Like the language of all sports, baseball terms can be a mystery to those unfamiliar with the game. There are balls and strikes and walks and balks, hitters and pitchers and infields and outfields! How can we make sense of all these words? This article will demystify the language of baseball.
First, let’s discuss the field of play. The baseball field is like a big slice of pizza, with home plate at the tip of the slice, the infield taking up a diamond ninety feet to a side with one corner at home plate, and everything between the infield and the outer edge of the pizza, or outfield wall, being called the outfield. In the infield, there are four bases: home plate, and then first base, second base, and third base, counting counter-clockwise from home plate. The outfield is divided into left field, center field, and right field, named from the point of view of a batter looking straight out from home plate.
Near the center of the infield, sixty feet and six inches from home plate along a line between home plate and second base, is the pitcher’s mound. To either side of home plate lies the batters box, defined by chalk lines, in which the batter stands.
The field is also divided into fair and foul territory, as is defined by the foul lines: balls hit inside the lines are fair and all others foul. These lines are drawn in chalk and extend out from home plate including an angle of ninety degrees, from the first- and third base lines, all the way to the outfield wall. Foul poles extend into the air where the foul lines meet the outfield wall to allow balls hit beyond the outfield walls on the fly to be called fair or foul.
The tools of play include the baseball bat, a baton of wood or hollow aluminum which the batter swings in order to hit the pitch. However, for younger leagues there are more strict requirements about the bats using in you must use the best youth baseball bats and the glove, a leather piece worn on one of a fielder’s hands to aid in catching the ball. A catcher’s glove is given a special name: the catcher’s mitt. In addition, all batters must wear a metal batting helmet for protection while batting.
The nine players on the field are the pitcher, who throws a pitch to home plate from the pitcher’s mound, and eight fielders, named for the position they play. In addition to the first-, second-, and third baseman and the left-, center- and right fielders, there are the catcher and the shortstop positions. The catcher crouches behind home plate and catches pitches which the batter does not make contact with, and the shortstop is an extra infielder who is usually positioned between the second- and third baseman. A special “position” called the designated hitter is employed in some leagues; this is a batter who hits in the place of another fielder (almost always the pitcher) but who does not play the field.
Players are also categorized according to where they hit in the batting order, or lineup. This is a list of the nine players who bat, in the order the manager of the given team wishes them to bat. Batters come to the plate in the order in which they appear in the batting order; the batting order turns over to the first place hitter after the ninth hitter has batted. Special spots in the batting order are the first batter, called the leadoff hitter, and the hitter in the fourth position, called the cleanup hitter. In general, the leadoff hitter is meant to get on base so that the following batters can drive him in to score a run, and the cleanup hitter is a batter proficient at driving runners home (more on these concepts below).
Officiating the game are four umpires, the home plate umpire, and one umpire at each of the other three bases. During playoff games in Major League Baseball, the highest professional league of baseball in the United States, additional umpires are employed along the baselines.