We are inching closer to the MLB World Series. Since one of my two favorite teams is in it, I am beside myself with excitement. I just love watching baseball. But I am surprised how many people consider it "boring."
Anyone who knows the many thoughts going through the mind of all the coaches and players during a game will not consider the game boring.This is not to say I have ever played in a World Series myself. As a matter of fact, I have never technically played baseball. But I do speak baseball-ese relatively fluently, and I would love to share what I know with those who need that information.
Much easier than football. Your team crosses the plate (after hitting all the other bases, of course), you get a run.
NOTE - PLEASE!!! - There are NO POINTS in baseball - They are called RUNS!
When you look at a scoreboard, it will break down how many runs are scored in each inning, and then show the total runs (R) for each team, hits (H), and errors (E) committed by a team.
Length of the Game:
A major league (MLB) baseball game lasts for 9 innings. (An inning is when both sides get a chance to bat until they have reached 3 outs.) If the game is tied after the 9th inning is completed, the game will go into extra innings - they will continue to play full innings until the tie is broken. There is no time limit for an inning or a game.
Note: The longest post-season game in history was just played the other week between the Nationals and the Giants. The game lasted more than 6 hours and 18 innings.
Batting is offense in baseball. One player goes to bat at any given time, in a set order, called the batting order, or line up. After 3 outs, the batting order stops while the team goes out to the field to play defense, and they pick up where they left off in the next inning. Once they reach the end, they start at the beginning again. Some things to know about batting:
1. Top of the inning/bottom of the inning-
The visiting team bats first, and this is called the top of the inning. When you look at the score, the visitor will always be on top. After their 3 outs, the home team will bat, and that is called the bottom of the inning. The idea is that the home team always gets the last bat. (If the home team is winning at the end of the game, the bottom of the inning is not played.)
2. Pitchers and hitting-
Pitchers are not known for hitting skills. (Unless you are Madison Bumgarder, who hit two grand slams this year. That's more than Derek Jeter hit in his career.) For that reason, they usually bat 9th in the line up - to have the fewest at bats ("at bat", or AB, refers to plate appearances) possible. Pitchers are not encouraged to spend their arm strength on batting anyway. They bunt more than any other position. As a matter of fact, American League teams use a "Designated Hitter," another player whose only job during the game is batting, so the pitcher does not have to.
3. Left or right handed hitters-
Left-handed hitters usually hit better off of a right-handed pitcher, and vice versa. This is the reason you will see managers take their pitchers out at certain times, or a change in the batting order. Managers are always trying to milk that tiny advantage for all they can.
Note: There are some players who can bat left- or right-handed. They are called switch hitters.
4. Batting average-
The number of base hits (H) divided by the number of at-bats (AB) will give you a player's batting avg. (AVG.) Most players (not including pitchers) average somewhere between .250 and .300. (That would be said as "Two-fifty," and "Three hundred." The decimals are not noted.) Those batting above .300 are noteworthy. You will see them batting at the top of the line up.
5. Types of hits-
Base hit- These usually happen when a ball is hit between fielders (in the gap), and the runner can make it to the base before the fielder can throw it to first.
Extra base hit- This is any kind of hit when the runner can go farther than 1st base. If he gets to 2nd base, it's called a double, to 3rd base, a triple, and all around to home, a home run.
Note: Home runs are almost exclusively hit over the fence (must be in fair territory). Inside -the-park home runs are possible, but extremely rare.
Bunt- A bunt is when the hitter turns to face the pitcher and holds his bat out to meet the ball. The idea is to keep the ball as close to home as possible to make the fielders have to run. There are two kinds of bunts - a sacrifice bunt, which is for the purpose of drawing the throw to first, so a base runner can get to another base (the opposite of a fielder's choice), and a bunt for a base hit, where the hitter wants to run it out and try to beat the throw to first. While all other foul balls hit on the 2nd strike don't make a strike out, bunting the ball foul on the 3rd strike WILL count as a strike out.
Sacrifice- A sacrifice (SAC) is hitting a ball deep enough in the outfield for a runner on 3rd base to tag up and score. SAC does not count as an AB. That's because even though the batter got out (because the fielder caught the ball), a runner got a run.
