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How to Play Baseball

By Christopher Michael

Catch the ball, hit the ball and throw the ball. It seems simple, but the nuances of baseball make it a game of strategy. And while a professional baseball manager never stops learning about the game, you can appreciate America's pastime by learning these foundational rules.

The Playing Field

The game is played on a pizza-wedge field, originating in one corner with a permanently installed, hard-surface, five-sided base in the shape of a house, called home plate. There are three, soft, rubber bases that, together with home plate, comprise the infield. Each of these four bases are 90 feet apart in major league ball, with the corner bases, first and third, sitting on the foul lines that extend from home, through the outfield. A home run fence, usually between 330 and 420 feet distant from home, marks the boundary of the outfield as the crust of the pizza. A batter clearing the fence has hit a home run, scoring himself and any players already on base. A foot-high hill, called the pitcher's mound, sits in the middle of the infield diamond, 60 feet six inches from home plate. The mound is crowned at its top by a permanent, hard, white strip called a rubber.

Roster of Players

Nine active players defend the field. The pitcher stands atop the mound, and throws pitches to a catcher, squatting out of play behind home plate. A first and third baseman play defense near their respective bases, while a second baseman and shortstop defend the middle of the infield, straddling second base. Three fielders defend the expanse of the outfield: a left, center and right fielder. Each defensive player is responsible for catching balls hit or thrown into their territory.

The Strike Zone

Each team takes turns batting against the defense of the other. Play starts when the pitcher, with his foot is in contact with the rubber, throws the ball to the catcher. The ball should be thrown through or near the strike zone, an imaginary two-dimensional rectangle hovering over and spanning the 18-inch width of.home plate. Vertically, this zone starts at the hollow of a batter's knee and rises to an inch or two above the belly button. The thrown pitch, in the judgment of an umpire standing directly behind the catcher, either passes through the zone for a strike, or misses, which counts as a ball.

Scoring Runs

Four balls result in a walk, and the hitter takes first base, while three strikes comprise a strike out. Standing in the batter's box next to the plate, the hitter, swinging a bat, tries to hit the the ball into fair territory. Once he has struck a ball fairly, the batter must run to first base before a fielder can catch the ball and throw it to a fielder there. The defenders retire the hitter by getting a strike out, either swinging or called by the umpire; by catching the batted ball before it hits the ground; by tagging the hitter in the baseline with the ball; or by touching a base the runner is forced to take once the ball is hit. The runner is safe while touching any one of the bases; he tries to run around all three bases -- during his at bat or any successive ones -- before a third out is made, scoring a run for his team when he crosses home plate.

Nine Inning Game

Only one hitter can occupy any one base at a time and the ball is always in play. Runners sometimes try to steal a base when the pitcher begins the pitch. Once the defending team gets three outs, the teams switch sides. The other team bats, while those who have been hitting take to the field to defend. Baseball is unique because it is not measured by time, but by opportunity. Once both teams have batted and made three outs, the first of nine innings is complete. If the game is tied after nine tries apiece, extra innings are played until the tie is broken.

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