Baseball for Dummies: Batting averages, pitching and stealing?

Never been taken out to the ball game before? Always had to guess what your buddy meant when he said his batting average was better than Ty Cobb? Have you been more obsessed with America’s real favorite pastime instead of its “boring” brother? Well, it’s time to get on the bandwagon before baseball season starts again so you can prove to your friends that you do in fact know what a strike looks like and not just what the umpire says.

The origins of baseball have been debated amongst scholars but largely they agree that the sport was a combination of activities played in Britain and other neighboring countries. However, the name of the game wasn’t coined in the United States until 1845 when a group of men in New York City founded a baseball club. Alexander Joy Cartwright came up with a new code of rules that set the basis for modern-day baseball. Old regulations like pegging players with balls when running between bases were abolished and replaced with safer practices including three strikes, foul lines and the classic diamond shape of the field. Men were the predominant players for the sport largely until the second world war when the women left at home took up the positions and eventually became the founders of softball. 

But baseball has progressed through its beginnings and has adapted to the invention of elevated technology, the production of new gear and even the increased use of steroids by players. Baseball is a much faster-paced sport than its brother cricket, but it focuses primarily on form and technique of the players to make it interesting and close to cinematic. There are three key aspects of baseball that each player must know and learn about before truly becoming familiar with the sport.

So now let’s make you well-versed and good enough to hop on the field. You might get thrown out for not belonging, but at least you’ll know whether or not you successfully stole a base. That sounds like a good place to begin: stealing a base. There are four bases on a diamond — first, second, third and home — and almost every one can be stolen. The only exception is first base, which must be achieved either by “walking,” getting hit or successfully hitting a ball into play. From there, the world is your diamond. Stealing takes extreme patience and an exceptionally built-up timing skill. Baseball players may take a few steps off the base before the pitch as a sort of cheat toward the next bag, but beware that an easy out becomes available if the pitcher decides to take the runner down. If the pitcher continues with the play, a runner may attempt to advance to the next base as soon as the ball is released from the pitcher’s hand. Successfully stealing is making it to the next base without being tagged out by another player; usually, this is accomplished by sliding on a runner’s behind or by diving on a runner’s chest. Basically, be prepared to get down and dirty. 

Then you might be asking yourself what happens if you’re as slow as a turtle and just overall not very effective on the bases. Well, you might want to get really good at hitting home runs or balls that get through the gaps on the field; basically, improving your batting average. A batting average is the percent of successful safe hits against the number of times a player has been up to bat. Baseball players typically range in the .250 – .270 range which means that they safely make it to one of the bases between 25 and 27 percent of the time. Each time they fail to get to a base, it impacts their average. 

To hit successfully, it often helps to know the kinds of pitches you are going to be thrown and how to acclimate your swing to hit the ball. If you’re extremely unaware, a pitch is what the ball being thrown from the center of the field is to the guy holding the bat. In baseball, there are ten different pitches that can be thrown: 4-seam fastball, 2-seam fastball (sinker), cut fastball, slider, curveball, slurve, change-up, split-finger and knuckleball. The 4-seam is the everyday, basic pitch that most people learn to throw when they first start playing and it travels in a straight line. One of the 2-seams, the sinker, is gripped differently by the pitcher and drops a bit when thrown, but moves straight across the plate. The cut fastball is similar to the 2-seam but it moves less and doesn’t get as much depth. A slider comes across the plate with an angle and downward movement and moves about 4-12 mph slower than the 4-seam. A curveball should be quite self-explanatory, and it breaks quite drastically as it crosses the plate. The slurve has less of a dramatic curve and has a loopy shape. The change-up is meant to have the same spin as a fastball but should be between 8-15 mph slower. Split fingers can be thrown either hard or soft and will tumble down very late when it is thrown. A knuckleball will come into the batter with almost no spin or rotation and is thrown quite slow. If you think those sound easy to hit and to spot while waiting in the batter’s box, then you should know to already be prepared for most of them to come in at speeds of 90 mph. But don’t worry, I’m sure you can do it. 

Next time your friends say they want to go out to a ball game, perhaps to watch their favorite big city team or even the local college’s boys, you’ll know what to look for in a good player and a good game. Just maybe if they give the opportunity to toss a quick pitch, you’ll pull one of these moves and impress those ball-cap-wearing boys.

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