6. Types of outs-
Strike out- (Sometimes noted as a "K") If a batter swings at a pitch and misses it (or hits it into foul territory), or does not swing at a ball in the strike zone, it counts as a strike. If a batter gets 3 strikes before getting a hit or a walk, they are out.
Put out- (usually just called an out) This is when a hitter hits a ball on the ground, usually to the infield, the fielder picks it up cleanly (without bobbling it) and makes a throw to a base before the runner gets there. If the throw is to first, or any other base where there are runners behind them, the baseman just needs to tag the base. (That's called a force out. The runner was forced to run and had no choice since someone was on the base he just left.) If the runner did not have to run to the next base, because no one was forcing him to go, the runner must be tagged by the fielder.
Fly out- This a ball hit in the air to an outfielder. Once the ball is caught, all runners need to go back to the base they were on. They can run to the next base after that, but they must go back first, which is called tagging up. The fielder can throw the runner out if the runner doesn't make it in time.
Fielder's Choice- This one is a little different, because the hitter has made it safely to the base. However, another runner was put out, so it counts as an out to the hitter's average.
A pitcher has to pitch a ball between a batter's knees and the letters on his shirt, and as far across as home plate is wide. That's called the strike zone. If the ball is pitched high, low, inside, or outside - and the batter DOES NOT SWING - the umpire calls it a ball. If a batter can get 4 balls before he gets 3 strikes, he gets a free trip to 1st base. Walks do not count as an AB, so it does not affect a batting average.
8. Batting order-
There is a reason players bat in the order they do. (You may hear the position of the batting order referred to as a "hole," as in, a 2-hole hitter. That means the player bats second in the line up.
Batter #1 (also known as lead-off hitter)- This batter gets up to bat more often than any other. The player who bats here needs to be consistent about getting on base. (hits or walks. They're both good.)
Batter #2- This batter also needs to be consistent about getting on base. These first two batters set up the "meat of the order." The meat of the order are the "heavy hitters." Your team wants to have "ducks on the pond-" runners on base- when the big hitters come up to bat. If there are runners on base, big hits bring them home and score runs.
Batters #3, 4, & 5- your big hitters. Batter #3 can be, but doesn't have to be a long ball/extra base hitter, as long and he gets on base. But, it's not a bad thing if he is a big hitter.
(Interesting tid-bit: I was a #3 hitter in softball, but I led my team in home-runs. Why did my coach not move me to #4? Because you stick with what works.)
Batter #4- is called the clean up hitter. His job is is to clear the bases with a home run. If he can't do it, there's some hope that #5 can.
Batters #6-9- These are the less notable hitters in your line up. You will see lower batting averages from them. That's not to say these guys can't hit. They wouldn't be pro if they couldn't hit. But a pitcher will pitch differently to these hitters than the top of the line up.
9. RISP and RBI-
Just a few more stats you might see. RISP stands for runners in scoring position (on 2nd or 3rd base). If a player comes to bat with RISP, it is that much more important for him to get a hit or a SAC. RBI stands for runs batted in and is one of the most important stats a batter can have. Runs win games, so if a player is causing runs to be scored, he is a dependable game-winner.
10. Stolen Bases-
A runner can "take a lead," or move off the base a little before the pitcher throws the ball. If the runner goes too far, however, he better watch out, because the pitcher (or catcher) can throw the ball the base for a tag-out. However, if the runner times it just right, he can run to the next base, and that's called a stolen base, if he is safe. However, you don't see it too often, because many catchers are pretty quick at getting rid of that ball and the ball travels faster than the runner can run the 90 feet between the bases. Any base can be stolen, but 2nd base is the most common, since it is the farthest away from the catcher.
The defensive goal is to prevent the other team from scoring runs by garnering outs. The fielders are spread evenly across the field to catch or field a hit ball and to cover bases. Here are the 9 fielding positions on the baseball field:
I honestly believe that pitchers are the most important players on the team. The facts just support that idea. The teams with better pitchers win more games. Pitchers are not as concerned with their fielding as they are with their pitching. Their number one priority is to not let the hitter reach base. The pitcher wants to either strike out the batter, or make him hit easy ground balls or pop ups.
