Keeping Curve’s official book a labor of love
Like a lot of adults who keep score of baseball games now, Dick Wagner started when he was very young.
“I first started keeping score of games for the old National Amateur Baseball Federation Tournament, back in 1959, when I was 11 years old,” said the 65-year-old retired Altoona Area School District teacher. “I got paid a buck each game then – 50 cents by the NABF Tournament and 50 cents by the Altoona Mirror for turning in the scoresheets to them.”
Though the pay wasn’t great, Wagner always enjoyed the hobby, and five decades later, he parlayed his experience into a job as one of the Altoona Curve’s official scorekeepers.
Wagner and Ted Beam have shared official game scorekeeping duties at Peoples Natural Gas Field – formerly Blair County Ballpark – for many years.
Being a scorekeeper requires focus, said Wagner, who operates the balls, strikes, hits, runs and errors categories on the PNG Field scoreboard.
“You have to pay attention, it’s more of a concentration level than anything else,” he said. “I know there are times during the game when I’ll miss a ball or strike on the scoreboard.”
Beam, 61, also a retired AASD teacher and current Blair County Commissioner, has been serving as the Curve’s scorekeeper for 14 years. He began by keeping the scorebook for Altoona Little League and Minor League games as a high school student back in the late 1960s.
“Years ago, I used to keep score of games in front of the television when I watched [Pittsburgh] Pirates games,” he said. “It makes the game interesting, and it helps people learn the game.”
Beam does a conscientious job of attempting to make the correct calls on all of his scoring decisions at the Curve games. often referring to both the baseball rule book and supplemental book on baseball scorekeeping that he keeps handy with him at all times in the press box at PNG Field.
“There are days when the game goes smoothly, and there are other games when things crop up that you’ve never heard of,” he said. “You refer to the rule books all the time because you want to be right and you want to be fair.”
Major sticking points are hits that are ruled as errors, or vice versa. Scorekeepers’ rulings can affect things like earned run averages for pitchers and batting averages for position players.
“Sometimes, managers and coaches will question our decisions, and usually when they do, it affects somebody’s earned runs,” Beam said.
He recently ruled a hit on a gray-area ball that Curve players and coaches felt should have been ruled an error, resulting in five earned runs charged to the Altoona pitcher.
“Had I ruled it an error, it would have been only one earned run,” Beam said. “But I thought it was not an ordinary play to make.”
Wagner and Beam have the benefit of replay review on most plays.
“But there are still times when the camera is trained somewhere else and they don’t have the replay for you,” Wagner said. “For the most part, though, we have a computer screen in front of us and we can normally see the replay.”
Charlie O’Rourke, 47, of Warriors Mark, keeps detailed pitch-by-pitch and spray-chart reports from Curve games and sends them via computer to a company called Baseball Info Solutions, which analyzes the data and disseminates it to various major and minor league baseball teams for scouting purposes.
“The company was advertising on Craig’s List for a scorer for Curve games five years ago,” O’Rourke said. “They sent me a disc, asked me to score a major league game, graded me and hired me.”
For O’Rourke, Wagner and Beam, being at the ballpark and keeping an official scoresheet is a labor of love.
“It’s a fun job,” Wagner said. “You’re out in public, you get to meet an awful lot of people, and it’s a great atmosphere at the ballpark. It beats everything.”