Sunday, April 02, 2006

Special Essay - Play Ball! ... Batter Up!

Could You Please Tell Me, What Is This Thing Called Baseball?

base-ball ( bays-ball ) n. 1. a team game played with a bat and a
ball on a field with four bases arranged in a diamond and in which
runs are scored by hitting a ball, getting walks, etc. and circling the bases ...

Oxford American Dictionary

It’s been awhile but you still know Ty Cobb’s lifetime average with runners on base and two outs. You can still rattle-off everybody Mickey Mantle tagged for a homerun. Challenged to recite the entire squad of the 1963 Cleveland Indians? No problemo! But all that goes out the window the moment some well-intentioned visitor from some new Russian republic turns to you in a bar and asks; “Could you please tell me, what is this thing called baseball?”

Go ahead, tell’em. A definition out of a book doesn’t quite nail it, does it? After all, you know that baseball is played on a field, but, inside a stadium, park or dome. The field has an infield, outfield and opposite field. Some have short fences and all have power alleys. One even has a green monster lurking about. Then there’s this business about a diamond but it would be best to move on from these last two items.








All pitchers will tell you that they have stuff

The man that throws the ball is called a pitcher. You have different kinds of pitchers – starting pitchers and relief pitchers. A starting pitcher will pitch for as long and and as well as he can. If he doesn’t have his stuff (all pitchers will tell you that they have stuff) and can’t finish the game, a relief pitcher is brought in.

There are various breeds of relief pitchers. You have long relievers and short relievers. The title refers not to their size but to the length of time that they pitch. After all, you have long relievers that are short and short relievers that are tall.

Sometimes a relief pitcher will do so well (he’ll have his stuff) that he gets credit with the win.Other times (not having his stuff) he’ll get pinned with the loss. On some occasions, he’ll only get a save, with the win going to the starting pitcher who didn’t have his stuff and couldn’t finish the game, thus being relieved. It even happens that relief pitchers get relieved by other relief pitchers.

Some pitchers (remember, he can be a starter or reliever, long or short) will wind up before they pitch. Other will deliver it from a stretch. They can throw sinkers, sliders, spitters, knucklers, curves, screwballs and change-ups. Some are plain fastballers, others sneaky lowballers. A few are outright screwballs, but we digress.

They’ll put a little on it or take a little off it. Hum it right in there or just let it fly. They’ll get ahead of the hitter (the man with the bat - more on him shortly) or behind him. Some will brush’em back while others move it around. A chosen few defy science and throw heat or smoke and just about every pitcher can throw junk (but it has nothing to do with items from his attic, or spring cleaning). All this stuff is part of the “stuff thing”, so you do want to mention it.

Baseball pays a tribute of sorts to the Spanish in that all the stadium, parks and domes have a bullpen. But they don’t keep bulls in it - they put pitchers there. All the pitchers except the one that is pitching (which, if you’ve read carefully, can be a starting pitcher or relief pitcher, long or short). The pitcher pitching gets to sit in the dugout with the rest of the team. It’s been this way for years so apparently the pitchers don’t mind it.











All hitters will tell you they have a good eye at the plate.

Now, the man with the bat is called the batter or hitter. His object is to reach base. He does this by stepping up to the plate (well, it’s not really a plate as you or I know it) and standing in the box. The on-deck hitter - the man batting next - gets to stand or kneel in a circle.

The hitter has an affinity with the plate, in that he will protect it at all times. And like pitchers with their stuff (starters or relievers, long or short), all hitters will tell you they have a good eye at the plate.

The hitter (using his good eye) can reach base by sending it up the middle or by waiting for his pitch. Some just swing away. They can hit long flies or slow rollers. Drill it to right or rap one to left. They can give it a ride or hit it in the hole. Some hit if off their wrists, others break their wrists trying to hit it (but he’ll invariably try to say that he didn’t go around).

In certain situations, the hitter will get the green light. Sometimes they go after bad balls or they’ll just pull up and check their swing (it’s the pitcher and that “stuff thing” again). If a hitter doesn’t like a pitch, he can fight it off - or sit back and take it. He can receive a walk but he might score a run.

Some hitters will choke-up on the bat. Others will choke at the plate (not having a good eye ). There are hitters who get their sports confused and will golf one. Or they’ll see basketballs coming in at them (but this last one isn’t confusing, it’s good, it means he’s in a groove, that he has a very good eye).

All you have to do is sit on a fastball

As with pitchers, you also have a variety of hitters. There’s pinch-hitters, designated hitters, switch-hitters, contact-hitters and clutch-hitters. A few are known strictly as homerun-hitters but anybody can hit a homerun - all you have to do is sit on a fastball. Some are referred to as just plain sluggers or power-hitters. There’s also the on-deck hitter but he doesn’t become whatever type of hitter he is until he leaves the circle and steps into the box.

While the object of the hitter is to reach base, he doesn’t always make it (if he does it two times out of ten, he’s considered good; three times out of ten and he’s great - go figure). He can pop out, fly out, ground out, foul out or strike out . Some go down swinging, other get caught looking (trying to take too many pitches from the pitcher - starter or reliever, long or short).

