Bethany Heck is the impetus for scorekeeping week. She is a graphic designer whose Eephus League Baseball Scorebook Revival project on Kickstarter, seeking funds to help produce a reimagined and better-designed baseball scorebook, has bounced around the baseball blogosphere for a couple weeks. It even captured the disconnected and rarely timely imaginations of Ted and myself. She is also behind the Eephus League, an online repository of stylish baseball artifacts. Bethany and I discussed scorekeeping in terms of baseball fandom, and her own unique project.
Eric: Tell us about your website, the Eephus League. It’s stunning full of great design, great images, great everything. But what exactly is it? I don’t even know where to start.
Bethany: Well, it is a hard thing to describe, isn’t it? It’s about everything and nothing. It’s a safe haven for all the random things that occur in and because of baseball. There were so many things about baseball that I loved, but no one site to house them all, and none of them allowed user participation either. So I made the Eephus League to fill that selfish desire!
Eric: So out of a clearing house full of marginalia, novelty items, and other disconnected treasures comes an ambitious, artistic, and clearly very popular mission to redesign and essentially restart the baseball scorebook?
Bethany: Yes. Scorekeeping has always been something that interested me from a record keeping and visual standpoint, and I love looking back at older scorebook designs. They were so much simpler, and you can see why more people kept score back then. Then I look at today’s scorecards, with 50 subdivisions per batter, per inning, and well… it’s not fun. It’s not inviting. And come on, those books are hideous. I wanted something that would make not only scorekeeping, but baseball cool again.
Eric: When and how did you learn how to keep score? Was it love at first filled-in diamond?
Bethany: I wish I had a romantic story about my first experience, but it was at Fulton County Stadium with my father, I was probably 7 years old, and after getting t shirts, pennants, and a duffle bag at the gate, we sat down and he pointed out the scorecard to me, explained a few things. I didn’t keep it up for long, but that was my first experience. I did it off and on until I started working on the Eephus League last summer.
Eric: Were there any particular scorebooks that influenced you? Or even non-baseball material, as you came up with the aesthetics for your own? Ted said they reminded him on the outside of moleskine notebooks.
Bethany: Well Ted is definitely correct about the influence of Moleskine sketchbooks. Once I decided that I was going to make scorebooks, I looked at the different sketchbooks on the market and Moleskines were my favorite. I used that as a size basis and for things like the flap in the back to hold extra materials. The question I asked myself was “if Moleskine made a scorebook, what would it look like?” There are some older scorecards that were pocket sized that were especially inspirational. Teeny tiny grids and limited columns, and you realize that scorekeeping only has to be as space-consuming as you want it to be.
Eric: Why scorekeeping in particular — why should the masses be taking it up? And what’s lost when we don’t keep score by hand?
Bethany: Why doesn’t everyone keep score? Baseball is a relaxed game, it’s mostly downtime, and scorekeeping is a great way to fill the empty spaces. To start over, I focused on scorekeeping because I think it’s an incredible art that’s dying. It’s rare that you see someone keeping score at a game, and the ones you do see are mostly older folks. And the current scorebook designs are not something you can just plop in a teenagers lap and say “hey, have at it!”
Eric: Speaking of the artistic aspect, I remember playing high school baseball, and one of our coaches had this palm pilot-y electronic thing we had to use to keep score. It was so embarrassing to sit in the dugout and punch numbers on it with the little stylus like some sort of lost field engineer. Then again, I had terrible hand-writing. So I guess it was fine in that respect.
Bethany: That’s rough. Scorekeeping needs to be done by hand, in my opinion, or with some sort of calligraphic input. It’s like a secret language that is passed along, and everyone adds their own little bits to the vernacular.
Eric: Are there any especially awesome or unique flourishes you’ve come across? Any odd bits of slang?
Bethany: There are so many! I heard recently from an Eephus League member who draws a line past first to indicate a single, and the line stop at the base for a walk. Things like using an exclamation point to note an exceptional play on the field are great. Some people use dots to indicate balls thrown, slashes for swinging strikes, and so on. I love that stuff.
Scorekeeping is storytelling, at its heart.Eric: What is it about visual design that can elicit that kind of expression? What I mean is, why does your version of the scorebook allow for people to keep score artistically, while another version makes for a dull coding experience. Is it simply space?
Bethany: I think it has to do with the overall presentation of the page. I was careful to keep generous margins and to have minimal extra content in the grid. When you add that stuff, you’re almost telling someone how to score. “Put this here.” I hope my design encourages more freedom of expression.
Eric: How can scorekeeping be a social act, an act of sharing and community?
Bethany: I think any time you’ve got a group of people together keeping score, you’re going to have an exchange of technique. “How did you score that? Hey, what do the dashes mean?” I also want to add a section to the Eephus League site that chronicles different notation techniques. You might come across something that makes perfect sense to you and decide to use it or adapt it for your own use. I also love seeing completed scorecards that other people have kept, so that is a very social thing for me. Scorekeeping is storytelling, at its heart.
Eric: How has the reception been so far for the scorebook project? As of now, you’re well past your Kickstarter goal.
Bethany: The reception has been far better than I could have hoped for. When I started the project, a friend saw the amount I was aiming for and was extremely doubtful that I’d make it. I sold over 530 scorebooks through pre-orders in a week, and it’s not even baseball season yet. I’m so overwhelmed. People say they are going to use it for their first scorebook, which is so exciting for me.
Eric: What are you doing about production? I imagine you aren’t handcrafting all 530 before Opening Day…or are you?
Bethany: Hah, thankfully I don’t have to. I have a local printer who is going to print all of the books. The only sacrifice I had to make was the stitching down the side. It’s going to be stapled 3 times instead. It won’t hurt the function of the book, thankfully, it will still be plenty sturdy. I do have to make the bands for the outside and the reference cards all myself, so that’s going to be fun.
Eric: Why Kickstarter? In retrospect, it was obviously a great decision, but did you know that this was the kind of project that could kick up grassroots support? Or was it more of a “what the hell, let’s see what happens” kind of thing?
Bethany: Definitely more of the latter. I knew I had a large amount of money that was going to be required to get the books made, and I really didn’t have a good feel for how many I should be producing. Kickstarter was a chance to solve both problems. When I submitted the project, I didn’t expect them to accept me.
Eric: I didn’t realize it was a competitive thing — I thought anybody could get on there within reason, and then the people spoke for themselves. So you had to sell Kickstarter on this idea?
Bethany: In a way, yes. You tell them about the project, how much you want to raise, etc. They have certain restrictions about what you can and can’t raise money for.
Eric: So what’s next? I imagine you will be taking this project beyond Kickstarter, and maybe even perhaps the initial scorebook offering?
Bethany: Well, the end goal is to get MLB licensing and to offer books with the correct colors for every team, team logos on the book, and seating charts in the pages where you can draw in where you sat. But for now, I’ve got to sell a lot more scorebooks!
As of this writing, Bethany has just about doubled her fundraising goal of $10,000, but if you want, you can still donate — and lay claim to your very own Eephus League merchandise, over at Kickstarter.