What is Baseball?
Affectionately known as “America’s National Pastime”, the sport of baseball is now one of the most popular international sports in the world. While its exact origins remain a bit murky, the old ballgame traces its roots back to the British game of rounders, which spread to colonial America in the early 19th century. While famous inventor Abner Doubleday may not have been the true pioneer of baseball, the history of the game remains deeply intertwined with American culture.
Baseball is truly a mental and physical sport. Simply hitting a 100 mph fastball is one of the hardest feats to accomplish across any sport for the average human. However, the mental discipline required to stay focused during each pitch across each inning of each game throughout an entire season can be an even more difficult task.
While the game of baseball has changed immensely over the decades, baseball remains a dominant sport at both the youth and professional levels, and everything in between. With professional leagues spread across eastern Asia and many Hispanic countries, modern baseball is truly an international game.
Rules of Baseball
At its core, the basic concept of the sport involves a player from one team tossing or “pitching” a ball towards a player from the other team who will attempt to hit or bat the ball to score points for his team. The team that pitches the ball is also known as the fielding team as it will attempt to field each ball and prevent the batting team from scoring. Each of the two teams alternate batting and pitching / fielding each half-inning, which ends when three outs are recorded. After both teams have a chance to bat and have gone through their three outs, then an inning is completed.
There are several ways that an out can be recorded. The most popular out is the strikeout, which occurs after three strikes during an at-bat. A strike is called if a batter either swings and misses at a pitch, fails to swing at a pitch that is in the “strike-zone”, or hits a ball that lands in “foul territory”. Batters can also hit a fly-out, which is a ball caught by a fielder from the opposing team before it hits the ground, or a ground-out, which is a ball that hits the ground first but the batter does not reach first base before the fielding team has thrown the ball to first base. Outs can also be recorded when a runner on the batting team is thrown out on the basepath.
Teams score a run when a batter or runner has advanced across all four bases and safely reached home plate. Each team receives credit for all runs scored during each inning prior to recording three outs. A standard game if baseball is played in nine innings, but generally a game can only only end if one team has more runs than the other team. When the score is tied after the bottom of the ninth inning, then the game will continue indefinitely into “extra innings” until one team achieves more runs at the conclusion of each inning.
At any given moment in a game, a baseball field will have nine players on the fielding team and one – four players on the batting team. However, there are specialized roles or positions for each player.
Fielding team positions include:
- Pitchers, including starting pitchers and relief pitchers.
- Infielders, including third baseman, shortstop, second baseman, and first baseman
- Outfielders, including left fielder, center fielder, and right fielder
Batting team positions include:
- Each one of the nine fielders has a turn to hit in the batting order or lineup.
- In some leagues, a designated hitter (DH) hits in place of the pitcher.
- Players can also be substituted out by using a pinch-hitter for a batter or a pinch-runner for someone on base, and the player substituted out of the game must then also be replaced defensively in the next half-inning.
How to Participate
From tee-ball to senior leagues, there are baseball leagues serving every type of competition level and age group. Most baseball beginners will start off playing Little League in elementary school or middle school. High school players will participate in a Babe Ruth League, and may even go on to compete at the collegiate level in NCAA baseball.
Of course, many dream of making it to the Big Leagues and playing professional baseball in the MLB, or Major League Baseball. Most professionals start their careers in the minor leagues or may even compete in an international league outside of the United States.
The game cannot be played without a ball, traditionally made of a cowhide cover. The casing is one of three components of a baseball, surrounding a wool and yarn mix and an interior rubber core. An MLB baseball is between 9 and 9 ¼ inches in circumference, and weighs between 5 and 5 ¼ ounces. Baseballs also feature sewn red seams or stitches which allow pitchers to gain movement and throw different types of pitches. The average baseball game can go through dozens of balls during the course of gameplay.
At the professional level, baseball bats are made of wood such as ash or maple, and the earliest bats were often made of hickory. Since the 1970’s, most players growing up and playing through college will use an aluminum or composite bat.
Baseball gloves are made from leather and will vary in size and shape depending on the position, such as a stiff and heavily padded catcher’s mitt. Gloves are typically oiled and broken in over time to accommodate the fielder.
Catchers wear a special facemask in addition to a chest protector to help protect against errant pitches as well as swings from the batter. Batters themselves wear helmets while hitting and running the bases.
A baseball field or diamond requires clearly marked and standardized bases and basepath, foul lines, a pitching mound and rubber, and separation between the infield and outfield. Other typical field accompaniments include a scoreboard, dugouts, batting cages, and a bullpen for pitchers to warm up.