Baseball is a game played by two opposing teams where the objective is to score the greatest number of runs over a designated number of innings. If a tie remains at the end of that period, the game may be extended into “extra innings” until one team has scored more runs than the other team or some other condition (such as a time limit) has been met. A “run” in baseball is scored when a member of one team progresses around a sequence of four stations known as “bases”: from first base to second base to third base to home base (also commonly referred to as home plate).
The object of the game is to score runs by having a player progress around the bases, from first base to home. Each time a player makes a complete circuit of the four bases, his or her team is awarded one run. No other scores are possible in baseball except in the case that a game is forfeited because one team is unable or unwilling to continue the game. In such a case, the non-forfeiting team is declared a winner with the number of runs equal to the number of innings in the game. For professional baseball, such a score would typically be 9–0 because professional baseball games usually consist of nine innings.
Baseball is often called the Great American Game or Great American Pastime, at least partly because almost anyone at any age can take part in the sport. Little League baseball is probably the most popular venue in which young boys and girls can participate in formal, organized leagues within a national structure. Little League's Tee-Ball division is open to boys and girls age 5 to 6 (with options for 7 to 8 year olds), while its Minor League is designed for players age 7 to 12, and its Major League, for players 9 to 12. Children of any age can also play baseball under virtually any conditions (streets, alleys, open fields, and school playgrounds, for example) with virtually any kind of equipment (rag toys as balls and sticks as bats). Most high schools, colleges, and universities also sponsor baseball teams, usually for men, but sometimes for women.
Baseball is also popular with individuals at the other end of the age spectrum. The Men's Senior Baseball League (MSBL)/Men's Adult Baseball League (MABL) is an organization of 325 affiliates, consisting of 3,200 teams, and 45,000 members. For players who no longer wish, or are unable, to participate in the somewhat more rigorous sport of baseball, its sister sport of softball is often an appealing option. Senior Softball-USA, for example, claims to have a membership of more than 1.5 million men and women who play the sport throughout the United States.
Historians still argue over the origin of baseball. The earliest mention of the game appears to have been in the April 25, 1823, issue of the New York Times, which alluded to a game being played on the streets of New York called “base ball.” Many authorities, however, call Abner Doubleday the Father of Baseball because he is supposed to have invented the game in Cooperstown, New York (current home of the Baseball Hall of Fame) in 1839. Other authorities give that title to Alexander Joy Cartwright who, in 1845, wrote down a formal set of rules by which the game was to be played. The first formal baseball game played under Cartwright's rules was held at Elysian Fields, in Hoboken, New Jersey, between Cartwright's Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York and the New York Baseball Club. The Knickerbockers lost that game in three innings by a score of 11 to 8. Women became interested in the new sport early in its history, with the first female team organized at Vassar College in 1866.
College baseball today falls under the jurisdiction of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which divides the nation's teams into three categories: Divisions I, II, and III, based largely on the size of the sport at any given institution. The first Division I champion, in 1947, was the University of California, and the most recent, in 2016 was Nova Southeastern University (Fort Lauderdale, Florida). The first champion in Division II in 1968 was Chapman College (now Chapman University), in Orange, California, and the most recent, in 2011, University of West Florida. The first champion in Division III in 1976 was California State College at Stanislaus, the most recent, in 2016, Trinity University (Trinity, Texas).
Baseball is a game in which two teams, consisting of nine players at a time, each attempt to score the most runs over a given number of innings. The game is played on a field bounded by two “foul lines” at a 90-degree angle to each other. The apex of the two lines is known as “home plate.” At a distance of 90 feet to the right from home plate along one foul line is “first base.” At a distance of 90 feet to the left from home plate along the other foul line is “third base.” At a distance of 90 feet perpendicular to both first base and third base is “second base.” The geometric figure formed by home plate and first, second, and third bases is called a “diamond.” At the center of the diamond is a “pitcher's mound” a rounded mass of dirt 60 feet 6 inches from home plate.
