Creative Baseball: on the Ice, in the Field and in Quotations
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Diagram of a baseball field
The starting point for much of the action on the field is home plate, which is a white rubber pentagon seventeen inches wide. Next to each of the two parallel sides is a batter's box. The point of the pentagon is at one corner of a ninety-foot square. The other three corners of the square, in counterclockwise order from home plate, are called first base, second base, and third base. Three canvas bags twelve inches square mark the three bases.
The lines from home plate to first and third bases are prolonged infinitely and are called the foul lines. The quarter of the universe between the foul lines is fair territory; the other three-quarters of the universe is foul territory. The area in the vicinity of the square formed by the bases is called the infield; fair territory outside the infield is the outfield. Most baseball fields are enclosed with a fence that marks the outer edge of the outfield. The fence is usually set at a distance ranging from 300 to 400 feet from home plate.
In the middle of the square is a low mound called the pitcher's mound. There is a rubber plate, six inches wide and two feet long, on the mound, exactly sixty feet six inches from the point of home plate. This is the pitcher's rubber.
Baseball is played between two teams of nine players each. The teams take turns on offense and defense. At the start of the game, the home team is in the defending role. All the defensive players are on the field at once, while the offensive players come to bat one at a time.
The basic contest is always between the pitcher (defending team), and the batter (offensive team). The pitcher throws the ball towards home plate, where the catcher (defending team) waits to receive it. The batter stands in one of the batter's boxes and tries to hit the ball with a bat (righthanded batters stand in the box to the left side of the plate, lefthanded batters in the box to the right side, as viewed by the catcher). The catcher's job is to catch any ball that the batter misses or does not swing at.
The pitcher tries to throw the ball over the plate in such a way that the batter cannot hit it cleanly. The batter's objective is to hit the ball into the fair territory of the field (a fair ball) so that the players of the defending team cannot easily retrieve it. If he succeeds in this, the batter becomes a baserunner and must run to first base. As a baserunner, the objective is to touch each base in order, then return and touch home plate. The defending team tries to catch the batted ball before it hits the ground, or tag the runner with the ball. If they do this, the baserunner is out and must leave the field. After the defensive team has put out three offensive players, the defensive and offensive teams switch places.
The bases are places of safety, and a runner touching a base cannot be tagged out. Only one runner may occupy a base at a time. If first base is occupied when a batter hits the ball, that runner is required to advance to the next base. This displaced runner may in turn displace other runners if the subsequent bases are occupied. The defending team may also record an out by throwing the ball to the next base before such a displaced baserunner reaches it.
A baserunner who successfully touches home plate scores a run. In an enclosed field, a fair ball hit over the fence is normally an automatic home run, which entitles the batter and all runners to touch all the bases and score. The team with the most runs at the end of the game is the winner.
The defending team has a pitcher, who stands on the mound, and a catcher, who squats behind home plate. (This pair is often called the battery.) There are also four infielders, who stand at the edge of the infield, and three outfielders, who stand in the outfield.
The pitcher must keep one foot in contact with the pitcher's rubber during the entire pitch, so he cannot take more than one step forward in delivering the ball. Nevertheless, most major-league pitchers throw the ball at about ninety miles an hour. Pitchers must also assist fielders as necessary.
The catcher's main role is to receive the pitch if the batter does not hit it. Catchers are also responsible for defense in the area immediately surrounding home plate. Together with the pitcher and coaches, the catcher plots game strategy by suggesting different pitches and by shifting the starting positions of the other fielders.
The four infielders are the first baseman, second baseman, shortstop, and third baseman. The first and third basemen usually play near their respective bases. The second baseman and the shortstop position themselves at a roughly equal distance from second base, but play more in the gaps between the bases than the first and third baseman. As a result of this positioning, defensive skill tends to be more important for second basemen and especially shortstops. Originally, the second baseman played very close to second base, until the shortstop was developed by relocating what was previously a fourth outfielder.
The team's strongest hitter is often the first baseman. The first baseman's job consists mostly of standing with his foot on first base, waiting to receive the batted balls that the other infielders throw to him so that he can force out the batter-runner. The second baseman covers the area to the right of second base, and provides backup for the first baseman. The shortstop fills the critical gap between second and third bases, where right-handed batters generally hit ground balls. The shortstop must be versatile - he also covers second or third bases and the near part of left field (known as short left field). After the pitcher, he is usually the poorest hitter on the team. The third baseman's primary requirement is a very strong right arm so that he can throw the ball all the way across the infield to the first baseman.
The three outfielders are called the left fielder, the center fielder, and the right fielder; each position is named from the catcher's perspective. The center fielder has more territory to cover than the other two outfielders, so he must be very fast and agile, and must have a strong arm to throw balls in to the infield; as a result, teams tend to emphasize defense at that position.
The offensive team sends its nine players up to home plate as batters in an order called a lineup. Each team sets its batting lineup at the beginning of the game and may not change the order, except by sending in substitute players. A substitute player fills the same spot in the order as the player he replaced (however, he is not required to play the same position on defense). After the ninth player has batted, the order returns to the beginning with the first player in the lineup.
