The Beginner’s Guide to Baseball

It’s that time of year again. Warm weather is just around the corner (hopefully), and that means the Boys of Summer are back. Whether you live in Arkansas or Alaska, chances are you know at least one guy who is a major baseball fan, meaning you’ll have to listen to your share of conversations involving America’s Favorite Pastime. Being able to identify these plays or terms could help you bond with, or at least impress, that baseball fan in your life. So here it is, a definitive guide to baseball: Ten key terms, phrases and plays to know.

Double Play
A double play occurs when you make two outs on one play. For example, Team A has one guy on first base and another player at-bat, (this means he’s standing in the batter’s box, waiting for the pitcher to throw the ball). Once the pitcher throws the ball, the batter hits the ball to the shortstop (the guy between 2nd and 3rd base). The shortstop then throws the ball to the second baseman. The second baseman tags the runner going from first to second, making one out, and then throws to first base, beating the hitter and making the second out. Often referred to as “a pitcher’s best friend.”

Triple Play
Same concept as the double play, except three outs are made on the play, which means at least two runners need to be on base for it to happen. This play is extremely rare, to the point that it has become somewhat a source of pride for fans to recount under what circumstances they saw a triple play being made.

Base on Balls
This one sounds a little weird, we admit, but there’s a perfectly good explanation. The more common term is “walk” and refers to when a pitcher throws four balls to a hitter (a ball is outside the strike zone, an area roughly equivalent to the width of the plate and, in height, between the knees and chest of the batter), thereby allowing the hitter to advance to first base. This is often referred to as a free pass given by the pitcher to the batter because the hitter doesn’t have to do anything (swing the bat and get a hit) in order to make it to first base. Nothing infuriates a pitcher more than allowing a batter to get on first base for free.

The Pitching Rubber
Okay, this one has nothing to do with birth control. The Pitching Rubber is a strip of, you guessed it, rubber, which rests on the tip of the pitcher’s mound (you know, that big mound of earth in the middle of the diamond where the pitcher stands to throw the ball to homeplate). Its purpose? The pitcher must use the rubber as a contact point with one foot while either receiving a sign (which pitch to throw) from the catcher, or preparing to go into his windup (series of movements that result in a pitch being thrown).

Sacrifice Fly
This is a staple of good offense. The object of the batter is to hit a fly ball deep enough into the outfield to advance the runner, either to second or third base, or from third base to home, thereby scoring a run. Here’s how it works: the baserunner must stay on the bag until the ball is hit. If the batter does his job and the ball is hit far enough into the outfield, the runner must wait until it is caught by the outfielder. He then “tags up”, meaning he keeps his foot on the bag until the ball is caught. Once the ball is caught, it becomes a race between how fast the outfielder can throw the ball to whatever base the runner is running towards. If the runner is trying to score, the outfielder will throw to homeplate, hoping to tag him out. If the runner is going from first to second base, the throw will go into second. The important thing to remember here is that baseball is a game of inches, so being able to advance one base can be a big deal in a tight game.

Pinch Hitter/Fielder/Runner
A pinch hitter is the guy who comes in, usually in the later innings, to bat in place of another player, usually the pitcher. For strategic reasons, the manager may have decided to remove a player from the game when it is his turn to bat, so the pinch hitter enters the game. Other types of player substitutions are the pinch runner and pinch fielder.

Slugging Percentage
One of the sexier baseball stats out there, slugging percentage is the measure of how powerful a hitter is. The Baseball Almanac defines it as: An offensive ability type stat calculated by taking the total bases [singles + 2 x doubles (2B) + 3 x triples (3B) + 4 x home runs (HR)] reached then dividing it by the number of at-bats (AB). Bigger is definitely better, so a slugging percentage of .700 beats one of .350, hands down. Basically, the higher the slugging percentage, the more doubles, triples, and homers are being hit. Using the method above, let’s say a batter had 133 hits in 390 at bats, which breaks down to 45 homeruns, 1 triple, 22 doubles, and 65 singles. The total would be: (65 + 44 + 3 + 180)/390 = .7487%, or .749% when rounded, a slugging percentage any player would give his (or her) right eye for.

He’s only the wealthiest player to put on a major league uniform right now. Alex Rodriguez, or A-Rod as he’s known in New York, and Texas (and, formerly, Seattle), is one of the premier shortstops in the game and commands the salary to prove it. He’s got the basics nailed down: hits for average, awesome slugging percentage (see point above), solid defense and good base running. Plus, he’s not bad to look at. All that for only $258 million, you say? A-Rod = A-bargain!

Grand Slam
Chances are you’ve heard of this one. No list of baseball terms is complete without this all-American classic. Even Denny’s got into the act, naming one of their breakfast dishes after it. Basically, the batter hits a homerun with the bases full, meaning a runner is on each base, commonly referred to as the bases are loaded. Everyone scores. Three men on base plus the batter equal four runs. Not bad for one swing of the bat.

In-Field Fly Rule
If you’ve made it this far, you should be ready to tackle the hardest one of all. Knowing this one scores you major points. Most guys (and some umpires) don’t even understand it. First, keep in mind that it can only be called when a popup is hit with runners on first and second, or the bases loaded, and less than two outs. In a nutshell, it prevents infielders from making easy double plays by intentionally dropping pop-ups and forcing runners out when they’re forced to advance one base on the play. When the umpire calls the rule, runners have two options: they can stay on the base they’re currently on, or they can advance at their own risk. Even though the umpire has made a call on the play, they play isn’t “dead,” meaning the play can continue and runners can advance or not to the next base. Because the batter is already out, the force has been removed and if the runners do decide to go, the opposing team must tag out the runner with the ball, not just step on the base.

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