What is baseball?

Baseball is a bat and ball game which consists of two teams battling it out against each other on a pitch. Each team consists of nine players, and the teams take it in turns to either bat or field. The pitch is marked out with four bases, a batting plate, a pitching plate, infield and outfield. The bases are angled at the corners of a ninety-foot square, which is referred to as the diamond.

The team which is batting will send up a batter, who is thrown the fist-sized hard ball by the pitcher on the fielding team. The batter attempts to hit the ball hard enough with a cylindrical bat that he or she has the opportunity to run around the bases and progressively try and score a ‘run’. This is achieved when the batter passes all four bases, in the process advancing counter clockwise around the diamond. The fielding team tries to get the player ‘out’ through a number of options.

The game is made up of nine innings. Each inning, both team will field and bat, and the inning will only end when three members of the batting team are out. There is no time restriction on the length of an inning, or on the length of the entire game. The winner of the game is the team which has the most amount of runs after the nine innings have been played. If the home team is in the lead after the first part of the final innings has been played, then they are deemed the winner and play does not continue. If the home team takes the lead at any point in the second half of the final innings, then play is stopped and they are confirmed as the winner. If there are any additional innings played, then the team that comes out ahead in this extra innings is the winner.

The baseball field explained

Baseball Field

Baseball Field

In general, baseball fields do not have to stick to a strict set of rules or guidelines. This means that the heights of fences, stands or other obstructions are not regulated and will vary. The field itself is made up of two main areas:

The infield

This is the part of the pitch which contains the four bases. These bases are marked first, second, and third, and the fourth is referred to as ‘the home plate’. The bases are cushions raised slightly from the ground, and are 38 cm squares. They are informally referred to as “bags”.

Technically the infield consists of the area within the bases, and is bounded by the foul lines and the grass line.

The outfield

This is the grassed area composing the rest of the field beyond the infield grass line. It is marked by the foul lines and the fence. Technically, the outfield is all of the area which lies beyond the square bases of the infield. The area between the foul lines, including the foul lines themselves, is called ‘fair territory’, and the rest of the outfield which lies beyond the foul lines is classified ‘foul territory’.

The fielding team

It is the goal of the defending team to try and get three members of the batting team out. Within the fielding team, there are nine defensive positions which are laid out across the field. They are called the pitcher (1), catcher (2), first baseman (3), second baseman (4), third baseman (5), shortstop (6), left fielder (7), centre fielder (8) and the right fielder (9). Henry Chadwick established the numbering convention of the game, but different teams may use alternative schemes.

Only two of these members have a set location; the pitcher and the catcher. Where the other seven stand is not determined by the rules, but they must be in fair territory when the pitch is delivered and must never stand in the area between the pitcher and the catcher. The other seven members are free to move around the field as they choose, and will move according to the situation of the game or in response to a specific batter.

The ‘battery’

The ‘battery’ is the term used for the pitcher and catcher combined. The main job of the pitcher is to pitch the ball towards the batter, who attempts to hit the ball. He or she will try and pitch the ball in such a way that the batter is not able to hit it cleanly or, ideally, will not be able to hit the ball at all (known as a ‘strike’).

Pitcher

The pitcher must always keep one foot on top of or on the front of the pitcher’s runner, the plate positioned on top of the pitcher’s mound, throughout the pitch. This means that he or she can only take one step forward or backwards when pitching the ball. The pitcher will also work for the fielding team by trying to throw the ball towards the home plate to try and get the batter out, fielding batted balls, covering any bases if so required or backing up any throws.

As a game will usually contain over a hundred pitches, the team will typically use multiple pitchers during a game. There are no rules which limit the amount of pitchers used, but there are restrictions on the number of players in the squad.

There are different types of pitches which are used and most pitchers will try and master one or two different kinds as part of their attack:

  • Fastball – The ball is thrown at a particularly fast speed.
  • Curveball – The ball curves in a rotation due to the way the pitcher throws it.
  • Change-up – Produces a pitch which is very similar to the fastball but has a considerably slower velocity.
  • Submarine style – Achieved with a sidearm or near-underhand motion. It is particularly difficult to hit due to the angle the ball travels and its movement once released.
  • Knuckleball – Held by the tip of the fingers and thrown gently towards home plate in the hope that the wind or other forces will move the ball around in an unexpected pattern.
  • Cutter – A pitch that cuts in one direction with exaggerated movement.
  • Slider – A less violent type of cutter, will slide slightly away from the expectant direction.

Catcher

The catcher has to try and catch the pitch if the batter does not hit it. He or she is also responsible for fielding the area around the home plate, and stands in a crouched position behind the home plate ready to catch any missed balls.

The catcher will call the game with hand movements. These signal to the pitcher what type of pitch to throw next, and where to. If the pitcher disagrees with the call, he or she will shake off the call by shaking his or her head. If the call is accepted then the pitcher will nod his or her head, and this will indicate to the rest of the fielders what the next pitch will be. Each team has their own set of hand signals to keep the other team guessing. However, the number one is almost universally used to signal a fastball. The role of the catcher and the hand signals becomes more important during crucial moments in the game, and how he or she responds will often dictate how the game progresses.

