Thursday, May 31, 2012

Baseball for Dummies

Baseball is a relatively simple sport to understand, but after my last "dummies" post (the extremely confusing sport of rugby), I could definitely use a chance to write about something simple! So here's my take on "Baseball for Dummies," accompanied by some of my pictures from the recent BYU baseball game against Santa Clara.

Baseball diamond

The sport of baseball is played on a "diamond" with an "infield" (the area inside the bases) and an "outfield" (the area outside the bases). There are 2 teams with 9 players each-- a pitcher, a catcher, a first baseman, a second baseman, a third baseman, a shortstop (he stands between second and third bases), a left fielder, a center fielder, and a right fielder. They also have an additional teammate called the "designated hitter," whose sole purpose is to take a turn batting when it would normally be the pitcher's or another weaker batter's turn. A designated hitter does not play in the field on defense.

The team who scores the most points (or "runs") wins. The two teams take turns "batting" (trying to hit the ball, run around the bases, and score points) and "fielding" (pitching, catching, throwing, and trying to get the other team "out"). The players on the batting team must take turns "at bat" in a designated order that continues in a rotation throughout the entire game. A game consists of nine "innings" (unless the score is tied at the end of the ninth-- then it can go into extra innings until someone comes out in the lead). Each inning has a "top" (first) half and a "bottom" (second) half. After the fielding team has gotten three players from the opposing team "out," that half of the inning is over, and the team in the field and the team at bat switch places. Each team gets one turn batting per inning.

There are 4 "bases"-- one on each corner of the diamond (first, second, third, and home plate). The "pitcher's mound" is located in the middle of the infield. The "pitcher" stands on the pitcher's mound and throws the ball over "home plate," toward the "catcher," while a member of the other team stands in front of the catcher and tries to hit the ball with a bat.

Umpire, catcher, & batter at home plate
Each pitch is either a "strike," "ball," or a hit. If they swing and miss the ball, it's always a strike. If they choose not to swing because they think the ball was thrown poorly, the "umpire" (like a referee) who stands behind the catcher determines whether it is a strike (a good pitch that could have been hit) or a ball (a bad pitch that was outside the zone of where a good hit could occur). The batter can be deemed "out" in several different ways:

1. If they hit the ball, but it is caught before it hits the ground.
2. If they get three strikes.
3. If the ball is thrown and caught by the defensive player on a base before they can touch it (called a "force out")
4. If they are tagged with the ball when running between bases

If there are 4 "balls" before there are 3 "strikes," the batter automatically gets to "walk" to first base (without any chance of getting "out"). The batter also gets to walk if the ball hits them anywhere on their body when it is pitched. If there was already another runner on first, he will advance to second base, the second-base runner will advance to third, and so on. Runners only have to advance to the next base if there is someone behind them who must advance. For example, if someone at bat hits a "double" (they get all the way to second base on their first hit), and the next player hits a "single" (they only make it to first base), the first batter can choose whether to try to run for third base or stay where they are (depending on what they think their odds are of getting tagged out). In that case, the runner on second would have to get tagged out before reaching third base-- it could not be a "force out" because they are not required to run to third.

If the batter succeeds in hitting the ball but it goes outside the baselines, it's considered a "foul ball" and counts as a strike, unless they already have 2 strikes-- in that case, they just get a do-over. If the ball is hit inside the baselines (in "fair" territory), the batter runs as far as they can counterclockwise around the diamond, through first, second, and third bases, and back to home plate without getting tagged or forced out. The team in the field tries to catch or pick up the ball and throw it to another player on their team to either tag or force the runner "out," preferably before they reach first base.

If the ball is hit but is caught before it hits the ground, all base runners must return to the base they were on when the ball was pitched (called "tagging up"). If the defensive player on that base catches the ball before they return, it is a force out. 

Bases can also be "stolen," which means the runners can try to advance to the next base anytime there is a bad throw or pitch and the other team is scrambling to pick up the ball and get it back into play, or if they think the other team just isn't paying enough attention. 

If the runner makes it all the way back to home after just one hit, it's a "home run." That usually only occurs if the ball is hit over the fence. A home run hit with runners on all three bases ("bases loaded") is called a "grand slam". If the game ends (in the bottom of the ninth) with a home run or a grand slam, it's called a "walk off home run" or a "walk off grand slam," respectively. A base runner who touches home plate without being tagged out or forced out after touching all 3 previous bases scores a "run," and their team gets one point. Grand slams send 4 runners home, resulting in 4 points. The team in the lead after the bottom of the ninth inning wins the game.

Ok, maybe baseball was a lot more complicated than I thought! It's really not as bad as it sounds. Maybe I'm just not in touch with my good technical writing side today. Oh well. In my opinion, baseball is sometimes a lot of fun to watch and can be really entertaining, but there can also be long stretches of boredom, when almost nothing happens, and games can sometimes seemingly go on forever. But it's still definitely worth watching once in awhile, and it is a great excuse to spend some time outside on a nice spring day. :) Go Cougars!

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