The hitter can also be called out but that’s pretty much the same as getting caught looking. Or he can be knocked out. He gets knocked out by getting caught looking or by getting hit with a pitch. If he gets hit by a pitch, he may have to go to the hospital for treatment.

If he doesn’t go to the hospital, he gets to go to first base. The pitcher can also be knocked out (but he doesn’t get to go to first base, only hitters do). Hitters are always trying to knock out pitchers. When a pitchers gets knocked out (not having his stuff, letting a hitter hit too many of his pitches - maybe even getting his pitches knocked out of the stadium, park or dome), he usually goes straight to the showers (although, on rare occasions, he may also have to go to the hospital). Then a relief pitcher is brought in, long or short.

Sometimes a hitter will hit the ball and still make an out. There are times when a hitter will want to make to make an out. That’s called a “sacrifice” He’ll only want to do that (some don’t want to do it at all) when another hitter has already reached base and can advance to another base.

If a hitter ever tries to sacrifice without another hitter on base, well, his coaches will hang him out to dry. At times, a hitter will procrastinate on a pitch and get hung up. However, he’ll always try to hang in there. The pitcher also tries to hang in there but sometimes he’ll hang one over.

When the hitter hits the ball, the fielders (more on them coming) will try to hang on to it. Fans will encourage a hitter to hang in there but if they don’t like the way he is hitting (not having a good eye at the plate), they’ll scream for him to hang it up. A close game is often described as a cliffhanger.

A hitter can hang in there by fouling one off or fouling it upstairs. He can also foul it out of play, foul it back, chop it foul or pop it foul. Sometimes the ball just drops foul. There are times when a hitter will foul out. If a pitcher (starter or reliever, long or short) throws a spitter, you’ll see the hitter cry foul. The umpires, the men in dark suits who stand behind the bases and enforce the rules, take a lot of foul abuse from players and fans, who holler foul when they don’t agree with the umpire’s decision. Foul weather will cancel a game, putting everybody in a foul mood.












A utility fielder can play both the infield and outfield, but not at the same time.

The area of fielding is less complicated then pitching or hitting. The infield (or diamond, if you will) consists of a first baseman, second baseman, third baseman and shortstop. No, it’s not a size issue. The shortstop (he can be tall or short) plays the hole between second and third base.

There’s no fourth base, per se. That’s called home plate, which we already know isn’t really a plate. The catcher plays home plate. He catches the ball thrown by the pitcher (starter or reliever, long or short). While both the pitcher and catcher are in the infield, they’re generally not referred to as infielders. They’re known as a battery, which has nothing to do with batting or a perpetually-moving, drum-banging rabbit.

In the outfield, you have a right fielder, leftfielder and centerfielder. There is no opposite fielder. The three outfielders are expected to cover the opposite field - wherever that may be based on who’s at bat. You also have utility fielders and, no, there isn’t a utility field. A utility fielder can play both the infield and outfield, but not at the same time.

There’s a good deal of running in baseball

You may also want to mention to your friend that there’s a good deal of running in baseball. Teams run out onto the field to start the game. When a hitter hits the ball, he runs to first base, where, if he makes it safely (not being thrown out or gunned down by one of the fielders, in or out), he stops being a hitter and is now a base runner.

He may attempt to go for extra bases but he may get caught in a rundown. Or maybe the fielder (in or out) will make a running catch. In either case, there may be a dispute which will cause the manager to come running out of the dugout and have a run-in with the umpire (this is one of those times that the umpire may take that foul abuse we talked about earlier). There’ll be occasions when the base runner is replaced by a pinch runner.

Late in the season - often too late – teams will make a run for the pennant.

Unlike the rest of society, baseball allows stealing. No, not money or personal property but bases.Lots of them! The more the base runner (or pinch runner, if you will) can steal, the better his team can do. Signs too (no, not billboards, “For Rent placards or “No parking” notices) but how a catcher wants a pitcher (starter or reliever, long or short) to pitch to a certain batter - depending on what type of hitter the batter happens to be. It’s all part of the game but be sure to tell your friend that, if he ever goes to a game (inside a stadium, park or dome), that he can’t do any stealing. Only the players (and some people may tell you the owners as well) can.

We’ve almost failed to mention that there are two kinds of baseball - Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball. Everybody in the Minor Leagues wants to be up in the big show, the Majors. Nobody in the Majors wants to be in the Minors (Minor League Baseball is pretty much played in parks or on fields - not in stadiums or domes).

Wait, we nearly forgot - there’s the Infield Fly Rule. Now, it’s common knowledge that the Infield Fly rule is applicable when ...

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Copyright J. Thomas Duffy
All Rights Reserved
Any copying or distribution without permission is strictly prohibited

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very Witty

You could probably write about 10 of these on all the different, arcne stats in baseball

Nice piece

JD
NJ

Fred said...

JT: I wish I'd read (or even written) this last spring! Fred Bouchard

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