "fielder's choice" -- here a batter could have been thrown out, but the fielder chose to throw out another base runner instead. To mark this on your scorecard, trace over the line from home plate to first base, but mark it "FC" instead of "1B." Another common designation is the "intentional walk," or "IW," which you'd use instead of "BB" when a pitcher deliberately pitches four balls to send a batter to first. Sacrifice flies ("SF") and bunts ("SB") identify plays where a batter popped a ball up or gave it a short hit into the infield, but was thrown out, in order to advance other players.

ADD IT UP. Official scorers keep track of each player's hits, runs, runs batted in (RBI) and other statistics. Use the boxes at the far right side of the scorecard to keep a running tally for each player -- times at bat, runs, hits and RBI -- and then total them up at the end.

PERSONALIZE YOUR SYSTEM. No one's going to read your old scorecards (except perhaps you), so feel free to improvise. "There's no right or wrong way to keep score," explains Alan Schwarz, author of "The Numbers Game: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination with Statistics." He adds, "It's very personal." Rachel F. Elson

MORE INFORMATION. The best way to learn is just go to a game and practice. But if you want more tips, these resources can give you an assist.

Major League Baseball (mlb.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/mlb/official_info/baseball_basics/keeping_score.jsp).

The Baseball Scorecard (www.baseballscorecard.com).

"The Joy of Keeping Score: How Scoring the Game Has Influenced and Enhanced the History of Baseball" by Paul Dickson (Harvest Books, $11).

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