Baseball is known as
America's National Pastime!
Although baseball is established in a number of countries, it isn’t as widespread as certain other games, like football. In North America, though – particularly the United States – it’s one of the most popular sports around, and in fact it’s known as America’s National Pastime. The sport has been around in its current form since 1877, and there’s some evidence that it’s been around in some form since the 1700s – or even earlier! But what exactly is this sport and what does it involve?

A game of baseball is played between two teams of nine players each, which take turns playing offense and defence. Offense consists of hitting the ball that’s thrown by the defensive side, and running from the batting plate through four “bases” that are set up on the field. The defensive side throws the ball to the offensive team, and once it’s been hit, they try to catch the ball and tag the person who hit the ball, preventing him from scoring a point.

Sounds a bit complicated when it comes all at once, huh? Let’s break it down. We’ll start with the tools of the trade:

The bat is a long, rounded piece of wood used by the batter to hit the ball.
The ball is about the size of your fist and is covered in cowhide. This is the key to the whole game!
The glove is a leather mitt with webbing between the fingers used by the defensive team to catch the ball once it’s been hit.

So how does the game play out? Let’s run through it in steps:

1. First, the nine players on the defensive (or fielding) team arrange themselves on the field. That field is shaped like a diamond, with each of the four corners called a base. The player throwing the ball, the pitcher, stands on the pitcher’s mound in the center of the diamond. Four other players position themselves on the bases – the catcher positions himself at home plate, and the others will stand at first, second, and third base. The remaining players spread out on the field; usually three of them stand outside the diamond – these players are called outfielders – and one of them will stand close to second base – this is the shortstop.

2. A neutral official, the umpire, is sort of like a referee. He stands behind the catcher and monitors the pitching and batting of both teams.

3. The game begins when one player, the batter, from the offensive (or batting) team steps up to the home plate. The pitcher from the opposing team will throw the ball at him, and he will try to hit it. The batter’s goal is to hit the ball in such a way that nobody from the opposing team can catch it and tag him out.

4. If the batter successfully hits the ball, he drops the bat and begins to run around the diamond from one base to the next. If he touches a base before an opposing player can catch the ball and touch him, he is safe; at this point, he stays at that base until the next batter hits the ball, at which point he continues running. When he reaches the home plate, his team scores a point and he returns to the dugout, where the rest of his team is waiting.

5. If the batter successfully hits the ball and it is caught by the opposing team, two things can happen.
a. If they catch the ball before it has touched the ground, the batter is automatically out.
b. If they catch the ball after it has touched the ground, they have to throw the ball to the players guarding each base, who must try to tag out the runner before he touches the base. If they’re successful, he is also out.

6. If the batter swings and misses the ball, it is called a strike. If he gets three strikes, he must leave the field and is said to have struck out.

7. If the pitcher throws the ball in such a way that the umpire decides it was unfair (i.e., the batter didn’t have a fair chance to hit it), and the batter has not swung at it, it is called a ball. If this happens four times during a play, the batter immediately receives a free walk to first base. He may also walk to first base if the ball hits him during the pitch and he did not swing at it.

8. When a team gets three outs, the teams switch sides, with the batting team now taking the field and the fielding team stepping up to bat.

9. The game continues until step 8 happens nine times for each team. Each time it happens, it’s called an inning.

We can see that the goal of the game can basically be boiled down to this. For the batting team, the goal is to hit the ball as far as possible and allow as many players as possible to touch home plate, scoring points for their team. For the catching team, the goal is to catch the ball as quickly as possible and get as many outs as possible – that way you prevent the other team from scoring points and make your turn at bat come more quickly so that you can start scoring points of your own.

A typical baseball field
You might come across some of these phrases while talking about or watching baseball and wonder what they mean. Well, look no further!

Bases Are Loaded: This phrase means that there is currently a player on first, second, and third base, and a new player is stepping up to bat.

Bottom of the Inning: When the home team is at bat. The home team always bats second, and therefore makes up the second half, or bottom, of the inning. The term "bottom of the ninth" is particularly common and refers to the very last inning of the game.

Bunt: A special kind of hit where the batter loosely taps the ball into play, keeping it in fair territory and as far away from the opposing players as possible. Usually only the pitcher will be close enough to catch and throw the ball. Note: if a bunt sends the ball into foul territory, it does count as a third strike, unlike normal foul balls.

Double Play: When the fielding team manages to tag two players out in a single turn.

Flyout: This type of out happens when the ball is caught before it touches the ground. The batter is then out even if he started running or the ball is in foul territory.

Force out: This happens when the ball is caught after touching the ground, and a running player is tagged with the ball (or the base he’s running to is tagged with the ball) before he can safely reach the next base.

Foul: When a ball hit by a batter flies or lands in foul territory, it is called a foul ball. This counts as a strike, but it does not count as a third strike (i.e., a batter cannot strike out on a foul ball). In the image above and to the right, anything below the white foul lines is foul territory.

Grand Slam: If a batter gets a home run while the bases are loaded (see above), all four players are able to touch home plate and score a point, giving that team four points in a single turn.

Home Run: This happens when a player hits the ball and manages to make it all the way around the diamond in a single turn. This can happen if the other team doesn’t catch the ball and tag him in time, or if he hits the ball so far that it lands outside the park, in which case he gets an automatic home run.

Strikeout: When a batter strikes three times, he strikes out. This counts as an “out” for his team (remember that if a team gets three outs, the teams switch sides).

Top of the Inning: This is when the visiting team is at bat. The visiting team always bats first, and therefore makes up the first half – or top – of that inning.

Triple Play: When the fielding team manages to tag three players out in a single turn. Very rare.

So, after reading all that, are you interested in catching a game yourself? Training season begins in the spring, and then games are played through the summer. In Toronto, baseball games are played at the Rogers Centre downtown, next to the CN Tower. Check out some of these teams that you can expect to see playing around here – pick your favourite team and cheer them on!

Toronto Blue Jays – Toronto’s very own baseball team. It’s a part of the Eastern Division in Major League Baseball; as such, during most of the season they will play against the teams listed below. They are currently the only Major League Baseball team located outside the U.S.!

Baltimore Orioles

Boston Red Sox

New York Yankees

Tampa Bay Rays

If you want to root for some more Canadians, keep an eye on the Washington Nationals – they used to be based in Canada as the Montreal Expos, Canada’s first Major League Baseball team!