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Baseball Basics

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Baseball is the national past-time of America as well as being popular in several other areas of the world. It is not a simple game, though, and it can take years to gain proficiency in watching or playing baseball.

This entry gives you the basics of baseball. If you stumble onto an expression you don't understand, keep reading, and you'll eventually find it explained further on in the text.

The Players

The Offense

The batter and the base runners make up the offense. The batter tries to hit the ball that is pitched, and as soon as he hits a ball that it not fouled off, a play begins. Once a hitter has made contact with the ball he becomes a base runner; the objective being to go round the bases and get home safely for a run.

It is most important to keep your eye on the ball and rotate your dominant hand over the top of your bottom hand for a better swing. The objective when hitting the ball is to make solid contact with the ball. Power is not always the answer.

The batter attempts to run to first base without his ball being caught before hitting the ground and without the ball being tossed to the player on first base before he gets there. If the ball gets to first baseman before the player gets to first, it is called a force out, meaning that it is assumed to be out, where in the other bases, the basemen have to tag the player out.

If the ball goes a long distance, the batter might have the opportunity to go past first base to second, third or home base. All of the bases are lined around the corners of a diamond, and you have to run to first before tagging second, second before third etc. The hitter wants to get as far as possible to get closer to home plate and a run (point) for their team.

The Defense

To stop a run for their opponent, a team must have a good defense.

The first baseman covers first base and is one of the most difficult positions to play because you must be able to catch the ball under any circumstance, such as a one hop or a 90mph throw from third base (like Cal Ripkin Jr, a legend, might have thrown).

The second baseman covers second base and is responsible for when a ball is hit between third and second base. This doesn't happen particularly often though, as left handed hitters, who make up a relatively small percentage of batters, are the ones who tend to hit in the second-third base gap.

The shortstop covers second base when a ball is hit between first and second base. When the ball is hit up the middle over second base - the quicker of the second baseman and the shortstop should go for the ball while the slower of the two should cover second base.

The Third Baseman covers third base and any ball that comes between the third base line and 30 feet towards second base. He also covers any bunts from the pitcher to third base.

The catcher's task is vast; he must watch all base runners and he must know his opponents so he can correctly signal the pitcher. He must have the accuracy of a pitcher and the arm of a centre fielder to throw out any potential base-stealers. He backs up first and third base coverage in case of a bad throw.

The main duty of the Pitcher is to pitch, he takes his cues from the catcher for what kind of pitch to throw (usually with secret finger signals between his thighs). He must watch for signals from his catcher that any base runner is leading too far out and that he should throw to the appropriate baseman to keep the runner honest (to keep him from stealing a base). If the ball is hit to the first baseman and he is too far from the base the pitcher must cover first.

Since pitching is a difficult job, and a pitcher's arm often gets tired, a team rotates this position more often than not. It is relatively rare to see one pitcher finish a game. The pitcher that finishes the game usually comes in late, and is called a 'closer'. It's his job to ensure that his team maintains a lead or wins.

The position of Right Field is played behind first base. The objective of this player is to catch any fly ball or knock down any ball hit in his direction that the infield missed and get it back to the second baseman or first baseman if someone is running home. First and second basemen are considered cut-off men which means they 'cut-off' the ball from the outfield to home for a more accurate throw.

The position of Centre Field is played behind second base. The objective of this player is also to catch any fly ball or knock down any ball hit in his direction that the infield missed and get it back to the second baseman or the shortstop if someone is running home. The shortstop and second basemen are considered cut-off men for the centre fielder.

The position of Left Field is played behind third base. The objective of this player is also to catch any fly ball or knock down any ball hit in his direction that the infield missed and get it back to the second baseman, third baseman, or the shotstop if someone is running home. The shortstop, second, and third basemen are considered cut-off men for the left fielder.

The umpire stands behind the catcher and pitcher to make all the final decisions on whether a base runner is safe or out. Umpires decide if pitches thrown are strikes or balls and if hits are foul or home runs and if there is any interference with a home run. There are also various umpires about the field, at least one at every base. Confused? Keep reading, all the terms will eventually be explained.

