Chris Ivy, 74, has been in charge of the manual scoreboard at Durham Bulls Athletic Park for the past 16 years, watching the game from a unique perspective–through an empty spot in the Durham Bulls’ outfield scoreboard.
He has a unique perspective on the game from the manual scoreboard. To his left, tiny voices come out of a small TV, narrating the baseball game happening on the other side of the wall. The crowd roars and he jumps to his feet, swapping out scorecards embellished with large white numerals.
“It’s fun just to hear the crowd get into it,” Ivy said. “Weekend games are really a lot of fun, the more people the better.”
Most sports fans are familiar with an electronic scoreboard. It’s lit up in bright lights and controlled remotely with no delay. A manual scoreboard, on the other hand, relies on someone to place each number in a window by hand for the crowd to see.
Nearly every ballpark in the country used a manual scoreboard before technology advanced and it became cheaper to go digital. You’ll still find plenty of hand-operated scoreboards at every level of baseball, from spring training (JetBlue Park) to MLB (Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, T-Mobile Park) to MiLB (Virginia Credit Union Stadium, Nat Bailey, Jackie Robinson Ballpark, Constellation Field, Fluor Field) to college (Page Stadium, Loyola Marymount) for one simple reason: fans love a manual scoreboard. (These are examples, not exhaustive lists.)
“I think it’s just reflective of the old past and keeping a part of the past going,” Ivy said. “Especially now, baseball has had a lot of changes coming around. I think people like to see some of the old stuff hang around.”
An Entire Story
Growing up in upstate New York, he traded baseball cards with his cousins and played sandlot ball. He admired the professional ball players and dreamed of being a part of their organization someday. But, by the time Little League rolled around, Ivy realized he wouldn’t make the cut. Rather than call it quits, he taught himself how to score a game.
He learned that one scorecard is an entire story, showing triumphs, failures and epic battles between batter and pitcher. In his notebook he keeps all of these stories, waiting for the day somebody, maybe his granddaughter, will ask to hear them.
He held onto his hobby of scorekeeping throughout grade school and college before joining VISTA, where he met his wife, and then turning to a career in social work.
“I wish I had known people could make a living out of (scorekeeping), it seems to be a natural sort of thing for me,” he said.
As a social worker he helped dozens of people turn their lives around. One of them later tracked him down in a grocery store to thank him for his service.
“He’s got this very compassionate side to him that maybe people don’t always see,” said Virginia Ivy, Chris’ wife.
“Mayor of the ballpark”
After discovering an opening for manual scorekeeper at a job fair, he made the ballpark his second home, and its people his second family. His commute from the parking lot to his office can often take several minutes, as Ivy makes it a point to stop and chat with everyone, or hand out an extra ball to an unsuspecting child.
His reputation for friendliness earns him lots of visitors: kids, families, entire youth baseball teams, maybe even a wayward Savannah “banana ball” player looking for shade.
“He’s sort of the mayor of the ballpark, I think of him that way,” Virginia said.
It can be easy to doubt the true impact of a manual scoreboard on a baseball game; after all, there are plenty of computers available to do the job, including a digital scoreboard that operates in addition to Ivy’s manual one. But Ivy knows a human touch is better.
A few years ago the electronic scoreboard was out of commission for several games, meaning the entire stadium was reliant on Ivy. Midway through the game an outfielder became disoriented and lost track of the count. He turned to ask Ivy a question that would make anyone who knows him laugh. “Is that scoreboard right?”
A Family Affair
While Virginia isn’t exactly a fan of baseball, she appreciates the beauty of scorekeeping. After learning this skill from her husband, she was called upon when Ivy had an injury limiting his range of motion. In an attempt to help with the more physical aspect of the job, Virginia found herself peering out of a tiny window, shaking with nerves and thinking to herself that the entire stadium would know if she made a mistake. As the first pitches let fly, Ivy started moving as if a puppet on a string, delicately placing numbers in the correct spots to record hits, runs and errors.
“I wasn’t really any help to him at all, I could lift the numbers for him but that was about it,” she said.
Now one of Ivy’s favorite perks of the job is bringing his granddaughter, five-year-old Georgia, to sit with him during the season. Watching Georgia hold up her stuffed Wool E. Bull to the window so he can see the game reminds Ivy what this is all about.
“I think it sort of brings the community together for certain,” Ivy said. “You’ve got the whole community typically behind your hometown team.”
Bulls’ fans appreciate the nostalgic element their ballpark has, and consider it a unique local quirk.
For the Past 16 years, Ivy and the board have been partners in crime. They’ve seen it all: wins, losses, injuries and celebrations. The pair stand the test of time. Even so, Ivy’s wife notes that he’s 74 years old, and not getting any younger. But, his legacy is one that will remain for much longer.
“People come up to me in restaurants and say ‘you took me and my kid back there five years ago and he still talks about it,’” Ivy said. “So in my mind that will perpetuate my legacy a little longer.”
This article is courtesy of UNC Media Hub, where students are hand-picked from various concentrations in the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media work together to find, produce and market stories with state, regional, and at times, national appeal.