wikiHow to Play Baseball

Two Parts:Basics and SetupPlaying the Game

Baseball is one of America's most beloved and iconic sports. Read these steps to learn how the game is played, and how to play it yourself.

Part 1
Basics and Setup

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    Understand the basic concepts of the game. Baseball is a team sport played on a special field over the course of several periods of play, called innings. Each inning is further divided into two parts, the “top” and the “bottom,” during which one team tries to score points while the other team defends the field. Points are scored by hitting a thrown ball (the baseball) with a bat, and then running around the four bases and returning to home plate (the plate you bat from). If the runner is tagged with the baseball by the defensive team before completing the run, the runner is out. After three outs, the inning moves forward and the teams switch places.
    • College and professional baseball games are played over nine innings. Less intense levels of competition usually feature six or seven.
    • The entire defensive team is always on the field. Offensive players try to hit the ball one at a time, so to start with there's only one offensive player on the field. As play progresses, up to four offensive players may end up on the field, but only one batter is up at any given time. The other three players are simply waiting in safe spots to complete their runs and score points.
    • There are three safe spots for runners, one at each corner of the running area, called bases. The bases must be visited in order to score a point; a runner can also choose to stop on a base and wait until the next play to continue running to the next. Bases are explained in greater detail below.
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    Get familiar with the infield. The baseball field (sometimes called the “baseball diamond”) is a specially-designed field composed of two basic parts: the infield and the outfield. The infield is the center of action. It's defined by four rugged pads set in the ground, called bases, at equal points from each other, forming a square diamond shape. The path from each base to the next is made of dirt, rather than grass. Inside the diamond is a grassy area, and near the middle of that is a low dirt mound with another plate on it called the pitcher's mound.
    • The batter (offensive player) stands at one base, called home plate, and waits for the ball to be pitched from the pitcher's mound so they can try to hit it with the bat. There is a painted rectangle on either side of home plate called a “batter's box” that defines where batters are allowed to stand. Another painted box behind home plate defines where the catcher crouches to catch the ball if the batter misses it.
      • While the other bases are four-sided and typically made of canvas, home plate is five-sided and made of rubber, to distinguish it. There is also usually a tall fence cupped around home plate to prevent stray balls from hitting the audience behind.
    • Bases are numbered counterclockwise from home plate: first, second, and third. Second base is on a direct line from home plate through the pitcher's mound.
    • A baseball that's hit and lands to the left of third base or the right of first base (as seen from home plate) is considered a “foul ball,” which invalidates the play. Foul lines are usually painted on the field to show where the border is.
    • There are regulation distances that define a proper baseball infield. Each base is 90 feet (27.4 m) apart from the next. The pitcher's mound is 60.5 feet (18.4 m) from home plate.
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    Get familiar with the outfield. Past the dirt border that defines the infield is a large swath of green turf called the outfield. The foul lines continue on through the outfield, but otherwise, the space is open and undefined by structures or lines. There are a few defensive players in the outfield – the left, center, and right fielders – who try to catch and/or return long-distance hits. The outfield bulges out in the center, behind second base. The outer edge of the field is called the “fence.”
    • Unlike the infield, there's no strict rule regarding the size of a baseball outfield. American professional baseball fields have home plate-to-center field fence distances ranging from 390 feet (118.9 m) to 435 feet (132.6 m).
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    Learn the roles of the teams. Each team is composed of 25 players, but only 9 players are on the field at one time, all of whom have specific defensive positions on the field. During offensive play, all players act as batters, taking turns trying to hit the ball. Once the ball has been hit, the batter can begin to run from home plate around each of the bases in a counterclockwise order, to complete a run back to home plate and score a point. The defensive team tries to recover the ball and tag the batter with it, ending the play. The 9 defensive roles are as follows:
    • The pitcher pitches the baseball towards the batter. The ball has to be pitched at a certain level and straight over home plate to be considered fair, but a good pitcher can still make it very tricky to hit.
