Few moments in sports can match the exciting experience of a baseball game. The baseball moments that are especially exciting are the ones that are close or all tied-up in the final inning. However, to fully understand baseball at a deep level and understand why those baseball moments are so exciting, one must first know a little bit about the game of baseball, how to play baseball, and what some of the basic rules are of the sport.
In short, baseball is a sport where two teams compete against each other with the goal of obtaining the most runs. With every third out, teams take turns on offense and defense and the team with the most runs after nine innings wins the game.
In order for a team to score runs, each team must adhere to certain rules. The good news for new baseball players is that these basic rules apply across all levels of play.
Baseball For Beginners
If you’re entering the world of baseball, the first thing you’ll want to know is that baseball is a game consisting of two teams (home and away teams), each consisting of nine players who try to score the highest number of runs.
In the Major Leagues and college baseball, each game lasts nine innings. In other leagues, such as high school, each game lasts 7 innings. Each inning is divided into top and bottom half and each half inning is ended after the defense records three outs. If you’re interested in how long most baseball games take, check out another article I wrote on how long baseball games last.
During the top half of each inning, the visiting team always bats. While the visiting team is batting, nine players from the home team go to the field to play defense. The team batting will try to score runs by hitting the ball into play and safely crossing all four bases while the defense will try to prevent the offense from scoring runs by recording outs. Once the defense records three outs, both teams swap places for the bottom half.
The team that scores more runs at the end of the game will be the winner. In the case of a tie, both teams play extra-innings, one inning at a time, until one team ends the inning with more runs than their opponent.
The Playing Field is a Diamond
A game of baseball takes place on a diamond-shaped playing field. There are four bases, each one being one of the four corners of the diamond. The four bases forming the diamond are called the home plate, first base, second base, and third base.
Additionally, beyond the bases that form the infield of the diamond, there’s the outfield area. Fair territory of the outfield is bordered by the first and third baselines and the entire outfield is usually contained by a wall or fence at the end of the park.
Baseball Has Nine Defensive Positions
The nine defensive players line up in the following positions:
- Pitcher (P): At the center of the infield – usually on a slightly elevated mound.
- Catcher (C): Behind home plate.
- First baseman (1B): Near the first base. Lines up in fair territory, usually a few steps behind first base.
- Second baseman (2B): Between first and second base. Typically closer to second base.
- Third baseman (3B): Near the third base, in fair territory. Usually playing a little deeper because baseballs hit in this direction tend to have greater speeds.
- Shortstop (SS): Between second and third base.
- Left fielder (LF): On the left side of the outfield, behind second and third base.
- Center fielder (CF): On the center of the outfield, behind second base.
- Right fielder (RF): On the right side of the outfield, behind first and second base.
For a complete overview of every baseball position and their responsibilities, including the DH role, check out another article I previously posted on understanding every baseball position and their roles.
Equipment Used in Baseball
To play baseball correctly and safely, players need the following equipment:
- Baseball Spikes
- Baseball Pants
- The nine defensive players use gloves. In professional baseball, the first baseman and the catcher use a different glove with extra padding.
- Batting helmet
- Four bases
- Pitching rubber
For a more in-depth look at the equipment needed, check out another article I wrote that goes into detail on the types of equipment used in baseball.
How To Play Baseball
With the defensive players in position, it’s the offensive team’s turn to send up their first player to bat. Using a baseball bat, hitters attempt to hit the ball thrown by the pitcher. If batters successfully make contact with the pitch and put the ball into play, they must begin to run the bases in order. The order of bases goes first base, second base, third base, and home.
To avoid getting out, batters have to hit the baseball to a location where the defensive players can’t catch it and to where the defensive players are unable to make a play on any base runners who are already on base.
The following scenarios are common ways the offense can get out:
- A fly ball is caught: A defensive player catches the ball in the air, before it hits the ground
- Force out at first: A member of the defense throws to first base before the batter arrives.
- Force out at another base: If there is a force-out play at a base, a defensive player with a ball touches a base before the runner gets there. A force-out occurs when a runner is forced to run towards a base because the ball is put into play and the runner behind them must advance to the next base.
- Base Runner is Tagged: A defensive player with the ball in the glove or hand tags a runner who is running toward a base
- Strikeout: The pitcher strikes out the batter
- Does Not Tag Up: With less than two outs, a fly ball is caught by a defensive player and the base runner does not tag up. If the defensive player gets the ball back to the base before the runner tags up, then the runner is out.