A game begins when one team (the team “in the field” ) distributes its defensive players at various positions on the field, while the other team (the team “at bat” ) sends its members “to bat,” one at a time. The batter stands at home plate and attempts to hit the baseball thrown by a member of the opposing team, the pitcher, standing on the pitcher's mound. The pitcher is required to deliver the baseball within a certain region, known as the strike zone, where the batter should reasonably be expected to reach the ball with his or her bat. The strike zone includes the distance between the batter's shoulders and knees above the width of home plate. If the ball is outside that zone, the umpire situated behind the plate calls the pitch a “ball.” If the ball is within the zone and the batter does not swing, the pitch is called a “strike.” If the batter swings at the ball and does not make contact, no matter where the ball was, it is also called a “strike.” If the batter hits the ball, but it goes outside the foullines, it is called a “foul,” and the batter is assessed a “strike.” If a batter is awarded four balls, he or she advances to first base. If he or she is credited with three strikes, the batter is “out,” that is, has completed his or her turn at bat. The team at bat may remain at bat until it has accumulated three outs, at which time the teams switch sides. The defensive team comes to bat and the team at bat goes to the field.
When a batter hits the ball, a number of events may occur. First, a member of the defensive team may catch the ball before it hits the ground, resulting in a “fly out” or “pop up” (depending on how far the ball has gone). In either case, the batter is “out” and has completed his or her turn at bat. Second, a member of the defensive team may pick up a ball hit on the ground toward him or her and throw the ball to first base. If the ball reaches first base before the batter does in running from the plate, the batter is out. Third, a batted ball may elude a member of the defensive team, who is unable to catch it in the air or throw it to first base quickly enough. In such a case, the batter reaches first base and is said to be “safe” at that base. The objective of the next batter, then, is to “advance” the player (now the “runner” ) to second base, third base, and, eventually, home. When a runner has advanced to all four bases, he or she is said to have scored a “run.” There are many other ways to score a run. For example, a batter may hit a ball so far that it goes out of the physical bounds of the playing field, allowing him or her to traverse all the bases at once, resulting in a “home run.”
The nine defensive positions in a baseball game are:
Very little preparation is needed in order for a person to enjoy a casual game of baseball with friends. In order to proceed to professional baseball, however, most individuals must spend many years developing one or more of the special skills needed for success in the sport, such as the ability to throw a baseball at a high velocity or with special twists and turns or the ability to hit a baseball great distances and with dependable regularity.
Anyone can play baseball with the most basic of equipment, including some variation of a bat and a ball and some way of designating the four bases. A popular variant of baseball played in many urban areas is called stickball, which is played with a broom handle or hockey stick and a rubber ball or its equivalent. In more sophisticated forms of the game, such as those played in Major League Baseball, the catcher requires specialized equipment, usually consisting of a face mask, catcher's mitt, and leg and ankle guards. Other players also wear fielding gloves with which they attempt to catch a batted ball. Batters wear protective helmets, shin guards to protect against batted balls that hit their legs, and other types of equipment designed to protect especially vulnerable parts of an individual's body. The amount and sophistication of equipment used by baseball players has evolved significantly from the early days, when players wore nothing more than simple uniforms and lightweight gloves.
Probably the greatest single factor that makes a person an outstanding baseball player is natural talent. Most people believe that it is not possible to teach someone how to throw, hit, or catch a baseball with maximum efficiency; one is either born with some innate talent or not. That having been said, natural talent can always be improved by a variety of training exercises. Most baseball teams (and all professional baseball teams) schedule a “spring training” program that begins a few weeks or months before the official opening of the season. The spring training program provides athletes with an opportunity to prepare their bodies for the forthcoming regular season. It includes a variety of activities that have become more varied and more sophisticated over the years. They fall into a few general categories, including strength, speed, throwing, batting, and agility training.