    • The catcher crouches behind home plate with heavy protective gear and a special mitt, and catches the ball when the batter doesn't hit it. The catcher can also pick up and throw a ball in play, if it lands close by.
    • The first baseman guards first base. They must be very good at catching the ball; if the first baseman manages to get a hold of the ball before the batter has made it to first base, it's almost impossible for the batter to avoid being tagged out.
    • The second baseman guards the area between first and second base. In addition to tagging runners out at second base, the second baseman also helps catch ground balls before they roll into the outfield.
    • The shortstop stands between second and third base and returns balls to any of the basemen to help get an out. Shortstops see a lot of action in a typical game – more than any other defensive position - as most right-handed batters tend to send the ball into the shortstop's area.
    • The third baseman closely guards third base, and must also have an exceptionally strong throwing arm to send balls quickly to first base, all the way across the diamond. This is because (as with the shortstop) many right-handed batters send the ball straight towards third base when they hit it.
    • The outfielders are three players who guard a different section of the outfield – left, center, and right, as previously described. Their job is to catch high and long balls and prevent the batting team from scoring easy runs by simply hitting the ball hard.
    • All defensive players are allowed to use a large leather mitt on one hand to help them catch the ball. The catcher's mitt is even bigger and thicker.
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    Understand the role of umpires. The umpire is a member of the field not affiliated with either team, and sworn to impartiality. It's the umpire's job to watch closely and announce the result of each play. There are typically a few umpires at most games: one at home plate, and one at each of the other three bases. Some games also place two umpires in the outfield. The umpire at home plate typically calls the start of the game.
    • Harassing or intentionally touching an umpire can result in severe penalties, and is to be avoided at all costs. Whether or not you agree, the umpire's word is final.
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    Learn about outs. Only offensive team members can get an out. Once a player is out, they are removed from play, and from the batting rotation, for the rest of the inning. Once three players are out, the defensive and offensive teams switch. There are several ways to get an out. The commonly seen ones are described below.
    • If a defensive player catches the batter's ball before it hits the ground, the batter is automatically out no matter what else is happening, and even if the ball was caught in foul territory. This is called a “flyout.”
    • If a defensive player touches a runner with the ball (or a glove holding the ball) while the runner isn't standing on a base, the runner is out. The ball must be held in the defensive player's hand; beaning the runner with a throw is unacceptable. This is called a “tag out.”
    • If a batter passes on a chance to hit a fair ball (one that wasn't too high, low, or close to the batter's body), or if a batter swings and misses, he is given a strike. Three strikes result in an out, called a “strikeout.”
    • On first base only, if a fielder touches the base while holding the ball before the runner can reach it, they are out. This is called a “ground out.”
    • If a runner is standing on a base and has to run forward to make room for the next runner (as only one runner can be on a base at a given time), they can receive a “force out” if a fielder at the next base touches the base while holding the ball.
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    Learn about strikes, balls, and fouls. While at bat, one of four things can happen each pitch: a strike, a ball, a fair ball, or a foul ball. These terms sound confusing because they seem to overlap, but they're actually fairly simple to learn:
    • A strike is an indication that the batter either could have swung at the ball and didn't, or swung at the ball and missed. Foul balls can result in strikes as well. After three strikes, the batter is out and the next batter steps up to the plate (until three outs are reached).
    • A ball happens when the pitcher pitches a ball that's too far outside the hitting area to be considered hittable by the batter. After four balls, the batter “walks,” which is a free advancement to first base. Batters will occasionally try to crowd the plate and earn a walk rather than hit the ball.
    • A fair ball is a ball that the batter hits which lands between the foul lines, allowing the batter to run for first base. A fair ball is what batters want, most of the time.
    • A foul ball is a ball that the batter hits which lands outside the foul lines. Unless it's caught and turned into a flyout, a foul ball just counts as a strike; however, in most cases, players can't get more than two strikes as the result of hitting a foul ball. Additional foul balls aren't counted.