How to Score a Run in Baseball
A run is scored when a player runs through all the bases, in order, and returns to home plate without getting out.
If a batter hits the ball out of reach of the defense, the batter can stay safe on any of the first three bases and wait for a teammate to hit the ball again. If the teammate hits the ball out of reach of the defense, the runner can begin running the bases again until they finally arrive at home plate. The one caveat is that only one base runner is allowed per base.
Three Outs Ends a Half Inning
On the defensive side of things, the defensive players and the pitcher must prevent their opponents from scoring runs. They prevent runs by catching fly balls, fielding ground balls, and tagging out or forcing out runners before they arrive safe to a base.
Pitchers throw the ball from the mound to the home plate using a mix of fastballs and breaking pitches. The goal of pitchers is to throw strikes and prevent the offense from obtaining good hits. Effective pitchers prevent batters from hitting the ball or from hitting the ball away from the defense. If a batter fails to hit three pitches inside the strike zone, then the batter is out. This is called a strikeout.
All defensive players have the job of recording three outs so their half of the inning ends. Once the defense records three outs, they go into their dugout and prepare for their turn to bat.
What Are The Basic Rules Of Baseball?
Baseball has lots of different rules and some of these rules vary from league to league. But the good news for those who are just starting to learn about the sport is that all leagues share the same basic rules. So let’s start from the beginning and cover the basic rules of baseball.
The players on each team follow a batting order, which is set by the coach before the game begins. When the coach sets the batting order, they also assign each player a defensive position. Before the game begins, the coach must give the batting order and defensive positions to the umpire and to the opposing team’s coach.
In the top half of the first inning, the home team always plays defensive first. Meanwhile, the first batter on the visiting team’s lineup walks up to home plate and steps into the batter’s box, located on each side of home plate.
When everyone is ready, the pitcher has the green light to deliver the first throw of the game when the home-plate umpire calls “Play Ball!”
Basic Batting Rules
Hitters may choose which side of home plate they’d like to hit from, with both sides of the plate having a batter’s box. Both of the batter’s feet must be positioned inside the batter’s box.
Every batter attempts to hit the ball thrown by the pitcher, safely reach base, and score a run after the other batters hit the ball.
The offense scores a run when someone from their team touches all the bases and returns to home plate without getting out. If a batter manages to hit the ball over the outfield fence, in between the first and third baselines, that batter has hit a home run. When a home run is hit, the batter and all runners on base can safely run the bases without worrying about getting out.
A batter’s turn ends when:
- They hit the ball in fair territory: this includes hits, outs, and home runs.
- They hit a flyball in foul territory, and the ball is caught before it hits the ground.
- They get three strikes. A pitch is a strike when either the batter swings and misses the ball, the umpire-in-chief calls the pitch as good (even though the batter didn’t make a swing), or the batter hits the ball toward foul territory with no fielding player being able to catch the ball. However, a foul doesn’t count as a third strike.
- They receive four bad pitches (4 balls) and are awarded first base. A ball is every pitch outside the strike zone where the batter doesn’t swing.
What is a Strike in Baseball?
Throwing strikes is one of the missions of a pitcher. But, what exactly is called a strike in baseball?
The umpire calls a pitch a strike when the ball crosses the home plate inside the strike zone, and the batter fails to swing at it.
The strike zone is the area where pitches are considered good. Its size is of the same width as the home plate and a height vertically limited by above the batter’s knees and below the armpits. For a more in-depth look at what the strike zone is, check out a previous article I wrote on understanding the strike zone in baseball.
Also, every pitch is a strike when the batter swings and misses the ball, no matter the location of the pitch.
Finally, all foul balls are strikes. A foul ball is called when the baseball is hit outside of the area between the third base and first base lines, which denote fair territory. Even though foul balls are strikes, they don’t count as a third strike. When a batter has two strikes, they can hit an unlimited number of fouls and continue batting. A batter only strikes out if they swing and miss or if they fail to swing at a good pitch.
After three strikes, the batter is out and we move on to the next player in the batting order.
What is a Ball in Baseball?
Balls are all pitches received by the catcher outside the limits of the strike zone and the batter does not swing.
When a batter receives 4 balls they have earned a “walk” and are awarded first base. Because only one runner can occupy a base at a time, base runners are able to freely advance to the next base during a walk if the runner behind them is forced to advance to their base.
