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Play Ball! - America's Love Affair With Baseball

By Melinda R. Wirth

"Take me out to the ball game, take me out to the crowd." The familiar song about the simple delights of summer and baseball is heard almost everywhere this time of year. That's right, folks, it's baseball season.

Baseball is called "America's favorite pastime" for good reason. The game started in the early 1800's, although official rules were not printed and published until 1834. And it was in 1871 that the first game was played by the National Association. Ever since then, baseball began to move out of the small-town fields and into the huge stadiums we see today.

Baseball is mainly a game of strategy. Managers have to decide who is going to play where, and which pitcher will perform the best against which teams. Baseball players have to think quickly and react in a split second. One false move can mean disaster, so everyone has to contribute and do his best. As baseball legend Babe Ruth said, "the way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don't play together, the club won't be worth a dime."

In baseball, many things happen fast, and if you don't watch carefully, you could miss a very important play. If you are not familiar with the rules of the game, here are some easy explanations that can make watching a baseball game more enjoyable. Any baseball team has 25 players on its roster, which includes pitchers, catchers, infielders, and outfielders. Usually a team uses the same nine people every day, leaving the rest of the players as back up in case someone gets hurt or sick.

The pitcher is the person who throws the ball to a batter of the opposite team. The batter is supposed to hit the ball as far as he can, so that he can run to as many bases as he can. The catcher always squats behind the batter, in order to retrieve the ball if the batter misses the pitch or chooses not to swing. There is a different player (infielder) stationed at first, second, and third bases. Their job is to catch the ball if the hitter hits it, and to keep it from going into the outfield, which would allow the runner to have more time to run the bases. The three outfielders do similar jobs, except they are stationed farther away from the infielders and the pitching mound. The outfielders are supposed to keep the ball from leaving the park, and to throw it to an infielder or the catcher if an opposing player hits it their way. The main objective in the game of baseball is to keep the players on the other team from going all the way from first base to home base (where the batter starts from), also known as scoring a run.

There are nine innings in a game, and each team gets to send three batters each inning. If a batter gets on base, that team gets to keep hitting until there are three outs. Once a team has three outs, they switch and the other team gets a chance to hit.

Here are some other terms that are helpful for understanding the game of baseball:

Home Run: when a hitter hits the ball all the way out of the ballpark, or into the stands in fair territory. This automatically counts as one run. If a player hits a homerun, any and all other players who have already made it on base get to score also.
Loaded bases: when there are players on all three bases, not including home base.
Grand Slam: when the bases are loaded and a hitter hits a home run. This counts for four runs.
Double play: when the team in the field gets two outs in one play. For example, if there is a player already on first base, a hitter sometimes hits the ball to the shortstop, the shortstop would throw it to second base (one out), and the second baseman would throw it to first base (second out). Double plays are very fast and they don't occur very often.
Southpaw: a left-handed pitcher.
Rookie: a first-year player, the youngest (in terms of experience) on the team.
Skipper: another name for the manager of a baseball team. The manager decides most of the plays during the game.
Line Drive: a ball that is hit so hard that it travels in an almost straight line, parallel to the ground.
Base Hit: when a hitter hits the ball far enough so that he can reach first base.

Baseball is a great game that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. Ask your friends which baseball team is their favorite, and you're guaranteed to spark a very lively debate, since most people are extremely loyal to their team of choice. There are intense rivalries between certain teams that have existed for decades, such as the one between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. However, regardless of your team of choice, taking in a baseball game is a very pleasurable way to spend a summer afternoon. Chances are good that there is either a major or minor league team near you. Just check your local newspaper or www.mlb.com to find out where the closest stadium or team is. Buy yourself a hot dog, a soda, some Crackerjack, and play ball!!

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