Arithmetic pitched here, no spitballs or beanballs allowed

"Multiplier up!" the umpire yells. The count is 3x7. Come again? 3 balls, 7 strikes?

No, the pitch is 3 times 7.

"Twenty-one," hits . . . er . . . shouts the batter. And it's a double down the left-field line.

The action is fast but the calculations are faster for the more than 20,000 youngsters age 6, 7, and 8 who will discover this summer that learning arithmetic -- when combined with the game of baseball -- is fun.

The youngsters, "mathletes," will participate in a Math Baseball League based on an educational game developed by two Nashville, Tenn., teachers and cosponsored by 10 major league baseball clubs, the St. Regis Paper Company, and local participating YMCAs.

Instead of hitting balls with bats, the youngsters swat addition, multiplication, subtraction, and division problems shown on flash cards or on an overhead-projector screen.

One player from each team approaches the "batter's cage," which is composed of a table with two chairs. In front of each chair is the "bat," a bell or buzzer. The first player to ring his or her bell gets to answer the question on the flashcard.

If the player "hits" (answers) the question correctly, the umpire turns it over and reads the number of bases the answer is worth. Depending on how fast the "pitch" was (the difficulty of the problem,) a math baseball batter can earn anything from a single to a home run.

Two baseball diamonds are set up in front of the batter's cage. Although the diamonds are not full size, they are big enough so that the imagination of a six-, seven-, or eight-year-old is translated to the ball field. The players then advance to the corresponding bases they have succesfully hit to.

To judge by the intense concentration of the "little mathers," it is all big-league competition to them.

The season runs through the summer and helps counter what many math teachers consider a major problem: the fact that kids forget so much math by September it is like starting from "first base" all over again.

Also used in more than 4,000 classrooms last year, the math game employs the same rules as baseball to make learning basic skills an exciting activity. A typical comment by teachers is that "it's a really exciting way to do an otherwise dull thing -- drill math. It's the biggest incentive I've come across in eight years of teaching."

Suzanne Stamas, math specialist at the Washington School in Mt. Vernon, N.Y., boosts the game because it "combines mental and physical exercise, [the kids actually run around a baseball diamond] a combination children at this age don't get enough of in school. They think they are math wizards, and this is exactly what teachers want them to think."

The first Math Baseball League started in New York with Hall of Famer Monte Irvin, one of baseball's most versatile players, serving as the first commissioner. This will be his, and the league's, fourth season.

Monte Irvin says, "Math baseball works because it makes learning interesting and fun. It ties together two things most kids love -- baseball and competition -- so they don't even realize they're practicing arithmetic."

Major league stars George Foster of the Cincinnati Reds, Steve Garvey of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Terry Puhl of the Houston Astros, all of whose endorsements of the game help provide motivation, will help sharpen math skills by "pitching" a few innings this summer for the Math Baseball League.

And a math baseball world series is expected to be run in New York, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Seattle, and Toronto. The season will culminate with a trophy ceremony held in the stadium of each respective ball club prior to a regular baseball game.

Elimination games prior to the math world series are generally run as an educational/recreational event by the YMCA during summer day-camp sessions.

"Play math!"

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