Chicago Cubs' Wrigley Field:The Scoreboard That Keeps Baseball's Beginnings Alive The home of the Chicago Cubs is also home to a living relic: one of the few remaining vintage scoreboards operated by hand.
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Inside Wrigley Field, The Scorekeepers Stay True To Baseball's Beginnings

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Inside Wrigley Field, The Scorekeepers Stay True To Baseball's Beginnings

Inside Wrigley Field, The Scorekeepers Stay True To Baseball's Beginnings

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Baseball's a game that honors tradition, like B.J. Leiderman, who writes our theme music. At Wrigley Field, which is where I believe the world champion Chicago Cubs play, that 103-year-old ballpark has a new seating and dining area, massive new video screen. But near that Jumbotron is a living relic, a manually operated scoreboard. It's one of only two in Major League Baseball, the other, of course, in Boston. As part of our Backstage Pass series, NPR's David Schaper takes us inside the historic scoreboard.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: From a perch high above the center field bleachers inside the massive, forest green scoreboard, Darryl Wilson has a view like none other in the ballpark.

DARRYL WILSON: You see everything. That's the thing about it. You see things that a lot of people don't see just sitting in their seats.

SCHAPER: But he doesn't have much time to enjoy the view.

WILSON: Oh, man. That was a homer.

SCHAPER: The visiting Washington Nationals hit a two-run home run. And it's time to get up and change out one of the nearly 7-pound, 15-by-20 inch steel plates.

WILSON: There's just a small clip. You just turn it counterclockwise.

SCHAPER: But it's not that easy. These pieces are old.

(SOUNDBITE OF STEEL PLATES CLANGING)

WILSON: Most of the time, they get wedged in there 'cause they're a little rusty. So you have to give them a nice, little...

(SOUNDBITE OF STEEL PLATES CLANGING)

WILSON: ...A quick punch to pop them out.

SCHAPER: He then replaces a blank plate with one painted with a yellow number two.

WILSON: Slide it up.

(SOUNDBITE OF STEEL PLATES CLANGING)

WILSON: Slam it in.

SCHAPER: And Wilson then locks that yellow two into place.

WILSON: And that yellow two means the inning is still active.

SCHAPER: When that half inning ends, he replaces the yellow number with a white one, which remains in place for the rest of the game. Wilson and his two coworkers repeat that routine each half inning. That's at least 18 changes of these heavy steel panels in a nine-inning game. And it's not just for the Cubs game. They're doing that for as many as a dozen games that might be going on in Major League Baseball at the same time. Fortunately for them, only 24 of the 30 teams fit on this old scoreboard that was built in 1937.

WILSON: You don't sit down with this. You've got to constantly stand up because when you run to the third floor and come back to the second, you got two more changes. And that constantly happens all the way through. I don't even notice the Cubs game most of the time 'cause it's (vocalizing) running around.

SCHAPER: If it's a hot day, the giant steel box gets stifling inside. Wilson and his coworkers have to wear gloves to change out the scalding-hot steel plates that have been baking in the sun. During those cold days and nights early or late in the season, they're wearing heavy winter coats, ski masks and earmuffs.

WILSON: When it's cold, you don't want this Chicago wind blowing through here because everything in here gets cold. And it blows everything away.

SCHAPER: The only concession to technology here in this scoreboard is 1937 technology. It's that loud electric hum and clank you're hearing from the electromagnetic dots that are flipped into place remotely to form the numbers for balls, strikes and outs.

WILSON: That would be a ball.

SCHAPER: The job does have a few drawbacks, like climbing up the ladder at the top of the center field bleachers and through a trap door to get into the scoreboard.

WILSON: (Laughter) I think they're adding extra steps each year I work here 'cause it's getting rougher (laughter).

SCHAPER: But after 26 years, Darryl Wilson still loves operating this old, manual scoreboard, even if there is a much bigger and brighter video screen just a few dozen feet away over left field.

WILSON: But we're, like, the history. Like, you know, this is keeping it real. You know, this is authentic. That's the feel of old-time baseball.

SCHAPER: And Wilson was thrilled to be up in the old scoreboard to watch last year's run through the playoffs into the Cubs' first World Series championship in over a century. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In the audio version of this story, we report that just two Major League Baseball stadiums have manual scoreboards. We should have noted that just two stadiums – Wrigley Field and Fenway Park – have vintage manual scoreboards. Several other modern stadiums have small manual scoreboards.]

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