Keeping score at Wrigley Field is old-fashioned

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CHICAGO -- Inside a dusty, dimly lit chamber of steel catwalks, Darryl Wilson peers out a square hole and into one of baseball's most revered shrines.

For 23 years, Mr. Wilson has been a scoreboard operator at Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. Running the tall, green manual scoreboard is one of the most unusual jobs in baseball -- or anywhere -- and it's a symphony of the senses.

Each run and every inning, there is a flurry of activity and cacophony of noise inside as scoreboard operators yank metal plates with numbers on them out of the scoreboard and slam others into place. The room suddenly fills with what sounds like a thousand angry bees. This is the result of a finger pressing a button in the far-off press box behind home plate that sends an electrical charge into a panel of half ball-shaped "targets," causing specific ones to flip so that they add up to form the number of the batter, and the number of balls, strikes and outs.

About the only thing that's changed -- besides the green paint to cover what was a white scoreboard when it was erected in 1937 -- is that the scores coming in from, say, Baltimore or St. Louis no longer arrive via a tickertape machine that once spat out reams of paper. They now pop up on the screen of a laptop computer that's a bit out of place atop a dusty counter near Mr. Wilson's duct-taped seat.

"I feel unique," said Mr. Wilson, who works the upper reaches of the scoreboard, tracking games around the majors and changing scores and pitchers' uniform numbers when managers in those games bring in relievers. "When they made it a (historic) landmark, I'm like, I guess I'm a landmark, too."

With Boston's Fenway Park and Wrigley the only stadiums in the majors with manual scoreboards, Mr. Wilson's job is all but extinct. It's a job largely shrouded in mystery, but the Cubs allowed The Associated Press a rare visit to mark the 100th anniversary of Wrigley's first game.

From his small window, Mr. Wilson has watched some of baseball's greatest sluggers step into the batter's box, which explains why things occasionally back up a bit. He saw Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa's home run duel, for example.

"No scores would go up when those guys come up to bat because you knew there was going to be some monster home runs coming," he said, smiling.


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