A National Pasttime
One of the oldest sports that's taken off and gained popularity in the United States is the national pastime, baseball. The first professional team laced up their shoes way back in 1869. That team, the Cincinnati Reds, still exists today. Back then, they were known as the Red Stockings. The team went more than a year before taking their first loss after a winning streak of 81 games. Many kids learn about baseball beginning with tee-ball games around the same time they start kindergarten.
A baseball game takes place between two teams of nine players who take to a diamond-shaped field. Little League games tend to have outfield fences that are 200 feet from home plate. As players get older, the distance from home plate to the outfield fences will range from a little more than 300 feet down the foul lines to around 400 feet in center field.
The nine players include a pitcher, a catcher, four infielders, and three outfielders. Three of the infielders play near first, second, and third base. There is also a player known as the shortstop who plays between the second and third basemen. The infielders and outfielders can shift their positions toward first or third base depending upon where a given batter tends to hit the ball.
Most teams need a good pitcher to win a game. The pitcher places his back foot on a strip of rubber that's placed on a short mound that's 60 feet, six inches from home plate. The pitcher then throws the ball, attempting to guide it over the plate at a level between the middle of a batter's torso and his knees. Pitchers can throw the ball from different trajectories. They can come completely overhand or throw from the sidearm position. A few pitchers, known as submariners, throw from an underhanded position.
Pitchers attempt to keep hitters off-balance by varying the speed and position of their pitches. A pitcher might throw close to the batter to get him to back off of home plate and then throw the ball to his outside on the next pitch to make it more difficult for the batter to make solid contact with the ball.
Pitchers will usually attempt to impart spin on their pitches. Depending upon the spin, a pitched ball might sink near the plate. It might also curve slightly with a hard pitch known as a slider. A pitch that's thrown near a pitcher's maximum effort is known as a fastball. Some professionals are able to reach 100 miles per hour with a fastball.
A changeup is a pitch that's intended to look like a fastball with a little less speed. A pitcher will take a few miles off of a changeup in an attempt to get the hitter to swing before the pitch reaches home plate. A curveball will have a great deal of sidespin and move down rapidly and in the direction of the pitcher's opposite hand. A left-handed pitcher might have a curveball move slightly toward a right-handed batter. Curveballs will usually hit between 60 and 80 miles per hour. The only pitch that intentionally has no spin is known as a knuckleball. This pitch, if thrown correctly, has no spin, and the pitcher and catcher will have no idea where it is headed as it flutters toward the plate.
The goal is to either throw three strikes to a batter or get the batter to hit the ball weakly in the vicinity of one of the fielders that back up the pitcher. Three strikes will lead to a strikeout. A pitch that crosses the plate within the strike zone (an area that reaches between the middle of a batter's torso and his knees) will result in a strike if the batter fails to swing. A ball outside this strike zone is a ball. Four balls will allow a batter to reach first base.
A batted ball caught by a fielder without first touching the ground will lead to an out. A grounded ball that is then thrown to the first baseman before the batter reaches the base will record an out as well. There are three outs to each inning, and each game lasts nine innings. A pitcher who pitches all nine innings is credited with a complete game, and a pitcher who leaves with his team in the lead will earn a win as long as his team never loses the lead.
The purpose of the offensive team in baseball is to score more runs than the opponent. Batters attempt to hit the ball to an area not occupied by a fielder. After hitting the ball, a batter will run to first base as rapidly as he can. If he reaches the base before a fielder throws the ball to a first baseman who has his foot on the base, the batter can stay on the base. On hits to the outfield, a batter may be able to take second or third base. A hit that reaches first base is a single. A hit that reaches second base is known as a double, and one that allows the batter to reach third base is a triple.
Any batters who are able to hit the ball with a man on base can advance those already on base to one or more subsequent bases. On rare occasions, a batter can hit the ball for an inside-the-park home run. The ball does not leave the field in this instance, yet the batter is able to reach home, usually due to a combination of speed and an unusual bounce off of the outfield fence.
If a batter is able to hit a ball over the outfield fence while keeping it between the foul lines, that hit is called a home run. A batter who knocks a run across home plate will earn a run batted in, more commonly known as an RBI. A batter who hits a home run with runners on all three bases achieves what's known as a grand slam.
Winning A Game
The team with the most runs at the end of nine innings will win the game. Nine innings is a standard game in professional leagues. Some high school and college games will last for seven innings, and Little League games are scheduled for six innings or a maximum of two hours. If the home team has the lead, they will not have to bat in the last inning because they bat last. If the teams are tied at the end of a regulation game, play will continue playing until one of the teams has a lead at the end of an inning. The longest major league game in Major League history occurred in 1920 and lasted 26 innings. Because no major league teams had artificial lighting in 1920, the game ended in a tie because of darkness.
Hitting a baseball takes a great deal of skill. Keeping a batter from hitting the ball is also a rare skill. Baseball is the only major sport that is not timed in some way, and its intricacies and strategies have brought many fans to America's pastime for more than a century. It will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.