Talking Baseball with Greg Bancroft

Distrustful ByronBaseball season is underway, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled to find Byron excitedly grabbing his Twins jacket from the first day of Spring Training. He points out baseballs when he sees them and says, “baseball,” and carries his Twins train around with him. (I think this was a toddler pun acknowledgement of Spring Training).

From his expression, you can see that he’s a bit worried about the Twins, who trailed in the standings the last two seasons. He’s got the combination of hope and distrust any fan has at the beginning of a long summer rooting for a hapless team. But I’m excited to take Byron to a game when he can follow along and cheer for the home team. And it’ll be even more fun when the Twins’ own Byron comes up to the bigs!

My "score card" for the rematch game in Mudville (contains spoilers)
My “score card” for the rematch game in Mudville (contains spoilers)

It won’t happen this season (neither Byron is ready for a big league game), but when it does, I plan on teaching the kid how to keep score. I didn’t learn until I was an adult, but it’s opened up a lot of insight into the action on the field. For that matter, keeping score is a great way to keep track of games I’m writing about in my baseball books. I’ve done at least partial fictional score cards for every game in all seven of my baseball books, and the Mudville scorecards went through many iterations before the chapters came together around them. Writing up scorecards helps me keep the lineup straight, the right number of outs, etc.

I recently had an enjoyable talk with Greg Bancroft, a local kid lit author whose first picture book celebrates the art of keeping score while telling a sweet story about family and tradition. I mentioned it before, but the book is officially available today! Here’s Greg talking about the themes of Betsy’s Day at the Game.

Any thoughts so far about the local nine? Will they be back or will be watching them scuffle for another season?

Greg Bancroft

This might be a watershed year for us. We could be like the Chicago Cubs or Boston Red Sox until ten years ago. The Cubs have loyal fans, a great venue and cute logo (important for selling merchandise). They don’t win many games, but people just love hanging out at the park. The Red Sox  have great fans, a wonderful venue and cute logo, but the difference is their fans were constantly frustrated; some years they’d get close to the World Series, others they wouldn’t. Boston fans were left hoping and are somewhat anxious. Cubs fans just have fun. It’s been so long since they’ve had winning teams, they don’t seem to worry much about World Serries playoffs. The Twins have had winning seasons in our recent memory (even two World Series championships) that leave us still hoping, too. If this year turns out to be a bust, we might just go the route of the Cubs – we’ll hang out at a beautiful venue, have fun, and not get anxious again. Or, if we have a winning year, we could hope against hope that we end up in the Series. Either way, it’s still exciting.

There’s a saying that keeping score is the difference between watching a game and seeing a game, and that’s definitely been true for me. I get a lot more out of it when I keep score. Do you remember any insights into the action on the field that you would have missed if you weren’t keeping score?

Keeping Score
Photo by Adam Fagen 

It always helps me to get a sense of the strategy, when I keep score. If I see that a particular batter has struggled at the plate, I can imagine the pitcher throwing more breaking balls (maybe out of the strike zone) to get the batter to chase bad pitches and so strike out or put it weakly into play for an easy out. Likewise, if a batter is hot, and I’m rooting for the batter, I might anticipate a hit and run situation where I know he’ll put the ball into the gap as the runner takes off – and likely score him. That’s the geekiness of baseball that I love – and could easily miss were I not keeping score!

Keeping score can also be quirky. I like learning about people’s idiosyncratic methods. For example, I had a friend who put “WW” in some boxes for “Wasn’t Watching.” A character in my own book You’re Out uses the notation “BC” for “Blown Call” (and he uses it a lot!) Do you have any trademark Greg Bancroft score keeping methods?  

I do. If a batter is intentionally walked I put BB on my sheet, but the second “B” is printed backward. If the batter strikes out, I put a “K” –  but if he swings and misses, I put a backward K (letting me know that he at least tried). Keeping score allows a person to literally illustrate drama, suspense, and a range of human emotions that might otherwise lie dormant in our daily experience. Who knows? We might even need to keep score at a baseball game to ensure our mental and emotional health….

Betsy's Day at the GameYour book is also about baseball as a way that brings generations together. How has that happened in your family?

My family has put notes into the margin of our scorebook for years. We can see the history of our family through the lens of baseball. In fact, when I pitched (sorry for the pun) the book to Scarletta Press, I opened my scorebook to a game to show them what I was talking about and it turned out to be the week that our son had announced his engagement to our daughter-in-law. My grandfather and I spent lots of time talking about games when I was a kid. My son and I spend some time on every phone call during baseball season talking about the week’s games. My daughter shares my grandson’s new uniform and little league games with me over her picture phone. One of the most amazing events happened when I was sitting in my son’s chair in Washington DC with my newest grandchild on my chest. I turned on the TV to an Atlanta Braves game. I saw my son-in-law, his friend, and my other grandson in the front row of the stands. I called him, he was surprised, and he waved. Three generations, two grandchildren, all sharing the same game – across hundreds of miles.

Betsy’s Day at the Game also celebrates a baseball memory a girl will probably have for a long time. What’s your favorite baseball memory?

Leaving school early to go to a World Series game with my grandfather when I was in Junior High. I don’t remember if it was the game where Bobbie Allison made his highlight-film catch or if it was the day Sandy Koufax threw a three-hitter on two day’s rest. Either way, it was thrilling to be with him, at a game (and a World Series game at that!), in the fall. The Twins were new to our town and had hit the scene with a bang. All that summer, they had been the talk of the town. And that fall, there I was, at a World Series game!

Thanks for stopping by, Greg, and hope your scorecard is filled with black diamonds for your first book.

You can find out more about Mr. Bancroft and Betsy’s Day at the Game right here. This is also one of many stops on his tour of the blogosphere. See the rest of his itinerary here.

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