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The ritual—and the scrutinizing of morning box scores is just that—begins over the second cup of coffee. The Fan has already read the accounts of the previous night's games and may even have sneaked a peak at a few of the boxes. Couldn't wait. But now it's time to get serious and read every name, every number and every line, right down to T—2:24. A—30,811.
Leading off, at the top of the column, is Kansas City-Boston, a 7-3 Red Sox victory. The eyes move first to the third line under Kansas City, which reads: Brett 3 1 1 0. The Fan wonders when George Brett is going to stop fooling around with the low .300s.
Then The Fan becomes methodical. He starts with Willie Wilson—4 0 0 0, an ominous note on which to begin any K.C. box score—and proceeds down the list of names. The Royals, who are slumping, had only six hits off Dennis Eckersley (W 10-7) and Bob Stanley (S 7). Six singles, it turns out.
The Red Sox half of the box is more interesting. The 4 2 2 1 next to Dwight Evans' name is further evidence that he's continuing his slow climb toward .300. The best Boston line is next: Rice 3 1 3 3. After a quick check on Yaz—Ystrzmk 4 0 1 0—The Fan continues down the row of names, breezes through the summary underneath the line score and then shakes his head when he comes to Vida Blue's performance in the pitching box—Blue (L 6-7) 1 6 5 5 2 1.
The Fan then notices the pitching line for Bill Castro, a recent K.C. acquisition who has performed competently in his few appearances. Castro's line reads 6 5 2 1 0 5. The Fan can't imagine how a soft thrower like Castro could accumulate five strikeouts in only six innings. Oh, well, he thinks, maybe Castro has picked up a new pitch.
The Fan lifts his cup, takes a sip and gives the Red Sox-Royals box one last glance before moving on to Detroit-Minnesota. Total time elapsed: 43 seconds.
For serious fans of the national pastime, reading box scores is like spending a day in the bleachers. One such enthusiast is Jonathan Schwartz. By profession Schwartz is a New York radio personality, novelist and columnist for the weekly Village Voice, but his true mission in life is to root for the Red Sox. Consequently, he reads boxes religiously.
"They are a language like music," Schwartz says. "They are the only American language ever invented. We speak English because of the British. Music is universal. Everyone has politicians and poets. But box scores are indecipherable to anyone else on the planet."
Schwartz has a point. If a Phillies box score includes Carlton (W 17-9) 9 3 1 1 2 1 1, The Fan can visualize Silent Steve, that large man with the unchanging, blank expression, standing on the mound, methodically pumping fastballs and sliders past hitter after hitter.
Or The Fan could be perusing a Milwaukee box and see the summary beside Cecil Cooper's name: 5 3 3 4. He considers Cooper one of the five best baseball players in the world, and these four numbers reconfirm his opinion for another day. In his mind's eye he sees Cooper leaning back in his odd, lefthanded stance, then uncoiling and slashing a double for two runs into the right center-field gap.