Ah . . . the great American pastime. I can hardly hear the word baseball without the strange aroma of bubblegum, sunflower seeds, and hotdogs filling my senses. It is obviously much more than that though. As a spectator, it is a day with Dad in the bleachers, listening to his philosophies that range from a good "change up" delivery to why mom gets so mad when you ignore her. It is a day of hotdogs and peanuts, or an afternoon with a brother, spouse, or girlfriend. It's watching your son or daughter, their small hands wound tightly around the openings in the chain link fence, their noses pressed through the gaps as their favorite batter comes to the plate, the game on the line.
As a player, there is the rush of the game on your shoulders. Certainly, the game of baseball as a whole takes a team to win, but more so than with most any other team sport, the game rests on the shoulders of individuals. One man at bat, and one man pitching. When the ninth inning roles around, and your team is down by a run, you come to bat feeling a little more alone than in any other sport, for better or worse.
But for those of you who came to learn a little more about how the game is played, and a little less about the philosophy of the sport, here are a few rules to help you enjoy the game (it is not as daunting as it may seem). Certainly baseball has its intricacies- and they are many- but the basic rules are simple. So just refer to the picture below, and hopefully I don't confuse you too badly before all is said and done.
1. There are always at least 10 players on the field at all times, 9 "fielders" (those on defense wearing gloves) and one batter. There may be more players on the field if there are any base runners (those batters who have reached a base safely). The team hitting wants to, yep, hit the ball and run around the bases until they get home, while the fielders want to stop that from happening by getting three "outs" (we'll get more into that).
2. The field is made up of the infield and outfield. The infield is where you see the bases and the dirt area. The fielders in this area are called . . . infielders (gasp). The pitcher stands on an elevated mound, the batter to either side of home plate, and the catcher (the player wearing all that protective gear) is crouched behind home plate. The outfielders are those three players outside of the infield, way out in the grass. So , that's the layout. Simple enough, right?
PITCHING AND BATTING
4. So here we go, "Play Ball!" The pitcher throws a pitch towards home plate. Each pitch will either result in a strike, "a ball", a hit, or a fowl ball (lets not worry about this one just yet). A strike is when the ball crosses over the home plate diamond somewhere between the batter's knees and chest. A pitch that is too high, low, or too far to either side of the plate, will result in "a ball", unless the batter swings. If the batter swings at any pitch and misses, it will be called a strike.
5. Each batter gets three strikes to hit the ball and then he is called "out". The pitcher can throw four "balls" (bad pitches that the batter did not swing at) before the batter can just walk safely to first base and become a baserunner. If any baserunner is already on first, that player will go on to second base to make room for the new baserunner. Got it? Good.
6. So what about when the batter hits it, you ask? Good question. Well physics dictates, there are really only two types of hits; those that go up in the air, and those that do not. If a ball goes really high, you might hear it called a "fly ball" or a "pop up". A ball that goes neither way up or right down to the ground, but instead flies straight is typically called a line drive. Makes sense, no? If any fielder catches that ball before it hits the ground, the batter is "out" and does not get to stay on base.
HITTING AND BASE RUNNING
7.Also, to prevent all the other possible base runners from just running all around the bases while the ball is in the air, they cannot run from their base until the ball is caught. Once it is caught, they can run freely if they think they can reach the next base before a fielder throws them out. If a runner does leave their base while the ball is in the air, and that ball is caught, they must attempt to "tag up". That just means, they must run back to the base they were on before a fielder with the ball touches that base, or they are out.
8. So what if the ball is hit on the ground, and no one catches it? Glad you asked. In that case the runner must attempt to reach first base before a fielder throws the ball to the first baseman and he steps on the bag. If the first baseman touches the bag, while holding the ball, before the runner reaches it, the runner is out. Likewise, if the runner reaches the base first, he is safe and can stay there. Now, if the batter hits the ball well, he may be able to reach second, third, or even run all the way to home and score a run. You are not limited to one base. And if you hit the ball over the fence? Well congrats, you just hit a homerun and you get to trot yourself around all the bases, as do any others who were on base at that time.
9. Almost done, I promise. Any base runner can be thrown out. If that base runner is between bases, a fielder with the ball can touch the runner and he will be called out. Now here is the only slightly tricky part to remember; only one base runner per base. That means, if a player is on first, and a batter hits the ball, the player already on first must run to second or be called out. The batter cannot touch the base until the other runner has left it. In that case, since the player already on base is forced to run, the fielders do not have to tag him, but only need to have the ball and touch the base he is running to before he gets there. It's called a force out, and only pertains if the runner is forced to run because the runner behind him must reach the base he was just on. For example, if a runner is on second, and no runners are on first, when the ball is hit, the player on second does not need to run. He can stay there because the batter can reach first base without the player on second needing to advance to the next base. Not too tricky I hope.
10. Have I confused you yet? Don't worry too much about all the little rules too much. You get the hang of most of them as you watch. The game is divided into nine "innings". You take turns batting and fielding. One team fields, trying to get three outs, when they do, it switches, and the other team goes out into the field and tries to get three outs. Each cycle is an inning, or in other words, when both teams have had a chance to hit and field, it is called one inning. The most basic rule you need to understand is this: the base runners want to get around all the bases and reach home, and the fielders want to stop them by touching them with the ball in their gloves. That's really it.
When it is all said and done, just enjoy the game for what it is. No one would ever accuse the sport of baseball of moving too fast, and while this is bothersome to some, to me it is why it is the perfect sport. Unlike how life can often be, baseball is slow. It is a chance to talk, to enjoy a lazy afternoon, where the spouse can talk about work, and I can listen, and not worry about missing the next play. How often have my brother and I worked out all of the world's problems in those three hours or so of watching one man threw a white ball at another. All right, maybe we did not work out all of life's problems, but we shared a laugh or two and we certainly grew closer. Sooner or later, the game has ended, your team lost or won, but it is a long season, and there is another game tomorrow. In fact, there are 162 of them in professional baseball!