Each player's turn at the plate is a plate appearance. When the batter hits a fair ball, he must run to first base, and may continue or stop at any base unless he is put out. A successful hit where the batter stops at first base is a single; if he stops at second base, a double; at third base, a triple. A hit that allows the batter to score on the same play is a home run, whether or not the ball is hit over the fence. Runners may advance, but are not required to unless the batter displaces them.
Once the batter and any existing runners have all stopped at a base, or been put out, the next batter comes to the plate. This continues until three outs have been recorded, at which point the teams exchange sides.
An inning consists of each team having one turn in the field and one turn to hit. Each set of three outs is a half-inning. A standard game lasts for nine innings, although some leagues use seven-inning games. The team with the most runs at the end of the game wins. If the home team (which hits last) is ahead after eight-and-a-half innings have been played, it is declared the winner, and the last half-inning is not played.
If both teams have scored the same number of runs at the end of a regular game, an extra inning may be added to the game. As many innings as necessary are then played until one team has the lead at the end of an inning. Thus, the team which hits in the second (or bottom) half of the inning always has a chance to respond if the team batting in the first (or top) half scores. This gives the home team a small tactical advantage.
In the American Major Leagues, baseball games end with tie scores only because conditions have made it impossible to continue play. Inclement weather may also shorten games, but at least five innings must be played for the game to be considered official (four-and-a-half innings if the home team is ahead). Previously, curfews and the absence of adequate lighting caused more ties and shortened games.
In Japan, games end after nine innings and a tie is considered honorable to both teams. Some youth or amateur leagues will end a game early if one team is ahead by 10 or more runs.
Effective pitching is vitally important in baseball. In baseball statistics, for each game, one pitcher will be credited with winning the game, and one pitcher will be charged with losing it. However, pitching is also physically demanding, especially if the pitcher is throwing with maximum effort. A full game usually involves 100-150 pitches thrown by each team, and most pitchers begin to tire by the time they reach this point. As a result, the pitcher who starts a game often will not be the one who finishes it, and he may not be recovered enough to pitch again for a few days.
Teams have devised two strategies to address this problem: rotation and specialization. To accommodate playing nearly every day, a team will have a number of pitchers start games and rotate between them, allowing each pitcher to rest for a few days between starts. Also, teams have additional pitchers reserved to replace that game's starting pitcher if he tires or proves ineffective. These players are called relief pitchers or relievers. The relief pitchers often have even more specialized roles, and the particular reliever used depends on the situation. Many teams designate one pitcher as the closer, a relief pitcher specifically reserved to pitch the final inning or innings of a game when his team has a narrow lead, in order to preserve the victory. Generally, relief pitchers pitch fewer innings and throw fewer pitches than starting pitchers, but may be able to pitch more frequently without needing multiple days to recover.
A skilled pitcher often throws a variety of different pitches in order to prevent the batter from hitting the ball well. The most basic pitch is a fastball, where the pitcher throws the ball as hard as he can. Some pitchers are able to throw a fastball at a velocity of over 100 miles per hour (160 km/h). Other common types of pitches are the curveball, slider, changeup, forkball, and knuckleball. These generally are intended to have unusual movement or deceive the batter as to the rotation or velocity of the ball, making it more difficult to hit. Very few pitchers throw all of these pitches, but most use a subset or blend of the basic types. Some pitchers also release pitches from different arm angles, making it harder for the batter to pick up the flight of the ball.
The pitcher must pitch the ball so that it passes directly over home plate at a level between the batter's knees and his armpits. If he does this, and the batter doesn't swing, the batter is charged with a strike. If the batter swings at the ball and misses he is also charged with a strike. If the batter swings and makes contact with the ball, but does not put it in play in fair territory (a foul ball), he is also changed with a strike except when there are already two strikes. A foul ball with two existing strikes is disregarded, except that the defending team may record outs by catching any ball, whether fair or foul, before it touches the ground. On the third strike the batter is declared out, which is called a strikeout.
If the pitch is not over the plate, or is above the armpits or below the knees, it is considered out of the strike zone. If the batter doesn't swing at such a pitch, he is awarded a ball. On the fourth ball the batter is entitled to advance to first base without risk of being put out. This is called a walk or a base on balls. Similarly, a batter who is hit with a pitch may advance to first base. Runners ahead of the batter are also entitled to advance if the batter displaces them. A walk or hit batter with all three bases occupied causes a run to score.
A runner who is entitled to occupy a base and has not been displaced may not be tagged out with the ball. Runners may attempt to advance from base to base on any fair ball that touches the ground. When a ball is hit in the air (a fly ball) and caught by the defending team, runners must return and touch the base they occupy after the ball is caught. Once they do this, they may advance at their own risk.