Basic Base Running Rules
For a player to be running on a base they have to:
- Hit the ball in fair territory without getting out by the defensive
- Receive four balls (i.e., the batter is walked by the pitcher)
- Be hit by a pitch. Similar to walks, batters are awarded first base.
- Run on a dropped third strike. If a catcher drops a third strike, the batter is allowed to run to first base and try to beat the throw. If the batter beats the throw to first on a dropped third strike, they are safe.
On a similar note, runners on base can advance to the next base after a wild pitch. Wild pitches are still live balls and runners can advance at their own risk whenever the ball is live.
One thing for newcomers to understand about running the bases is that batters are allowed to keep running past first base, but this rule only applies to batters running to first base.
When a batter hits the ball and is running to first base, baseball allows runners to step on first base and continue beyond first base in order to safely decelerate. If a runner runs past first base and makes a move towards second base, the defense is allowed to tag that runner for an out.
Base runners are not allowed to run past second base or third base. If they do run past third base or second base, the defense can tag the runner for an out.
Duration of a Baseball Game
The duration of a baseball game varies from league to league. For example, even though Major League baseball games tend to last for 3 hours, they don’t have an exact duration because they just go for nine innings.
On the other hand, other leagues, like high school baseball and little league, will not allow another inning to begin after they reach a certain time limit. Usually, the time limit is around two or three hours in these non-MLB leagues.
Depending on the league, a game lasts six to nine innings, with each inning divided into two halves (top and bottom half). The top half of an inning is where the visiting team has their turn at bat while the home team bats during the bottom half of the inning.
Since home teams bat second, they have a slight advantage. When the game gets to the bottom of the last inning and the home team has more runs than the visiting team, the game is over and they do not bat again. On that same note, the home team can end the game in the bottom of the last inning if they score a run that puts them in the lead. Whenever someone gets a hit and scores a run for the win, it is called a “walk-off hit”.
If the score is tied after all innings have been played, the teams play extra innings. For extra innings, the game extends one inning at a time until one of the teams is ahead at the end of an inning.
Scoring Runs in Baseball
The winning team in baseball is the team that ends the game with the most runs. So everything on offense revolves around getting base runners all the way around the bases.
Teams score a run after one of its players rounds all of the bases and crosses home plate without getting out. Players need to round the bases, touching each base in a specific order.
The correct order of bases starts with first base, then second base, third base, and finally crossing home plate. In most leagues, bases are 90 feet apart, which means players will end up traveling 360 feet to score one run. In Little League, the bases are 60 feet apart.
One of the most coveted stats by players are home runs. A home run is when a batters hits the ball over the outfield wall in fair territory. If a batter hits a home run, he and all current runners on base can round the bases without worrying about getting out.
However, during a home run, players must still touch the bases in the specified order. Otherwise, the opposing team can appeal the play by throwing the next baseball to where a player missed a base and that player would be called out.
Understanding Outs in Baseball
The two most common ways to get an out is when a player is a batter or a base runner. Let’s cover some common scenarios for each of those players to get out.
A batter is out when:
- They hit the ball in the air, but the ball is caught by a defensive player before the ball hits the ground. These are called “fly balls” or “line drives”, and the batter is out when the ball is caught, even if the ball was flying in foul territory.
- They get three strikes
- They hit a ground ball in fair territory but they failed to step on first base before the ball arrived at the base.
- In this scenario, the defense can complete the out by throwing the ball to the first baseman, who will be stepping on first base.
A runner is out before crossing home plate if:
- While not on a base, they are tagged by a fielder who controls the ball.
- While trying to avoid a tag, they go outside of the baselines – typically by more than three feet, but it’s usually at the umpire’s discretion.
- Their own batter hits them with a batted ball while they are in fair territory
- They get ahead of another runner
- By force out. If the previous base is occupied, fielders can just tag a player or touch the base the runner is forced to run to because the runner can’t go back. This is similar to when batters are retired at first base.
In addition, fielders can get more than one out in the same play. A situation like this can occur when there’s the possibility of forcing runners on one base or if a runner makes a mistake rounding the bases. Let’s check out some examples of the defense getting more than one out in a single play:
A double play is when the defense gets two players out in the same play. For example, a typical double play is when a batter hits a ground ball, and there is already a runner on first base. The defense throws to second, getting the force-out at second base, and then completes the double play by naturally throwing to first base to retire the batter.
