Perhaps there is nothing that points to Americana and the nation's unique culture like the sport of baseball, the national pastime, the summertime tradition. Baseball, despite other sports seeking to push it out of the limelight, still inspires the American people. No other sport has nationally-televised, "Little League" games. No other sport captivates us like the baseball playoffs and World Series every October. It simply is in a class to itself.

Though the exact origins of baseball are unknown, there are games similar to baseball recorded in history as far back as the mid 1300s in Romania. The first reliable account of a modern baseball game took place in Ontario, Canada, in the summer of 1838. However, other writings show a game similar to baseball was widely played in the United States even before this date. It is unclear how much of these games represented the modern game as it is known today. The first professional team in the United States was formed in 1869 and was known as the Cincinnati Red Sox. Today, they are known as the Cincinnati Reds. As professional teams began to catch on, two competing leagues eventually formed in the late 1890s. The National League and the American League became competitors, not in the sporting sense but in the business sense, competing for prestige, superiority and the best players. Eventually these two leagues decided to get together once a year beginning in 1903 to see which champion from each league was better. This was known as the World Series. It is a tradition that continues to this day. For more information on the history of baseball, see additional resources below.

The Facts

The baseball rule book is large and complex, especially given how simple the sport really is. However, even in simplest of games, there can be complex situations, especially when millions of dollars are at stake. Baseball is played by two teams, each having nine to ten active players each. The tenth player is known as the designated hitter, who bats for the pitcher in some leagues. Some leagues do not have a designated hitter position, forcing the pitcher to do his own hitting. Outs are made by getting three strikes, by a defensive player catching a ball or by tagging the batter or the base, under certain circumstances. Most games, at least at the upper levels of the sport, have nine innings. Each team has three outs per inning. The job of the batter is to get on base, then try to advance around to second and third base, then back to home plate, before the three outs are accumulated. In order for the batter to hit a fair ball, it must with within base lines running from the plate down to the third and first bases. If the ball goes outside these areas before passing the base, it is a foul ball. Foul balls are considered strikes, unless the batter has two strikes already. Balls that are hit over the fence represent a home run, giving the batter and anyone else on base an unimpeded trip around the bases. A home run hit when three players are on base is called a grand slam, and represents the most runs that can be scored in baseball on one play.

Function

There are three basic pieces of equipment that every baseball player needs. The baseball itself is generally white in color with red stitching, about the size of a fist. The hitting tool is called a bat. Depending on the league rules, bats can either be aluminum or wood. Rules also govern how long they can be and how they can be made. Generally, a bat is 1 inch in diameter at the base and about twice that size at the hitting end. The mitt, or glove, aids in fielding the ball, either picking up balls on the ground or catching them out of the air. In addition to making fielding the ball easier, the glove also serves as a level of protection for the hand against balls traveling at a high rate of speed.

Type

To accommodate younger players, the dimensions of the field and bats are often changed so that the players are capable of learning the game at an early age. Often, the pitcher's mound is moved closer to home plate and the bases are moved closer together. In addition, there are usually not as many innings, as younger players are not thought to possess the endurance that adult players have. The number of innings varies with the league, but generally there are five to seven for younger players. In nearly every case, an inning consists of three outs. However, there are other rules in place at the younger levels to ensure everyone has a chance to learn the game. For example, every player must have at least one at bat or be in the game for three consecutive innings. These rules are not meant to change the nature of the game, but enhance the game experience for everyone. Function Once a player makes it to a base safely, he has the opportunity to advance to other bases. This can be done a number of different ways. The safest and most conservative way to advance is to wait for another batter to hit the ball or get a free walk. In the case of a walk, the player on first also gets to advance safely. If a player is on second and another player is on first and a walk occurs, both players advance a base. It is possible to "walk" a player all the way to home plate, thus scoring a run. Just as batters can get out, baserunners also can be called out under a number of different scenarios. If the player is off base and tagged by someone holding the ball, she is out. If a player is on first and the ball is hit on the ground or not caught, that player must try to advance to second, even if there is a great likelihood the player will be tagged out. In cases where a player has no choice but to advance, the defensive player, if in possession of the ball, also has the option of simply tagging the base the runner is attempting to reach. If the base is tagged before the runner arrives, the runner is out.

Benefits

Baseball, at the professional level, especially Major League baseball, can be a very lucrative profession. Baseball players have the highest average salary of professional sports. In 2008, the average salary of a Major League player was more than $3 million per year. Of course, Major League baseball also has one of the longest seasons in professional sports, with 162 regular-season games per team. Major League teams are divided into two separate groups, the American League and the National League. There are three divisions in each league: East, Central and West. The leaders of these divisions at the end of the regular season automatically get into the playoffs. In addition, the team with the best record in each league not to win its division gets a berth in the postseason as a wild card. The first round of the playoffs is called the division series, with the winner having to win three out of five games. The next round is called the League Champsionship Series, followed by the World Series. To win these two rounds, teams must win four out of seven games in each round.

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