Game Play

The object of the game is to score runs. A run is when a hitter/base runner makes it to home base (touching first, second, and third base) without getting tagged out. The hitter must hit the baseball into the field for a hit before they are allowed the chance to run the bases.

In order to hit, the hitter comes out of his team's dugout (a sunken, protected place for players and coaches of the team to sit during the game) alone and steps up to home plate. He stands alongside it, with his bat in his hands. Behind home plate are the catcher and the umpire (like a referee). The pitcher throws the ball in a way he hopes that the batter won't be able to hit it. If the batter makes contact, it can be a hit to the field or a foul if it is outside of the foul line, which is out of play. If it is a hit, the batter drops his bat and runs to try run around the bases. If it is a foul, he tries again, and it is scored as a strike1. If he doesn't make contact, but swings, it is a strike. If he doesn't make contact, but doesn't swing, and the ball is outside of the strike zone, it is a ball. If he doesn't swing, but it is inside the strike zone, it is a strike.

There are nine innings in a game. An inning is where each team gets to play until they accrue three outs in one way or another. Outs can come from any number of ways. If a ball they hit is caught before touching the ground, they are automatically out. A player can also be struck out if they swing at the ball three times and miss, which is called a strike. A strike is determined by the pitch being thrown inside the strike zone. Obviously, batters don't swing at pitches that aren't able to be hit, which don't count as strikes, but rather as 'balls'. But if a batter doesn't swing at a ball that is considered by the umpire to be able to have been hit, it counts as a strike. They can also get the credit of a strike by hitting a foul ball, which is a ball that is hit out of play. A player cannot get his third strike from a foul though, so if a player hits a foul with two strikes, the foul ball is ignored.

If there is a tie getting to first or the umpire cannot determine whether the ball or the runner made it to first base first the runner gets the base by default. A player can also advance to first base by getting four balls when up at bat. This is called a 'walk'.

In the event of a tied game at the end of nine innings the game goes into extra innings until one team is ahead at the end of an inning.


Players score by completing a run, one point is awarded per run. A run occurs when a hitter makes it around to all of the bases and back to home without getting tagged by a fielder with the ball. Another way to score a run is to hit a homerun.

The Field

The field (never called the 'pitch', as that's an entirely different thing in this sport) of the game varies from each stadium, but it is generally designed as a triangle with one end rounded off. Home plate (the place the batter hits the ball) is at the corner of the field opposite the rounded off end. 90 feet away from home plate is first base, 90 feet from that is second base etc. It forms a diamond called the 'infield', where most game play takes place.

Outside the diamond is the 'outfield', where defensive players attempt to catch balls that fly outside of the infield.

Each ballpark has its own contours and its own style that can affect game play. For instance, many balls that could have been home runs in any other parks have failed to make it over the wall at Fenway's tall Green Monster wall.

Some Rules

  • You cannot at anytime ever touch the umpire and if you have the audacity to argue a call with the umpire you will most likely be ejected from the game. This happens frequently with managers and coaches, as well as players

  • If a catcher or baseman catches a ball in foul territory it, is still considered an out.

  • If anyone is on base and the batter hits a fly ball and it is caught resulting in a third out - none of the base runners get points for running home, even if they get to home base before the ball is caught.

  • If you have two strikes and attempt a bunt but the ball goes foul, it is an automatic out.

  • If a runner is running to another base and the batter hits the ball and the ball per chance hits the base-runner; the runner is out.

  • If a batter is hit by a pitch he automatically advances to first base. Years ago, this was known as a 'bean' pitch, which was commonly used to let pitchers intimidate batters or to avoid a batter hitting a home run.

  • If the batter has two strikes and there is a pitch into the dirt but the batter still swings and misses, this becomes a free play. The batter can run to first and the catcher either has to tag him with the ball or throw the ball to first base before the runner gets there.

  • If a player is substituted by another player on the bench he is out for the remainder of the game. Pinch hitters or pinch runners are the usual substitution players.