Other double play scenarios are when batters hit a fly ball, a fielding player catches the ball for the first out, and then retires a runner who is attempting to advance to the next base.
Triple plays rarely occur, which make them an exciting part of the game. A traditional triple play is similar to what happens during a double play, but in this case, with two or more runners on base.
For instance, a team has runners on all three bases (bases are loaded), and the batter hits a ground ball close to third base. The defense completes the triple play in the following way:
- Third baseman steps on third, getting the force out from the runner coming from second.
- The third baseman throws the ball to second base, the second baseman steps on second base, which forces out the runner who is coming from first base.
- The second baseman throws to first base, which retires the batter who just hit the ball.
Runners are not allowed to advance to the next base if the ball is in the air. If they do run and the fielder catches the ball, the runner must go back and touch the base they were just on, which is called “tagging up”. If the ball gets to the base before the runner tags up, the runner is out.
Runners may attempt to steal a base by running to the next base while the pitcher throws their next pitch. Typically, you’ll see more runners attempting to steal second base. However, it’s the catcher’s job to throw to second so that the shortstop or the second baseman tags out the runner before he touches the base.
Common Baseball Strategies
For those who are only beginning to learn about baseball, it’s beneficial to cover some basic strategies that are implemented in every level of baseball.
Sacrifice Fly in Baseball
The sacrifice fly has won more games than you can imagine. It’s a strategy used particularly during closed games.
A sacrifice fly occurs when the batter hits a fly ball deep to the outfield, and a runner, with at least one foot on the base, waits until the outfielder catches the ball. Once the outfielder catches the ball, the runner takes off to the next base and beats the throw from the outfielder.
If the runner is on third base, there is a good chance they are able to score. So this is called a sacrifice fly because the batter is allowing himself to get out, but he’s hitting a deep fly ball that allows the runner on third base to easily score.
The sacrifice fly rule only applies when there are less than two outs; otherwise, the inning would be over when the fielder caught the ball.
Similar to a sacrifice fly, a batter is allowing himself to get out, but he is making it easy for a baserunner to advance to the next base.
To complete the sacrifice bunt, a batter bunts by placing the bat horizontally in the strike zone with the intent of producing a soft contact. As a result, the ball only goes a few feet forward and the runners on base can advance while the defense takes the guaranteed out at first base.
Teams usually perform a bunt to move a runner from first to second, from second to third, or both. Only on rare occasions, batters bunt for a runner on third to score.
Sometimes teams will attempt a play called a “suicide squeeze”. This is similar to a sacrifice bunt, but in this scenario there’s a runner on third base who is trying to score. In order for this play to work, the runner on third base steals home while the pitcher is delivering the pitch. The batter must bunt the ball and they must bunt the ball in fair territory. The suicide squeeze is a risky play, but it’s exciting to see it happen when it does.
Managers can ask a pitcher to intentionally throw four balls in a row to a batter. Folks just learning baseball may not believe it at first, but an intentional walk is a strategy that can win the game.
Intentional walks are typically given when there are runners on third and second base with one or no outs. By walking the next batter, the defense now has an opportunity to turn a double play because there will be a force out at every base. If done in the correct circumstances, an intentional walk could lead to the defense turning a double play and ending the inning.
Another strong reason to give an intentional walk with runners on base is when the best batter from the other team is up next and your team can afford to allow one more base runner.
Hit and run
Hit and run is one of the most high-risk, high-reward strategies in baseball. The offensive team executes a hit-and-run play when a runner on base attempts to steal a base while the batter tries to hit the ball. If done successfully, the runner not only reaches the stolen base, but the hit also allows that runner to reach an additional base.
The risk comes when the player at bat hits a fly ball or fails to make contact with the pitch. If a fielding player catches the ball, the runner is forced to go back to their base. This could lead to an easy double play if the runner is too far off the bag.
Also, if the batter fails to contact the ball, the catcher has the opportunity to throw out the runner who is attempting to steal a base.
Baseball is Something to Learn For A Lifetime
Learning how to play baseball can take people a few days or even a few weeks, especially for beginners. However, once you familiarize yourself with the game, baseball becomes a source of excitement and entertainment for the rest of your life. And, as people often find out, once a topic becomes exciting, it becomes easier and easier to understand the game.