Baseball in the United States

One of the United States' many major league ballparks

Baseball has been considered America's pastime for over a century and today remains one of the biggest sports in the country. Baseball is played at a number of amateur levels, from Little League to High School to College, and professional leagues range from the lowest Minor Leagues to Major League Baseball. In almost any place in America, there will be a baseball game going on during the spring and summer months, and it is a fantastic way to meet the locals and experience American sports culture.

Understand

Baseball's origins are murky at best, and there is a lot of mythology behind it. But the game does bear similarities to cricket, which, like baseball, appears to have evolved from earlier batted-ball games popular in England and Western Europe. For decades, the invention of the game was attributed to Abner Doubleday, with the first game occurring in Cooperstown, New York, but historians now agree that neither had anything do with the game's origins. However, the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame is still in Cooperstown, mostly due to that mythological origin of the sport.

The game is played between two teams, each with nine players active at a time. The teams take turns playing defense and offense, with the same players playing both roles. While on offense, players come to home plate in order and try to hit a thrown baseball with a wooden or aluminum bat, with the objective of sending it far enough away that the batter can reach base before the ball can be relayed there. On defense, each of the nine players has a set position on the field: one pitcher, who throws the ball to the batter; one catcher, who catches any pitched balls that do not get hit; one player at each of the three bases; a shortstop between second base and third base; and three outfielders who roam the large expanse between the bases and the far edge of the playing field, trying to catch batted balls and relay them inward. Every defensive player wears a large leather glove (or mitt) on their non-throwing hand to aid in catching and fielding the ball.

A batter has three chances, or strikes, to hit a ball into play; if he or she misses three times, he or she is out. The batter is also out if the batted ball is caught before hitting the ground, or if the ball is relayed to the base before the batter can reach it. The pitcher must give the batter a reasonable chance to hit the ball; if the ball is thrown outside of the strike zone (which is over the plate, between the batter's knees and armpits) and the batter doesn't swing at it, the pitcher is charged with a ball. Four balls to the same batter allows the batter to advance to first base automatically, called a "base on balls" in the official rules but more often called a walk. Prolific hitters are sometimes intentionally "walked" to avoid the chance of a run-scoring hit or home run.

Sliding into home plate

Once a batter reaches base, he or she becomes a runner, and can attempt to advance to additional bases if the ball is still far enough away. Wherever the runner stops, he or she waits at that base as the next batter comes up. The runner can try to advance to the next base at any time, but can be called out if the defense can get the ball to the target base before the runner. Normally, this occurs when the batter puts the ball into play, but if the runner advances on a pitch that wasn't batted into play, he or she is said to have stolen that base.

Whenever the batter puts the ball into play, any runners on base may try to advance to the next base, and must do so if they have been occupying a base where the runner behind them must advance. If the defense can get the ball to the base where a runner must advance before the runner reaches it, the runner is automatically out; this is called a force play. However, if there is an unoccupied base behind the runner, the runner does not have to advance and it's not enough for the defense to get the ball to the base before the runner. In order to record an out, the defense must physically touch the runner with the ball while it is held in a defensive player's glove or bare hand before the runner reaches the base, an event known as a tag . Similarly, a runner who attempts to steal a base must be tagged before reaching the base to be called out.

A ball hit out of play to the left of third base or the right of first base is foul and counts as a strike (except it cannot generally count as a third strike). If the batter hits the ball beyond the outfield wall within the foul lines, it's an automatic home run; the batter and all runners may freely advance to home plate and score. A home run, or "homer", is always sure to get the fans on their feet; it's the game's signature play. A home run that is scored with the bases loaded (all 3 bases occupied) is known as a grand slam. A quite rare event is an inside-the-park homer, in which the batter completes a trip around the bases while the ball is in the field of play. When it does happen, it's most often due to a freak bounce that carries the ball away from the outfielders. This may be the most exciting play in the sport; an attempt at an inside-the-park homer involves a race between the runner trying to circle the bases and fielders trying to return the ball to home plate, often ending in an attempted play at the plate.

If a runner advances from third base and reaches home plate safely, a run is scored. A team can score unlimited runs during its turn at bat, but only so long as three outs have not been recorded. Once the third out is made, no more runs can be scored, and the teams switch sides. A full pair of these turns is called an inning, and the game lasts for nine innings (less at the amateur levels) unless the score is tied at the end. In the event of a tie, extra innings are played until an inning ends with one team ahead.

Beyond these basics, there are many quirks and special cases in the baseball rules, some of which baffle even die-hard fans to this day.