One of the ways the pitcher can get a batter to swing and miss is to confuse him with the type of pitch he throws. Every pitcher has a fastball, and in the MLB these days, that ball comes straight in at at least 95 mph. Most also have an off-speed pitch. That means it's a lot slower. You would think that would make it easier to hit, but since the batter is expecting something faster, the change-up usually throws his timing off. Also, most pitchers have some kind of curve ball - a riser, sinker, cutter, split-finger, so on - that changes direction before it gets to the catcher's mitt.
To consistently throw at such a high level is very demanding on a pitcher's arm. Because of this most starting pitchers don't pitch more than 100 pitches (called the pitch count) in a game. At this point, a "reliever" will come in to pitch an inning or two, with a "closer" pitching the 9th inning. A starting pitcher usually needs to wait 4-5 days before he can pitch again. Starters are the best pitchers on the team, with the closer close to that level.
To me, the catcher is the second most important position in the game, and it is close to first because good catching is so vital to good pitching. It's all about calling the game. The catcher has the best vantage point to see what the batter is looking to do. They look at the position of the batter's feet, his position in the batter's box, and a few other things to determine what the pitcher's best advantage would be. Then, he uses his fingers between his legs to indicate what kind of pitch he thinks would work best. Then he will set up behind the plate in the appropriate place to give the best target. For example, if he sees a batter "crowding the plate," or standing too close to the plate, the catcher might call for a fastball inside to brush the batter back some.
Yes, the catcher is the only fielder who gets to wear protective equipment. No, it doesn't always help. (I was a softball catcher for 17 years.) When there are runners on base, the catcher has to do anything he can to stop a wild pitch from getting away, so the runners don't advance. This means blocking that 90+ mph ball with his body. Also, although the bat rarely hits the catcher, foul tips come of the bat so quickly, there is virtually no time to react. A good foul tip to the head - even with a helmet on - will knock you off your block. Trust me.
One other job the catcher has is to yell directions to the fielding players. The fielders need to watch the ball after it's hit, not watch each other or where the runners are going. So the catcher will shout to direct where the play needs to be made, based on what the runners are doing.
3. 1st Base
The primary job of the 1st baseman is to get the throw from another infielder to make an out. He usually doesn't have to move much or throw much, so catching the ball and keeping his foot on the bag is his dominant skill. Height and stretching ability are helpful here.
4. 2nd Base
Second basemen are more fielders than 1st basemen. Since there is always a play at first, the first baseman will always be covering the base for the out. That leaves most of the balls that are hit to the right side of the infield to the second baseman. When the ball is hit to the right side of the field, it is the responsibility of the shortstop to cover second base, for any play that might need to be made there. When a ball is hit to the left side of the field, the 2nd baseman will cover the bag.
5. 3rd Base (the "hot corner")
A 3rd baseman needs to possess quick reflexes. Not only are balls hit in that direction often hit sharply, they are the farthest distance from first. So this player also needs a strong and accurate arm for the throw to first. He is really the only one who covers third base, so he will likely stay pretty close to the (foul) line when right-handed "pull hitters" (hitters who normally hit to the left side of the field) come to the plate. For a lefty, he might go a little further over, but not too far from the bag if there are runners.
Shortstop is an extra infielder used to balance out the field. Between this position and 2nd base, (called the middle infielders) they will handle the largest number of ground balls. Shortstop needs good fielding skills. Also, he is responsible, as mentioned before, to cover 2nd base when the 2nd baseman is occupied. The middle infielders can also go out to the outfield to take a throw from the outfielders (called a relay), to make a more accurate throw to a base for an out. I'm not sure if it is a requirement, but many shortstops, like Ozzie Smith from the old days, have an incredible vertical leap to snag a line drive headed to the outfield.
7 -9. Left Field, Center Field, Right Field
Have you seen the size of an MLB outfield? There's a lot of ground to cover. Since balls are hit all over the place out there, speed, along with great glove skills, are necessary for an outfielder. He also may be needed to make a throw to a base after the catch, so a good, strong throwing arm is also important out here.
OK, folks. That's baseball. Enjoy the World Series. Go Giants!
T.C. Slonaker, Eagles fan
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