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MILLVILLE, NJ - Fresh-cut grass -- a hint of warmth in the air -- newly-lined base lines -- the snap of leather -- the crack of the bat.

It's early, spring training has yet to begin, but many are eager for the national pastime to begin. It's a ritual. We long for our childhood. We know it's over, however, as spring approaches, we long for the pitchers to take to the mound, the fielders their positions, the batter his place, and the umpire to call, "Play ball!" We remember our childhood.

It was 30 years ago when I first saw a professional ball game. I was entranced by the sight of the field from behind the 300 level at the Vet as we entered.

It was the time when there were twilight doubleheaders, 50-cent seats for children, and the immortals still roamed the diamond.

Roberto Clemente was my favorite player, only because my father told me he was so good. Yes, in those days fathers and sons enjoyed a game together.

My friend, David, and I reveled as the organist played the "Charge" theme. It was childhood and all was perfect.

Baseball still connects us to this time. Our adult lives seldom seem as carefree as the time we would spend all day playing the game, even if right field was closed because we did not have enough players. Yet spring offers us a respite from reality as we float back to our bubble-gum cards and the idolization of our superstars.

In spring, our team is in first place and hope abounds. I long for the first game in order to begin anew what brings such happiness ... score keeping.

My mother taught me how to score. I have long lost the scorecards from the Carlton-thrown and Schmidt-whacked games of my youth. Oh, but to re-live those games.

Yet, each year, I break out my scorebook and begin again the passion. Keeping score connects a fan to the game unlike any other activity. One re-plays the game with the same passion that the swing of the bat and the toss of the ball originally brought. Non-scorers do not quite understand.

There is no "right" way to score. Some record only the result of the batter. Others track each and every pitch. Whatever the method, a scorecard is as magical as the hot dog and the caught foul ball.

As you hear of the pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, treat yourself to a visit to a sporting goods store to buy a scorebook.

Spend a few minutes looking over the recommended method the book provides and then tune into the game of the week.

Childhood is back.

This article originally appeared in Daily Journal on 15 February 2001.

Last Modified: 3 Jun 2001