Perhaps the most fundamental of all training exercises for baseball players is simply running. Anyone who visits a baseball training camp will see players running constantly, from one side of the field to the other. Running helps a person build leg muscle strength and improve endurance. Throughout the regular season, running continues to be a crucial training exercise, with players staying constantly in motion before every game to the extent possible. Baseball trainers also use a variety of strength-building exercises, including weight lifting, as well as exercises designed to strengthen specific muscle groups, such as the biceps and triceps, shoulder muscles, ankle and leg muscles, and knee and hip muscles. Bending exercises also improve the strength and flexibility of the spine. Hypertrophic exercises are included for the purpose of building muscle mass. A hypertrophic exercise is one in which a person increases the size of muscle cells, resulting in greater strength for that muscle. Other exercises are used to develop maximum muscle strength, which involves improved neuromuscular functions and muscle endurance.
Special training exercises also focus on specific skills needed for various positions on the team. For example, experts in pitching and batting (pitching coaches and batting coaches), often retired players with specific talent in these fields, work with players to improve the special skills they need to be effective at their positions. Managers and coaches also work extensively with the variety of team skills that are needed for success in baseball, skills such as executing a “hit and run” play, a “squeeze” play, a “cut off” play on a throw from the outfield, and a “double play” for infielders.
Generally speaking, there is little risk of lifethreatening injuries in baseball. In the more than a century history of the game, only two players have died as a result of injuries on the field, New York catcher Mike “Doc” Power in 1909 and Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman in 1920. Powers died when he collided with a wall trying to catch a fly ball and Chapman was killed when he was struck in the head by a pitched ball. Baseball players continue to sustain very serious injuries from both of these events, especially the latter, but they have not resulted in fatalities. For example, Boston outfielder Tony Conigliaro missed all of the 1968 season after he was hit in the eye by a pitched ball. In 2005, Chicago outfielder Adam Greenberg was struck in the head on the very first pitch he faced in the major leagues. As it turns out, it was the only pitch Greenberg ever saw in the majors, partly because of the long-term effects of his injury.
The vast majority of baseball injuries are joint and muscle related of varying degrees of severity. Some consist of simple bruises and soreness that disappear after a few days, but others may be severe enough to end a person's playing career. Given the critical role of throwing in baseball, it should not be surprising that one of the most common injuries is probably damage to the shoulder, especially the condition known as a torn rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is a region of the shoulder that, as its name implies, allows the arm to rotate at the shoulder, the essential act involved in throwing a baseball. Another common injury is sore elbow, a problem that arises again because of the stress placed on the elbow by throwing a baseball.
A number of other injuries are related to the running and related actions required in baseball. Among the most common of these injuries is a torn hamstring muscle. The term “hamstring” refers to a group of muscles that run along the back of the thigh, from the lower pelvis to the knee. The hamstring is intimately involved in the act of running, making possible, for example, bending of the knee. When a person attempts to run faster or to change direction while running, stress is placed on the hamstring that can result in a strain or partial or complete tear of the muscle. Simple strains on the muscle can usually be resolved with a few days or weeks of rest, while most serious tears require surgery.
Finally, some injuries result from physical contact between one player and another player (as when two players collide while trying to catch a fly ball), between one player and a physical object (as when a player collides with a stadium wall while trying to catch a ball), or between a player and the ball (as when a ground ball hops up and hits a player in the face). Such events can result in many kinds of bruises, broken teeth, fractures, and concussions, all of which may be disabling, but not life-threatening or of long-standing damage.
There is no way to prevent injuries from occurring in baseball, or any other sport. However, the risk of serious injuries can be reduced not only by developing the greatest skill possible in the position that one plays, but also by maintaining one's physical condition at the maximum possible level.
See also Age and exercise ; Exercise ; Running ; Softball .
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Little League International Baseball and Softball, 539 US Rte. 15 Hwy., PO Box 3485, Williamsport, PA, 17701-0485, (570) 326-1921, Fax: (570) 326-1074, http://www.littleleague.org .
Major League Baseball, 75 Ninth Ave., 5th Fl., New York, NY, 10011, (888) 800-1275, http://mlb.mlb.com .
Minor League Baseball, 9550 16th St. N, St. Petersburg, FL, 33716, (727) 822-6937, Fax: (727) 821-5819, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.milb.com .
David E. Newton, AB, MA, EdD