Major League Baseball

Fenway Park - Home of the Boston Red Sox

Major League Baseball is the highest level of baseball played in the U.S. and the richest professional baseball league in the world. It attracts the highest level of talent from North America, Central America, South America, Asia, and the Caribbean. There are thirty major-league teams in twenty-five U.S. metropolitan areas (plus one in Canada); New York City, Chicago, the Los Angeles area, and the San Francisco Bay Area each have two teams. Each team plays in its own stadium, all of which seat at least 35,000 spectators.

Tickets generally cost between $15 and $50 for most seats; the best seats cost more — and sometimes much more — than that. The New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs are the most difficult teams to get tickets for, but online seller-to-seller websites have available tickets if you're willing to pay more. Major League Baseball season runs from early April-early October, with pre-season Spring Training games in March and the post-season playoffs in October. Games during the season are organized into series, referred to by the home team as "homestands", of 3-4 games in a row between the same two teams in the same city.

With the recent wave of new ballpark construction, many stadiums have been built in lively neighborhoods with lots of bars and restaurants catering to fans. However, there are also stadiums that sit isolated in a sea of parking lots. Many ballparks, particularly the newer or the more famous ones, are open for tours on off-game days; see the individual city articles for further details.

Teams

Major League Baseball is divided into two leagues: the American League and the National League, each of which is further divided into three divisions: East, Central, and West.

The two leagues are primarily distinguished in that the American League uses the designated hitter rule where the pitcher does not hit and run bases; instead another player, called the designated hitter, or DH, bats in lieu of the pitcher. The National League does not use this rule and requires the pitcher to bat along with the other fielders. In games that involve teams from both leagues (called "interleague" games), the home team's rules are used.

Here is a run-down of all the teams:

Oriole Park at Camden Yards - Home of the Baltimore Orioles

American League East

American League Central

Progressive Field - Home of the Cleveland Indians

American League West

Globe Life Park in Arlington - Home of the Texas Rangers

National League East

Wrigley Field - Home of the Chicago Cubs

National League Central

National League West

Dodger Stadium - Home of the Los Angeles Dodgers

Spring Training

Prior to the start of the regular season, the Major League teams participate in a series of exhibition games through the month of March. Spring Training is an opportunity to get a lot closer to your favorite players than would be possible during the regular season. For climate-related reasons, all Spring Training games are held in Arizona or Florida, the Cactus League and Grapefruit League respectively.

Cactus League

Tempe Diablo Stadium under the clear Arizona skies

Composed of teams from the West and Central divisions.

Grapefruit League

"Fenway South" has its own Green Monster

Composed of teams from the East and Central divisions.

All-Star Game

Held every year in early to mid-July, the All-Star Game is an exhibition game pitting the best players in the American League against the best of the National League. Wherever it is held, the All-Star Game is the centerpiece of a week-long celebration, which includes a fan fest and a home run derby. The league determines the location of the game in advance, and tickets are very expensive.

Upcoming All-Star Games:

Playoffs/World Series

Every October, the leaders of each of the three divisions plus two Wild Card teams (the teams with the two best records among non-division-winners) from each league will compete in the playoffs, with the winners advancing to the World Series championship. The World Series pits the winner of the National League playoffs against the winner of the American League playoffs.

Get in

Details for getting into each city are in the individual city articles. All major league teams are in major cities, with excellent air and road access. In some parts of the country it is possible—with careful planning—to hop from city to city and see multiple stadiums in the course of several days. This is easiest on the Eastern Seaboard (Boston/New York City/Philadelphia/Baltimore/Washington, D.C.) with convenient road and rail access and relatively short distances between cities. With a car, this can also easily be done in the Midwest (Pittsburgh/Cincinnati/Cleveland/Detroit or Minneapolis/Milwaukee/Chicago/St. Louis) or California (San Diego/Anaheim/Los Angeles/Oakland/San Francisco). Outside these areas, however, the distances between cities are simply too great to make this feasible except by airplane.

Parking and accessibility varies considerably between ballparks. In general, stadiums in cities in the Northeast and in the Midwest will see heavy traffic and limited, expensive parking, while those in the South and the West will have ample parking, though there are exceptions to this. All stadiums charge for parking, generally in the range of $10-$25 depending on the individual stadium and how close you park to the ballpark, with certain high-demand teams charging more.

For the most part, all stadiums have made a strong attempt to provide enough parking, but in a few cases—namely Boston, New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and San Francisco—the traffic is simply so heavy that it's really preferable to use the local mass transit systems, which are well-developed in these cities and do a good job serving games.

