What's the score?

June 01, 2003|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

With its balks, infield flies and other quirky rules, baseball is confusing enough.

Then, in Hagerstown, there's a malfunctioning scoreboard that sometimes gives Suns' fans an extra dose of perplexity.

Take Thursday's game against the Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws. In the eighth inning, Lakewood designated hitter Ryan Barthelemy clubbed a home run that tied the game at 5 - or so the scoreboard seemed to say.

But the scoreboard told a little white lie - or, more accurately, a little dark lie.

A missing light bulb turned the lighted squarish 6 in Hagerstown's runs column into a squarish 5 with a stubby tail - a half 5, half 6 hybrid.

However, that didn't appear to faze the fans. They've long understood that the runs totals on the scoreboard appear in the 10th inning column instead of the "R" - for runs - column, which is out of order.


Over the last few years, different parts of the scoreboard have shone and faded, worked and broken down. The most important numbers - the score - are sometimes readable, sometimes not.

The Suns and the city government, which owns Municipal Stadium, have worked together on quick fixes. They've relied on a national scoreboard manufacturer for spare parts. But that supply has gone dry, and no one's sure what will happen next.

The Suns pay the city $1 per year to use Municipal Stadium. In return, the team maintains the ballpark.

One exception is the scoreboard in left field. The city owns it "and shall perform minor repairs ... as needed," the lease says.

However, if the scoreboard must be replaced, it's "the sole responsibility" of the team, according to the lease.

Mayor William M. Breichner said a local Miller beer affiliate donated the scoreboard about 20 years ago. He remembers it being worth about $100,000.

The city had been without a minor league team from 1955 to 1981 when Louis Eliopulos moved a Florence, S.C., team to Hagerstown and refurbished Municipal Stadium, according to the team history at the Suns' Web site,

The electronic scoreboard was donated around that time, the mayor said.

Before 1955, the score at the stadium was kept manually, Breichner said. Someone would hang a number on the scoreboard for each run, hit or error.

For the last five years or so, the electronic scoreboard has acted up continuously, Junior Mason of Hagerstown's parks and recreation department said.

"There are three control packs," he said. "They keep going bad. We return them and have them rebuilt. Now, they can't repair them. There are no parts."

Suns' General Manager Kurt Landes and some steady fans agreed Thursday that the scoreboard is in its best condition this season.

"Right now, we're in a pretty good situation with the scoreboard functioning and we're pleased with how it's operating," Landes said.

In their familiar rooting spot - behind home plate, leaning on the home dugout roof - Suns' fan club members spoke about the scoreboard's miseries.

Jim Brown of Rockville, Md., said it was "horrible" last year, but appears to have improved.

Others agreed, but mostly shrugged off the failures, since this was a good night.

"As long as we can see what the score is, that's fine," club President Gary DeWeerd of Hagerstown said.

Club members are prepared for the bad days, too - they listen to the play-by-play radio broadcast while they watch the game.

Breichner, an occasional fan, said the scoreboard looks passable now, but he and Landes agreed that it's wearing out and needs attention.

"If things keep going (wrong), it will have to be replaced ...," Breichner said. "It would be impossible to repair."

One possibility is to revert to a quaint hand-operated scoreboard, a system still in use at Chicago's Wrigley Field and considered one of the ballpark's charms.

Landes said that would tie in nicely to a new Suns' push to highlight their past. This year, the team set up seven markers to honor President George H.W. Bush's visit to Municipal Stadium, the game Baltimore Orioles' pitcher Jim Palmer played in Hagerstown and other aspects of the team's history, Landes said.

Club Vice President Gary Gysberts of Hagerstown said the scoreboard problems aren't as important as the uncertainty about a new stadium, which has spurred the last two owners to say they might move the team to another city.

Any kind of improvements to the stadium might help, Gysberts said.

"I hate to even say these hated words, but - (why not) a refurbished stadium AND a new scoreboard? ..." he asked. "I want the Suns to stay here, whatever it takes ... (but) other things are more important than the scoreboard."

Gysberts kept a watchful eye on the action as he spoke.

"Good time for a dirt ball, Read!" he bellowed at Lakewood's pitcher amid a Hagerstown rally.

DeWeerd has visited other minor league ballparks. He said he's seen fancy scoreboards in Reading, Pa., and Lexington, Ky.

One would be nice here, but the Suns probably don't want to sink a couple hundred thousand dollars into an amenity like that.

Landes said that's exactly right, particularly until the stadium issue is settled.

"You don't want to put a million-dollar scoreboard in the current facility," he said.

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