Baseball

 

Although baseball is often referred to as "America's national pastime", this bat and ball game is played and enjoyed throughout the world.

The basic contest is between the pitcher and batter. The pitcher aims to throw the ball past the batter, who attempts to hit the ball as hard as he can (most of the time) with a long, thin rounded bat.

Two teams of nine players take it in turns to bat through nine innings each. The batting side aims to score runs by sending a batsman through four equally spaced bases on the diamond-shaped field of play.

Their opponents aim to end the innings by getting three batsmen out, either by catching, strikeouts or tagging. At the end of nine innings, the team with most runs wins.

The big crowd pleaser is the "home run", a ball hit straight into the stands that can score up to four runs. While the skills of batters and fielders are easy for spectators to appreciate, baseball tactics can take a lifetime to learn.

 History

Baseball is a direct descendant of the English children's game, rounders which became popular in the US in the early 19th century. The first baseball rules were drafted in 1845. Known as the Knickerbocker Rules, they remain the fundamental basis for the game today.

Baseball soon began to spread internationally to countries such as Japan, Australia and Latin America. It became a full medal sport at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, but has been dropped from the programme from London 2012 onwards.

Baseball was a demonstration sport in the 11th Asian Games in Beijing, China in 1990 and went on to become an official sport in the 12th Asian Games in Hiroshima, Japan in 1994.

 Rules

The designated home team takes to the field first, with the away team coming out to bat one at a time.

The pitcher has to pitch (throw) the ball to the batter while keeping one foot on the ground at all times. The pitcher's teammate, the catcher, crouches behind the batter.

A "strike" is called if the batter misses the ball and it is caught by the catcher; the ball goes through the strike zone without the batter attempting to hit the ball or; the batter hits the ball and its first bounce is outside the foul line. After three strikes, the batter is out.

If the batter hits the ball, and it is caught by a fielder without bouncing, he is out. Otherwise he can run to first base, so long as his ball is within the baselines. If he has hit the ball a long way, he can carry on to second or third bases, or even around the four bases and back to home plate to score a run.

A batter on one of the bases becomes a base runner, and the next batter takes his turn at bat. The aim of the base runner is eventually to run round all four bases to score a run. Only one base runner can occupy a base at one time.

If a batter hits the ball straight over the fence, this is called a home run, and the batter jogs round all four bases uncontested to score a run.

Base runners are safe on the bases, but can be dismissed by the fielders by being tagged - touched by a fielder holding the ball - or forced to leave his base by the arrival of another runner.

When both teams have completed nine innings, the team with most runs is the winner. In the event of a tie, extra innings are played until a winner is decided.