Part 2
Playing the Game

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    Set up the field. Each defensive player takes a position on the field. All four infielders - first baseman, second baseman, shortstop, and third basemen - position themselves strategically in their areas and often adjust that position according to many factors, including the batter's tendency to hit the ball one way or the other, and the situation in the game. Outfielders, too, stand closer or farther away from home plate, more toward left or more toward right, depending on all sorts of variables, including: each batter's propensities, in-game strategy, the pitcher's strengths and weaknesses, the particular dimensions of the field of play (each outfield is different) and the weather (especially wind direction, which can greatly effect the flight of the ball). All eight defensive players (besides the catcher) must be in "fair territory" (between the foul lines) as each pitch is thrown but nothing in the rules obliges any defensive player to keep to a certain area, except the pitcher (who must have one foot in contact with the rubber when he pitches the ball) and the catcher (who must be in the catcher's box behind home plate). The batter stands in either the left (right-handed) or right (left-handed) batting box on one side of home plate. The umpire briefly checks to verify that all nine defensive players are on the field of play and the batter is in the box, then shouts “play ball” to begin the game.
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    Pitch, swing, and hit the ball. The pitcher will attempt to throw balls that are difficult to hit, while still remaining inside the “strike zone” where the batter is expected to try to hit them. The batter does their best to quickly judge whether or not the ball is safe to hit, and then swings at it. If the batter connects and the ball doesn't cross the foul lines, it's in play.
    • Pitchers often use fastballs, curveballs, changeups, and sliders to confound batters. The fastball is what it sounds like – very fast – as is the curveball. A changeup involves the pitcher pretending to throw a fastball but actually throwing a much slower pitch, confusing the batter's sense of timing. A slider is a difficult-to-throw ball that combines most of a fastball's speed with a curveball's lateral movement.
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    Run the bases. While the ball is moving across the field, either through the air or along the ground, the batter (who is now called the “runner” or “baserunner”) drops the bat and runs as fast as possible towards first base. As long as the runner doesn't get a flyout, tag out, or ground out, they can stop at first base, or keep going until it's no longer safe. In the meantime, the fielders work to collect the ball and return it to the runner's position to get them out.
    • Fielders are allowed to throw the ball to each other or run with the ball in order to get it close enough to the runner to get an out. Runners aren't allowed to touch the ball on their own.
    • A runner who isn't in danger of being forced or grounded out can sometimes avoid being tagged out at a base by sliding underneath the baseman and trying to touch the base before the ball touches them. As long as even one fingertip or toe is touching the base before the runner is tagged, they are safe.
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    Steal bases. In most instances, the runner won't be able to complete an entire circuit of the bases on a single play, so they must stop at a base and wait for the next batter to step up to the plate. However, at any time, the runner may attempt to “steal” the next base by running to it before the pitcher realizes what's happening. Since the pitcher is usually the best thrower on the team, stealing a base is very dangerous: the pitcher can turn and throw the ball to a baseman instead of the batter, allowing an easy tag out.
    • The basemen can also pass the ball to one another, trapping the runner between two bases until they make a desperate (and usually futile) attempt to slide into one of them. Runners can't leave the line between the two bases, either: there's no running off into the outfield and then circling back around, for example.
    • Runners are safe while on bases, but they aren't required to stay on a base. Most runners prepare for a possible steal by scooting out a little ways from their current base, but not far enough that they can't scramble back to it if they have to.
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    Load bases. Only one runner is allowed on each base at any time – this is where the force out rule comes from. However, since there are three bases, up to four runners can be on the field at a time. When all three bases have a runner, the offensive team is said to have the “bases loaded,” meaning the next fair hit or walk will necessarily result in either a run or an out. Having the bases loaded isn't necessarily the most ideal situation for a team, but it's very exciting for the audience.
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    Hit a home run. Sometimes, the batter hits the ball so hard or so well that they are able to run around the entire diamond before getting an out, scoring a run on the first hit. This is called a “home run.” Most home runs are the result of the ball being hit past the fence at the back of the outfield, at which point it's completely out of play and all the fielding team can do is watch.