The infielders

The first, second and third basemen, and the shortstop make up the infielders. The first, second and third basemen are the first line of defence for the fielding team, covering the three bases and the area which surrounds them.

At one time, the shortstop played defence in the area between the second and third base and the pitcher’s box, or wherever else he or she was required in this area of the infield. However, this method of fielding has progressed over the years to the umbrella formation which is seen today. In this arrangement, the first and third basemen are generally positioned slightly towards the second base, near to their own bases. If the ball is hit of the ground by the batter, or in ‘bunt’ situations, then the first baseman has to pick the ball up and try and get to the first base before the batter. This baseman is also responsible to fielding any balls which are hit near to the first base. The third baseman has to field the area near to the third base, and often has to make long throws to the first baseman to try and get the batter out. The second baseman will stand to the right of the second base and is positioned further away from his base than any of the other infielders. He or she will cover the area between the first and second base, and will act as a backup for the first baseman in bunt situations. The shortstop stands to the left of the second base, and fills the gap between the second and third bases. He or she is responsible for fielding this area, and for providing back up to the second and third baseman if they leave their bases.

The outfielders

The three outfielders are the left, centre and right fielders. The right fielder defends this part of the outfield, and attempts to make throws to batters who are running to the third base to try and get them out. The centre fielder covers the largest part of the outfield, and has to try and defend all balls which are batted this way. The left fielder covers this side of the outfield, and in general does not require an especially strong arm. However, he or she needs to be able to throw the ball quickly and accurately and catch proficiently, as many balls are sent this way due to the number of right-handed hitters. Any of the outfielders will also sometimes be a back up for any of the infielders who have to leave their bases.

Getting batters out

There are various ways in which the fielding team can get the batters and baserunners out:

  • Catching – The most common method is catching a batted ball in the air before it hits the ground.
  • Tag Out – If the baserunner is touched by a fielder who is holding the ball and he is in ‘jeopardy’ then it is called a tag out. Being in jeopardy means not touching a base, being forced off a base, not touching a base when passing it or not touching them in the right order, touching a base which the proceeding runner is also touching, or not remaining on the base once the ball has been caught by a fielder.
  • Force-Out – If the runner is forced off their base due to another baserunner coming up behind them and they are caught out at the next base, they are said to have been forced out.
  • Strike Out – If the batter receives three strikes then they are automatically deemed out, known as a strike out.

The batting team

It is the goal of the batting team to try and score more runs than the opposing team. The batter will try to hit the ball hard enough to allow the baserunners who are already positioned on the diamond to proceed around the bases, or to become a baserunner themselves in the hope of scoring a run.

The batter will try and hit the ball into the fair territory so that the fielding team cannot catch it or get them or any of the other baserunners out. If the batter hits the ball over the wall then this is termed ‘a home run’. If the batter hits a home run when all the bases are occupied by baserunners, this is called ‘a grand slam’. Batters will try to read the pitchers to find out what kind of pitch to expect. For the same reason, many teams will also do pre-game preparation to find out what type of pitch each pitcher specialises in.

When the batter comes up to the plate to bat, it is termed a ‘plate appearance’. When the ball is pitched, the batter has to decide whether or not he or she is going to hit it. If the batter takes a swing at the ball but does not hit it, it is called a strike. If the batter does not attempt to hit the ball, then it is the umpires job to decide whether or not the ball was within the strike zone. The pitch is subsequently either called a strike or, if the umpire decides it was outside the zone, a ‘ball’.

After the batter hits the ball, he or she has to run to first plate, either stopping there or attempting to reach the next base, depending on the efforts of the fielding team. The batter will drop the bat and become one of the baserunners. If the batter reaches first base, this is called a single, second base is a double, third base is a triple, and fourth base is a home run.

  • Fly ball – When the batter hits the ball up into the air and it is easily caught by one of the fielders.
  • Line drive – Similar to a fly ball but when the ball is hit with such force that its route seems level to the ground.
  • Ground ball – The ball is not hit into the air but instead touches the ground inside the infield before it is taken by one of the infielders.
  • Foul ball – Describes any ball which is hit outside the foul line. A foul ball counts as a strike.

The number of balls and strikes that the current batter has is recorded, and is known as the ‘count’. It is relayed as balls:strikes. When a batter reaches three strikes, they are automatically out. If they reach four balls, the batter automatically becomes a baserunner and they can move to first pace without fear of getting out. If the pitcher hits the batter with the ball it is called a hit by pitch (HBP), and the pitcher is automatically awarded first base unless the umpire rules that the batter was in the strike zone or had tried to get hit deliberately.

Only one runner is allowed on a base at a time, and a baserunner cannot move in front of the runner who was initially before them. Baserunning is a very tactical part of baseball, and requires excellent judgement on the part of the runners so they do not try and risk the positions of others when they advance.