Get paid to watch baseball. It's a dream job for many fans of the national pastime, but it's a reality for 80 correspondents for mlb.com, the official Web site of Major League Baseball.
Each correspondent, or stringer, is paid $100 per big league game -- and lesser amounts for Triple-A contests and others -- to punch in coded information for Gameday, mlb.com's live pitch-by-pitch account of big league games.
One of the masterminds behind Gameday is Las Vegas resident Hank Widmer, who still enjoys scoring 51s home games -- with his son Steve, a UNR student, and Joe Loera -- for mlb.com and helped create the concept while working for now-defunct North Carolina company Total Sports, which began offering its own version of Gameday in 1998.
When MLB started its own Web site in 2001, it purchased the Gameday software from Total Sports and hired Widmer to run it. Widmer, senior stats supervisor for mlb.com, said he worked virtually every day of the 2001 season to improve the site and has continued to refine it.
In addition to basic information for each game -- including lineups, weather and umpires -- the enhanced Gameday also shows the location, speed and trajectory of each pitch. Player statistics are displayed when the mouse is placed over each position, and the text and other aspects of Gameday have been continually enhanced.
"We spent an incredible amount of time refining it and getting it down," Widmer said. "It looks better and it's more sophisticated, with a scrolling scoreboard and better graphics. We're also working on making it even faster."
Widmer said each pitch and/or play is displayed on Gameday less than seven seconds after it occurs and is typed into the computer.
Rare delays in the system happen if a stringer has to await an official scorer's ruling on an unusual play. Each stringer also keeps a paper scoresheet during the game.
Typically two or three stringers will split time at each ballpark, and the varied group, which features 10 women, is comprised of lawyers, writers and others.
Not surprisingly, Widmer said nearly half of the stringers hired in 2001 remain on the job. When a position opened up at Boston's Fenway Park, he received over 1,000 resumes.
"Normally people want to keep doing it and they're sad when the season's over," Widmer said. "It's a great job. I love coming out to the park and being at the games.
"I can see why people want to do it year after year. When they leave their real job, they head to the ballpark on a nice summer night."
Steve Widmer, 20, and Loera, 34, said the toughest aspect of the job is learning the 1,500 different codes used to score a game, along with keeping the scoring current, especially after a delayed ruling by the scorer or a mass substitution.
Each prospective stringer must study a 75-page manual and score one practice game per week during four months of training before they're allowed into a park. Even then, a supervisor will oversee the stringer to make sure the game is being scored correctly.
The scoring process isn't as simple as it seems.
For example, in the first inning Monday night at Cashman Field, the 51s' John Lindsey reached base on a fielding error by Rainiers third baseman Mike Morse and Delwyn Young then scored on a throwing error by Morse. The code Loera punched in looked like this: E5/G.2-H(E5/TH)(UR)(NR), which stood for a fielding error (E5) on a grounder to third base (G), Young scored from second (.2-H) on a third baseman's throwing error (E5/TH), the run was unearned (UR) and there was no RBI (NR) on the play.