    • A home run hit while the bases are loaded is called a “grand slam.” Obviously, a grand slam is worth four points (one for each runner), and can turn the tide of a difficult game or virtually guarantee victory. Grand slams are exceptionally rare, but very exciting.
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    Drive forward with regular plays. Home runs are fun, but not common enough to be relied upon as a means of winning the game. Instead, focus on learning how far to run after a normal hit. By knowing when to stop and wait, you can stay in play longer and raise your chances of scoring a point. There are three other runs from home plate aside from the home run:
    • A single is a run from home plate to first base. It's perhaps the most common type of run, due to its safety and flexibility.
    • A double is a run from home plate to second base. Most of the time, a double is a smart choice for medium-distance hits, or hits that leave the fielding team distracted by another player on second or third base.
    • A triple is a run from home plate to third base. Triples are uncommon, but they often lead to runs soon after.
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    Try a hit and run play. Good contact hitters (batters who have good control over the ball's direction once hit) can work with a runner on first to make a hole between first and second base, which is normally guarded by the second baseman. The runner on first attempts to steal second right as the pitch is thrown, forcing the second baseman to follow. The batter then drives the ball through the gap into the outfield and takes a single or double.
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    Trade outs for runs with sacrifice plays. There are two types of sacrifice play, wherein a batter accepts an out for the sake of moving a runner on second or third base closer to home so they can score a run.
    • A sacrifice bunt is a special type of play where the batter uses the bat to bump the ball from the air without sending it forward. The ball lands just in front of home plate, making it a simple matter for the catcher to retrieve the ball and ground out the batter; however, in the time it takes to do this, another runner may be able to advance to third base or even home plate.
      • The very fastest runners can sometimes survive a bunt and make it to first without getting grounded out.
    • A sacrifice fly is a pop fly (a high, arcing ball that's very easy to catch) that gives a third baseman time to run home before the runner gets a flyout.
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    Get multiple runners out at once. When the field is set up just right, the fielders may be able to pull off a double play or even a triple play, in which they get two or three outs on a single play. Triple plays are rare, but possible if enough force outs are available. Double plays are more common, and often involve forcing out a runner on first, and then grounding out the batter before they reach first.
    • Since three outs causes the teams to switch, a triple play will end the current half of the inning immediately.
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    Understand the infield fly rule. This rule is only invoked by umpires, but it's important to understand. When a batter hits a pop fly that will land in the infield, the umpire can decide it's too easy to catch and invoke the infield fly rule. This causes the batter to be out automatically, and prevents the fielding team from getting an easy triple play by catching the ball and forcing outs at the other bases. In short, it's a rule governing fairness of play, designed to keep things interesting for both sides. Knowing about it now will help when you hear it called later.
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    Keep playing until the correct number of innings is reached. As opposed to basketball and many other team sports, baseball doesn't have a clock or timer, with the exception of little league games. Instead, the game is played until all the innings are completed. Because this can make games drag on for a long time, teams are allowed to have alternates, particularly extra pitchers (called relief pitchers) to keep play fresh from beginning to end. At the end of the last inning, whichever team scored the most runs wins.
    • If the teams are tied at the end of the last inning, an extra inning is played. It is very unusual for a baseball game to end in a tie; typically, extra innings are added until one team manages to scrape out an advantage.


  • Be patient. Learning to play baseball takes time and effort; getting any good at it takes even more. Every position on the field is challenging in its own way. If you stick with it, you'll soon find yourself having lots of fun and getting a little better every time you play.
  • Learn and practice as much as you can. Friends who play baseball are a great source of information, as are books, guides, and classes. In the end, though, you'll learn the most about baseball from simply playing and getting a feel for it.
  • If you're a beginner playing defense, keep your glove near your face, so if a ball is hit or thrown to you, you're less likely to be hurt by it (and more likely to catch it).
  • Keep your eye on the ball. Don't hit the ball if you have to turn your head to see it, because it is probably a ball.


  • Remember to keep your eyes on the ball when you're playing. Baseballs are hard; you don't want to be hit by one.
  • Wear protective gear when you play ball. Batting helmets are particularly advised, and catchers should always wear masks, helmets, and chest, knee, shin and foot guards (the same protection that plate umpires wear).

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