A geek’s guide to Baseball

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If you grew up in Europe, baseball was rarely played. Instead, you were either introduced to cricket, softball or the English game of rounders. Baseball has always been considered America’s game. However, baseball has an immense global following, particularly in Asia and Latin America – it’s time to get to grips with this game.

Basic rules of baseball

In baseball the opposing teams have nine players each, taking turns to both bat and field. The fielding team is referred to as the defensive team with the batting team known as the offensive team.

The batter stands behind a base known as the home plate, where the fielding team's pitcher, pitches the ball to the catcher standing behind the home plate. The batter must attempt to hit the ball and not let the catcher "catch" it.

If the batter manages to strike the ball, they may run around as many bases as possible before the fielding team collects and returns the ball. A "run" is scored when a player on the offensive team runs around all three bases and returns to the home plate.

The aim of baseball is to score as many runs as possible than the opposition.

Some players are able to strike the ball so hard that it goes far, enabling them to run around all three bases and back to home plate in one attempt. This is called a "home run."

The Chicago Cubs' Willson Contreras drives in a run with a single in the fourth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies The Chicago Cubs' Willson Contreras drives in a run with a single in the fourth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies

The defensive team attempt to either get batters or base runners out, either by throwing the ball to a particular base to run out a base runner or by catching the ball that has been caught in the air like cricket.

A batting innings is completed once both opposing teams have batted, with a full game consisting of nine innings, taking between 45 and 90 minutes to play an entire game.

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Baseball Playing Area

A Baseball playing area is called a diamond because of its shape - with both an infield (within the diamond) and an outfield extending outside the diamond all the way to the boundary.

Baseball fielding and bases

The fielding team aims to prevent runs being scored from direct hits or batters running around the bases. Each fielder has specific duties:

The pitcher pitches the ball to the offensive team's batter from a plate located within the diamond. Once pitched and the ball is stuck, the pitcher becomes another fielder attempting to run out base runners, usually at those trying to advance to first base.

Starting pitcher, Brandon McCarthy #32 of the Atlanta Braves during their game with the Los Angeles Dodgers Starting pitcher, Brandon McCarthy #32 of the Atlanta Braves during their game with the Los Angeles Dodgers

The catcher is located behind the home plate where they kneel or squat in preparation for returning the ball to the pitcher if the batter fails to strike the ball.

Houston Astros catcher Tim Federowicz (19) behind the plate on warmup Houston Astros catcher Tim Federowicz (19) behind the plate on warmup

First base is typically very demanding, as several balls will be thrown to first base in an attempt to run out batters. First base also guards the right side of the infield.

Oakland Athletics first baseman Matt Olson (28) tries to tag Texas Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor (12) as he slides into first base Oakland Athletics first baseman Matt Olson (28) tries to tag Texas Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor (12) as he slides into first base

The second base player, alongside first base, will guard the right side of the infield and will attempt to catch balls hit in the air or on the ground. Second base will also catch throws made to second base to run out base runners.

Chicago Cubs second baseman Javier Baez (left) commits a fielding error Chicago Cubs second baseman Javier Baez (left) commits a fielding error

The shortstop places themselves between second and third base and attempts to stop or catch any ball hit towards the left field or throw to second or third base.

Texas Rangers shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa (9) waits for the baseball Texas Rangers shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa (9) waits for the baseball

The third base player guards the area near third base and will usually catch throws made to third. This player needs good reflexes (since the ball is often hit hard in their direction) and a good throwing arm since it’s a long throw from third to first base.

Canisius third base Ryan Stekl (15) throws to 1st during game 2 of the Minneapolis Regional collegiate baseball tournament Canisius third base Ryan Stekl (15) throws to 1st during game 2 of the Minneapolis Regional collegiate baseball tournament

Batting and pitching in baseball

A pitched ball is either described as a "strike" or "ball" by the umpire. A strike is where a pitched ball is aimed at the batter, no lower than their knees or higher than their shoulders. Anything else is known as a ball.

If a pitch is legitimate and the batter swings and misses, or fails to swing at all, then a strike is called. If three strikes are called against the batting player without them having hit the ball, they are "struck out."

Philadelphia Phillies Outfielder Dylan Cozens (25) walks off after being struck out Philadelphia Phillies Outfielder Dylan Cozens (25) walks off after being struck out

Alternatively, if a pitcher pitches four "balls", then the batter is permitted to proceed to first base without needing to hit the ball. The fielding team hope that the pitcher does not do this often as placing batters onto a base as base runners are likely to lead to them scoring more runs.

The pitcher's role is to throw the batter off or make them strike the ball so that it can be caught or collected easily to reduce the likelihood of runs being conceded.

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Major League Baseball

Within the US, Major League Baseball (MLB) is divided into two leagues, the National League (NL) and American League (AL). Each league is divided into three divisions, East, Central and West:

American League: East: Baltimore, Boston, Toronto, NY Yankees, Tampa Bay

Central: Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Minnesota, Chicago White Sox

West: Oakland, Seattle, Texas, Houston, LA Angels

National League: East: Miami, Philadelphia, NY Mets, Washington, Atlanta

Central: Chi Cubs, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati

West: San Diego, Colorado, Arizona, LA Dodgers, San Francisco

Teams play the other clubs in their division, and this is known as the season, lasting for around 26 weeks culminating in late September or early October. Then the postseason begins with the top teams from their leagues playing each other in playoffs to decide the division winners.

The structure is as follows:

The team that wins the most games during the season will win their division. The two next-best ranked teams by win percentage play each other in a single-game elimination.

The winner of that game then plays the division champion with the most wins.

The two other division champions play each other in a five-game series. Finally, the two winning teams play each other in a best-of-seven series for the league championship – called a pennant.

The two pennant winners contest the World Series, a best-of-seven series which results in a World Series Champion.

The baseball World Series

The World Series is the annual championship series of MLB in North America, contested between the American League champion team and the National League champion team since 1903.

The winner of the World Series championship is decided through a best-of-seven playoff, and the winning team is awarded the highly-coveted Commissioner's Trophy.

Houston Astros celebrate after defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in game seven 5-1 to win the World Series Houston Astros celebrate after defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in game seven 5-1 to win the World Series

As the series is usually played in October (and occasionally November), during the fall season in North America, it is sometimes referred to as the “Fall Classic.”

With this geeks guide to baseball, you should have enough to get started watching and betting on your first baseball match. There is more to baseball than in this article, but if you master these basics, you’ll be able to follow this tactical game with its growing global popularity.

Words: David Bailey-Lauring

Images: PA

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