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Keeping score: One of baseball's unique, enduring traditions

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    John Heckert, 14, of Swanton keeps score as the Toledo Mud Hens play Louisville Bats on Friday at Fifth Third Field.

    BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH

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    Don Leonard's scorecard from a recent Mud Hens game. In the third inning, the "WW" stands for "wasn't watching."

    THE BLADE/JOHN WAGNER
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    John Heckert, 14, keeps score during Friday's game.

    BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH

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    John Heckert marks his scorebook during Friday's game between the Toledo Mud Hens and the Louisville Bats at Fifth Third Field.

    BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH

When Don Leonard attends a Mud Hens baseball game, he brings along his scorebook.

And that can lead to a problem: What if, during the game, he needs to go to the concession stands to buy popcorn for his wife, Anne Spenny?

“I hand the scorebook to Anne, and I show her where she needs to keep score,” Leonard said. “One time, she printed ‘out’ and put a dot where the out occurred.

“So I had a dot out in center field, so I guess that’s a flyout. Another box had two dots, so I think that’s a groundout to shortstop. If there would have been a double play, I suppose that would have been three dots.”

Unfortunately for Leonard, there was one game where his wife neglected to write down what happened. So she resorted to the famous scorekeeping ploy used by Yankees announcer Phil Rizzuto on plays he forgot to mark in his scorebook, and she put “WW” in the boxes for each batter.

WW? Shorthand for “wasn’t watching.”

Leonard obviously is part of a dying breed who choose to follow the more than 150-year-old tradition of keeping score at baseball games. So is John Heckert, a 14-year-old from Swanton who learned at age 6 the intricate combination of numbers, letters, and lines that turn what appears to be hieroglyphics into a detailed recreation of a contest.

VIDEO: John Wagner, John Heckert go over their scoring methods

“I always have loved baseball, but it was tough to just watch for three hours,” Heckert said. “If you’re keeping score, it’s more exciting: You’re doing something on every pitch, on every play.

“It helps keep me more engaged in the game, especially at the game.”

Leonard agreed that keeping score helps him stay mentally involved in a baseball game, but that is not the only reason he keeps score.

“You can see if a guy already is 2 for 2 with a double and a home run,” he said. “But long-term, I like to go back in my scoreboard and look at the games. For example, I can thumb back in my scorebook and see the names of guys we watched at Fifth Third Field who are now in the big leagues.”

To prove his point, Leonard found a game in which Toledo played Louisville in 2011, and the Bats’ lineup that day included Yonder Alonso, Zack Cozart, Todd Frazier, and Devin Mesoraco.

RELATED: How to keep score at a baseball game

Heckert said some of his most prized scorecards hold that same value for him.

“I was at the game where Nicholas Castellanos made his major-league debut,” Heckert said. “I followed him when he was in Toledo, so it was exciting to me to see him make it to Detroit. I was also at Francisco Lindor’s major-league debut, and he singled — and then tripped over first base. I will never forget that. He tried to trick the umpire into thinking Miguel Cabrera tripped him, but it didn’t work.

“And my family and I attended a game in Pensacola a few years back, and the pitcher had a no-hitter through eight innings. I kept score, and now it’s a record of something cool that I saw.”

Both Leonard and Heckert said they do not keep score for every baseball game they watch.

“If it’s more of a social situation, I might not keep score,” said Leonard, a Sylvania resident who is the vice president of engineering at Midwest Security Products. “But if we’re there just to watch the game, it’s relaxing to keep score.

“It’s my engineering background, the documentation and keeping stats. I enjoy doing it.”

Heckert said there is only one circumstance that will keep him from scoring a baseball game.

“If I can watch the entire game, I will keep score,” he said. “But if I can only watch a few innings, I won’t. I don’t like having an uncompleted scorecard. If I’m at a game, I don’t keep score pitch by pitch because I might miss a pitch while I’m eating a hot dog. If I’m at home, usually I’ll try to do pitch-by-pitch.

“Sometime I might just keep track of balls and strikes, and sometimes it will be a more advanced pitch by pitch — that way I can tell if a batter has been down 0-2 in each of his at-bats, or if pitchers are getting ahead in counts or having to battle from behind in the count.”

Like DNA, every person’s scorebook is different. And both Leonard and Heckert said they do have individual idiosyncrasies in their scorekeeping.

“Besides the HDD and the SPOG?” Leonard said with a laugh, admitting that he keeps track of the winner of the Hens’ hot dog derby race, and which opposing player is subject to the team’s strikeout player of the game promotion

“I do like to include the players’ batting averages and on-base percentages entering the game next to their position,” he added.

Heckert said he will put stars in the boxes to mark key plays.

“If there’s a great defensive play, I’ll put a star by it,” he said. “If there’s a great baserunning play — say, a rundown where the runner really worked it to allow teammates to advance an extra base, or if a runner got a good jump and advanced an extra base — I’ll put a star next to it.”

“If there’s something specific about a play that I enjoyed, or that I thought was really well done, I’ll put a star next to it.”

Heckert, who would love to make a career in baseball — he has umpired games featuring players older than him, and he would love to become a statistician or sports writer — said he does not expect to stop scoring games any time soon.

“When I look around, I usually don’t find a ton of people keeping score,” he said. “I’ll talk to people who ask me about keeping score or want me to show them how to keep score, and I’ll try to help them learn.

“The only way I’ll ever stop keeping score at games is if they stop making scorebooks. I want to keep it alive.”

Contact John Wagner at jwagner@theblade.com419-724-6481, or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.

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