  • When a hitter runs to first base, he doesn't have to stop at it, like he has to at other bases, and he can't be tagged out after touching first base. Also, the first baseman doesn't have to tag the hitter at first base. It is a 'force out', which means that if the first baseman has the ball in his glove and his foot on the base, the runner advancing to first base is automatically out.

  • Double play is when a runner is on first base, the batter hits the ball and an infielder attains the ball. He throws the ball to second base to force an out on the runner on first base; then the fielder at second base throws the ball to first to force the batter out before he gets to first base. This scenario can take place if the runners were at home and first as above, first and second, or if the bases were loaded (runners on all bases). Basically this results in two outs. Another way to make a double play is if the ball is caught in mid-air and thrown to a base where a runner was before the hit, the runner must return to his base before the ball gets there. If he doesn't tag-up, he is out and of course the batter is out because the ball was caught. A triple play is essentially the same thing, but more difficult and it requires three people to get out.

Baseball Terminology

  • One hop - When the ball hits the ground once and comes your way.

  • Foul - A ball that is hit left of the third base line or right of the first base line. If a ball hits the ground in fair territory and rolls across the foul line before it passes first or third base (without having been touched by a player since being hit), it is a foul ball. However, if a fielder touches the ball before it crosses the foul line, it is 'fair' and a play begins.

  • Bunt - This is when the batter squares his shoulders and faces the pitcher, levels the bat with one hand at the bottom of the bat and one hand towards the top of the bat (but not at the top) and let the ball make contact with the bat. The bat is not moved towards the ball. The batter advances to first base. Occasionally, if there is a bad throw, the batter/base runner may advance to second base but this is rare. This is only used for the fastest players or if there are one or less outs and the team wants to advance runners that are on the bases.

  • Ball - This is a pitch that the batter does not swing at which falls outside of the strike zone.

  • Strike Zone - When the pitched ball is within the width of home base and from the knees to the waist of the batter. Some umpires have differing views on this. For instance, a large amount of umpires extend the strike zone to the bottom of the number on a player's uniform.

  • Homerun2 - When a batter hits the ball out of the park in between the right and left foul poles. If the ball hits either of the foul poles it is still a homerun. This results in an automatic run or score. While the batter gets the point automatically he still must run around the bases and return to home base. Any players on base are automatically driven in, and each number of players on base plus the home run hitter get a point for their team.

  • Designated Hitter - This is a player on the bench whose sole purpose is to bat for the pitcher when it is his turn to bat. Only the American League has this, in the National League the pitchers must bat for themselves.

  • Tag-up - This is what a base runner must do if a ball is caught in mid-air in order to advance. This means he must return to his original base after the ball is caught. He cannot do this before the ball is caught.

  • Strikeout - This is the common term for when a pitcher throws three strikes, making the batter out.

  • Intentional Walk - When a pitcher decides to throw the ball outside of the strike zone to the catcher in order to only give the hitter one base. This is used when a pitcher analyses the risk of a hitter getting better than a single and decides to restrict them to one base.

  • Grand Slam - When there are three players on bases, one on first, second and third, and a batter hits a home run. He drives in all three runs, as well as his own, giving his team four runs.

  • Perfect Game - The most rare and incredible pitching feats in the game. It has happened only 14 times in Major League Baseball History. The Perfect Game happens when a pitcher prevents any player from getting on-base, meaning that there are not supposed to be any walks or fielding errors to let a player on base. This could mean a fair number of strikeouts, which are difficult to do anyway.

  • No-Hitter - Another great feat in pitching is the no-hitter. It means that a batter can't manage to hit the ball through the whole game. It doesn't matter if a player gets on base, because a walk doesn't count as a hit.

  • Steal - When a player is on a base, he is safe from being tagged out, but the player also has the option of running for (stealing) the next base. He usually starts off with a good lead from the base, several feet away. If the player is too far from the base, a pitcher or catcher can throw the ball to the baseman of the base he is leading off. The player can be tagged out or get back to the base before the baseman can tag him.

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1Unless the hitter has already accrued two strikes.2Commonly referred to as a 'homer'.

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