Baserunners may attempt to advance while the pitcher is throwing a pitch. The catcher usually tries to prevent this by throwing the ball to one of the infielders in order to tag the runner. A successful attempt by the runner is called a stolen base. If a pitch gets away from the catcher, runners may also try to advance. This may be a wild pitch, if the pitcher is held responsible for the ball getting away, or a passed ball if the catcher is deemed to be at fault.
The standard dimensions of a baseball field, with 90 feet between bases, generate many close baserunning plays. On one hand, an infielder who cleanly fields a ball hit on the ground, then throws it quickly and accurately, will usually get the ball to a base before the runner reaches it. However, any hesitation or mistake on the part of the fielder may allow the runner to reach the base safely.
Each team is allowed to substitute for any player at any time, but no player, once removed from the game, can return. It is very common for a pitcher to pitch for several innings and then be removed in favor of a relief pitcher. Also, because pitching is a specialized skill, many pitchers are not good hitters, so it is common to substitute for a pitcher when his team is at bat. This can be done by inserting a pinch hitter who replaces the pitcher for his time at bat, and who is in turn replaced by a relief pitcher when the team returns to the field on defense. Some leagues have gone so far as to institute a designated hitter, a player whose sole purpose is to hit when it would normally be the pitcher's turn. A designated hitter does not play in the field on defense, and may remain in the game regardless of changes in pitchers.
Pinch hitter also refers generally to any substitute batter who has not previously appeared on the field. Similarly, a pinch runner may be used to substitute for any baserunner.
Each team is run by a manager, whose primary responsibility during the game is to assign players to fielding positions, determine the lineup, and decide how to substitute players. Managers are also often involved in coaching players to develop their skills.
Any baseball game involves one or more umpires, who make rulings on the outcome of each play. At a minimum, one umpire will stand behind the catcher, to have a good view of the strike zone, and call each pitch a ball or a strike. Additional umpires may be stationed near the bases, thus making it easier to see plays in the field.
Another figure in baseball worth noting is the official scorer. The results of baseball games are summarized in tables called boxscores. The scorer is responsible for a number of judgments that go into the boxscore. For example, if a batted ball is misplayed by a fielder, the scorer may choose to charge the fielder with an error instead of crediting the batter with a hit. Within certain guidelines, the scorer also determines which pitchers are credited with winning and losing the game, and whether a relief pitcher will be awarded a save.
Baseball has an antique, unhurried pace. Both football and basketball use a clock, and fans must often watch games end while one team degrades the competitive element of the game by "killing the clock" rather than competing directly against the opposing team. But baseball has no clock; you cannot win without getting the last man out, and a rally can start at any time. Under previous rules, a new inning began whenever there was a tie at the end of an inning games were never drawn. This lead to some games continuing for many hours; the Rochester Red Wings once notably played a game that lasted for over twenty innings.
In recent decades, observers have criticized baseball for this, with some justification as the time required to play a baseball game has increased steadily through the years. One hundred years ago, games typically took an hour and a half to play; today, four-hour nine-inning games are not uncommon. However, this is primarily due to increased commercial breaks more than a decrease in playing speed. Increased offense and more pitching changes also prolong the length of the game.
Baseball is a team game - even two or three Hall of Fame players cannot guarantee a pennant by themselves. In the last years of the 20th century, a trend toward building teams based on a more even distribution of talent throughout the lineup became noticeable. The Seattle Mariners and the Florida Marlins were two teams that began moving away from the previous belief in building teams around superstars. Team salary caps led to the decision by many owners to pay more solid players decent money rather than surrounding one or two expensive superstars with a below-average set of teammates. It remains to be seen if this strategy will be successful.
Paradoxically, the game places individual players under great pressure and scrutiny one at a time. The pitcher must make a good pitch or suffer reproach; no one can help him throw the ball. The hitter has a mere fraction of a second to swing the bat; no one can help him then. If the batter hits a line drive, the outfielder makes a lonely decision to try to catch it or play it on the bounce. Baseball history is full of heroes and goats - men who in the heat of the moment distinguished themselves with a timely hit or catch, or an untimely strikeout or error.
It is a beautiful, leisurely game on the surface (some would say boring) but sudden and fierce beneath. Many people fail to recognize that baseball is a game of strategy and anticipation, as much as it is a game of skill and athleticism.
Major League Baseball in North America consists of the National League and the American League. Historically, teams in one league never played teams in the other until the World Series, in which the champions of the two leagues played against each other; this changed in 1997 with the advent of interleague play.
In addition to the major leagues, many North American cities and towns feature minor league teams. Most minor-league teams are affiliated with major-league teams, and serve to develop young players and rehabilitate injured major-leaguers. However, there are also a number of leagues that exist independently of the influence of the major leagues.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, African-American players were barred from playing the major leagues. As a result, a number of parallel Negro leagues were formed. However, after Jackie Robinson began playing with the major-league Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, the Negro leagues gradually faded. There were some ugly incidents, including pitchers who would try to throw directly at an African-American player's head.
Copyright 2004, Baertracks, bemorecreative.com
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