Dodger Dogs are famed for their length

Buy

Eat

Drink

Respect

Minor League Baseball

Minor League Baseball is the general name for a group of developmental leagues operated by major league teams for younger players who have not yet developed the skills to play in the major leagues. Almost all small to mid-sized cities in America will have a minor league team of some sort, and it's considered a very affordable and fun alternative to higher priced major league games. The leagues are organized in a system based on the level of talent. Triple A is the highest dropping down to A level and then to the Rookie Ball level. Minor League Baseball operates from early April to early September, though lower levels may only play from late June until late August. The minor leagues are praised for being fan-friendly and cost-efficient for families.

Tickets generally cost between $7 and $15 each, with special promotions sometimes lowering that price. At almost all stadiums, it is possible to purchase tickets at the gate, but be advised that certain higher level teams do sell out ahead of time. Parking will either be free or available for a small fee, and because these are smaller cities mass transit will usually be sparse or non-existent. Food is priced similarly to major league stadiums and generally the same things are available, although variety decreases dramatically below the AAA level.

Leagues

Minor league ballparks offer a more intimate atmosphere

Triple A Level covers most of the largest metropolitan areas without Major League Baseball franchises, as well as some smaller cities.

Double A Level teams can be found in many mid-sized cities.

Single A Level teams can be found in many small cities, as well as mid-sized cities near larger cities already served by higher level teams. Uniquely, New York City has two teams in the short-season New York–Penn League, one in Brooklyn and the other on Staten Island, each being affiliated with one of the city's MLB teams.

Rookie Level

College Baseball

College Baseball is the general term for non-professional baseball organized by either the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) or the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). College baseball play can run the gamut from high level programs such as the University of Oregon, University of North Carolina, and University of Miami which compete in the NCAA, to small schools like Lewis-Clark State University of the NAIA. The biggest event in college baseball is the College World Series, an NCAA sanctioned event featuring the best college baseball teams held each June in Omaha. Almost all colleges will have a baseball team and play runs from February to June. College baseball games are usually sparsely attended and seats are very cheap, if not free.

College World Series

Held in Omaha every June, the CWS pits eight teams against each other. The tournament is divided into two four-team double-elimination brackets, with the winners of each bracket then playing a best-of-three series to choose the NCAA Champion. Tickets range from $28-33 for reserved seats and $11 each or $80 for ten for general admission (non-guaranteed) seats. Tickets generally go on-sale in May.

Seats are always easy to find at a college baseball game

National Alliance of College Summer Baseball

These are NCAA sanctioned summer baseball leagues, partially funded by Major League Baseball, drawing from college-age players. A high percentage of drafted players come from these leagues.

Though it's not an NACSB-sponsored league, the Alaska Baseball League is a collegiate summer league that's worthy of special note as the host of the Midnight Sun Game, an experience that's unique in the sport of baseball—it's played on the summer solstice in the midnight sun, beginning around 11PM, at Growden Memorial Park in Fairbanks, the northernmost baseball stadium in the world. The ABL boasts over a century of history and such famous alumni as Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and Mark McGwire.

High School Baseball

High School Baseball is played around the nation by teams organized by each individual high school. The level of play is lower than college baseball, though some elite schools produce multiple college baseball players each year. Schools typically play local and regional competition in an April through June schedule. There is no national championship like in college baseball or pro levels, and teams rarely charge to attend games.

Little League Baseball

Little League Baseball is a collection of youth baseball leagues run by Little League Baseball. It operates leagues for children from ages 8-18. Its premier event is the Little League World Series. In almost any town across the country, you can find a Little League game between April and June, and seating is free with most places having a food stand of some kind.

Little League World Series

Held in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, every August, the LLWS pits sixteen teams of 11-12 year olds from around the world in a tournament to prove the best team. It's very popular among people of all ages, and the atmosphere is electric for every game. Tickets are available on a first-come-first-served basis for all games except the World Championship Game. Those tickets are distributed by a lottery system, but seating beyond the stadium fences is always available.

Museums and other attractions

Babe Ruth's plaque in the Hall of Fame

In addition to the many, many opportunities to take in a baseball game, there are also plenty of museums in cities across the country devoted to the game, from the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown to little museums dedicated to hometown heroes and many more. Here are just some of the most noteworthy sights to take in the history of the sport:

Outside the United States

Baseball has spread from the United States to other countries. The premier international baseball tournament is the World Baseball Classic, organized by MLB and sanctioned by the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC). The tournament is held every four years, with the next one scheduled for 2017.

Outside the United States, the following countries have a large number of baseball fans and players:

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