Before spending 27 seasons as the Durham Bulls’ official scorer, Brent Belvin learned baseball from his father.
Belvin grew up in Columbia, S.C., and began playing baseball at age 5, learning how to throw and catch a ball during sessions with his dad. Back in the 1970s, without widespread cable television, baseball fans watched two to three games a week. Belvin said that meant taking advantage of any available game, and that also allowed him to learn to score a baseball game.
“I learned how to score a game from my father from an early age, during the baseball games on Saturdays,” Belvin said. “I probably have those games from the ’70s in my attic somewhere, and I could reconstruct those games from the ’70s just like that.”
Belvin now constructs games himself inside the Durham Bulls Athletic Park press box, deciding hits from errors, keeping up with the length of games and announcing the paid attendance.
But for him, the best part of being the Bulls’ official scorer is turning his passion into a summer job that supplements his income as a social studies teacher in Jordan High School in Durham.
“It gives me what I like to call play money,” Belvin said, adding he is technically an International League employee and is paid $55 a game.
The Bulls recommend Belvin each winter to the International League – “I always get a little nervous before the letter comes,” he said. School sessions overlap with the first few weeks of the season and the final two weeks of the Bulls’ home schedule. In between, Belvin uses the play money earned at the ballpark to take trips with his wife – who is also a schoolteacher – during the summer when the Bulls are not in town.
“Usually in July, there is a long time when the Bulls are away, so we go on an international trip,” he said. “When the Bulls are home, I’m there. If the Bulls are away, I’m away.”
Good timing lands job
Belvin began as the official scorer when he interned at Baseball America magazine as a student at Duke. Then-Bulls owner Miles Wolff also owned the magazine, and the Bulls’ official scorer quit.
“I had always wanted to be in journalism, but Duke did not have a journalism degree,” said Belvin, who graduated with degrees in history and political science. “When the scorer quit, (Wolff) needed someone else, and I filled in.”
Belvin has manned the official scorer’s book ever since, never calling in sick in 27 years and using what he knew from his father and his experiences playing high school baseball in South Carolina to make decisions, most of which are deciphering hits from errors.
“I don’t think you’ll find many scorers who have a set definition on what is a hit and what is an error,” he said. “What I do look for is whether or not a runner is quick, where the runner is, and whether or not a defender leaves his feet.”
Belvin considers most of the same factors between infielders and outfielders, noting that the main difference is the length of runs in the outfield.
For example, Bulls outfielder Mikie Mahtook recently ran into right-center field, close to the wall, and jumped, only to have the ball bounce off the heel of his glove.
Belvin ruled it a hit because Mahtook ran a long way and left his feet to make the play.
Only managers are allowed to file an official complaint with the league about the official scorer’s decision, Belvin said, but he hears second-hand disagreements from players and other coaches. Mostly, the arguments are tame.
Bulls players and coaches argue with Belvin less.
“I don’t know if they know I do this 70 games a season and don’t want to anger me, but I hear more from the other side,” Belvin said. “I’ve never had any real bad arguments.”
Hit or error on no-hitter
One of Belvin’s most impactful moments came in 2006, when Bulls pitcher Jason Hammel carried a no-hitter into the ninth inning. After a hit batter, Columbus Clippers infielder Carlos Peña yanked a ball to first base. The ball rolled under the glove of Bulls first baseman Wes Bankston.
Belvin had a decision to make: Hit or error?
Belvin called it an error.
“(Hammel) was in such a spot, and you don’t want to see a guy lose it all on something like that,” Belvin said, admitting that he thought the play at first base could have been made. “So I scored an error.”
Hammel was taken out of the game, and reliever Juan Salas finished the no-hitter.
“I don’t like shared no-hitters,” Belvin said. “I’ve never scored a nine-inning, one-pitcher no-hitter.”
It’s one of the few things in baseball that Belvin has never been a part of in his scoring career.
“I’ll keep doing it until they get tired of me doing it,” he said. “I love baseball, and I love being able to do this and be a part of it.”
How to keep score
Scorekeepers use a version of shorthand to chronicle offensive and defensive performance. Some chart every ball or strike. They also decide hits and errors, stolen bases vs. defensive indifference, etc. Scorekeepers use a universal system in which each defensive position is assigned a number, 1-9: pitcher (1), catcher (2), first baseman (3), second baseman (4), third baseman (5), shortstop (6), left fielder (7), center fielder (8), right fielder (9). Some use “F” to designate fly ball, “PU” for an infield pop-up or “LD” for line drive. A few examples:
▪ 6-3: Groundout, shortstop to first base.
▪ 6-4-3: A double play, fielded by shortstop, who throws to second, who throws to first.
▪ 3U: Groundout to first baseman, who completes the play unassisted, or by tagging the bag.
▪ F-9: Flyout to right field.
▪ K: Strikeout swinging (a backward K is used for a strikeout looking).