Tag Archives: Baseball

Beginners Guide to Baseball

“Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical.”

So said Yogi Berra, a 10-time World Series winner famous for his quirky nuggets of wisdom about the sport known ‘America’s National Pastime’.

Many British sports fans perceive baseball as a glorified version of that schooldays staple, rounders.

Others see the connections between its rich traditions and those of cricket, our own national summer sport, not least in its fervent devotion to team and individual statistics.

With the 2017 season just around the corner, here’s our beginners guide to understanding what those ‘boys of summer’ will be getting up to between now and the World Series in October-November.

2017 Season

The new season will officially begin on April 2nd, when the reigning World Series champions, the Chicago Cubs, take on the St Louis Cardinals.

Miami’s Marlins Park will host the 2017 All-Star Game

The regular season is scheduled to end on October 1, with the post-season or play-offs beginning two days later, and the best-of-seven-game World Series scheduled to start on October 24th.

Major League Baseball (MLB) explored the possibility of bringing some regular season games to the London Stadium, home of West Ham United, but the plans were dropped due to a lack of time for negotiations.

There are 30 MLB teams, split between the National and American Leagues, and split within those into regional divisions.

Each team plays a massive 162 games in the regular season in a schedule that includes contests against their divisional rivals as well as cross-divisional and cross-league encounters.

Team Positions

Teams consist of nine players and take turns fielding and batting, with the home team batting second.

An inning consists of batters from each team taking their turn at bat until three batters are out. A game lasts nine innings, but is extended into extra ones if the scores are level.

“Baseball is like church. Many attend, few understand” – New York baseball legend Leo Durocher

The fielding side consists of a pitcher, catcher, four infielders, and three outfielders.

Pitchers throws overhand, using a variety of deliveries from a raised mound to the home plate.

If the batter misses three legitimate pitches, or fails to swing at three judged hittable by the umpire, he is out on strikes.

But if the pitcher throws four pitches outside the strike zone, the batter gets a walk to first base.

A strike is also called when the batter swings at a pitch whether it is deemed to be in the strike zone or not.

If a ball is struck out of the field of play, also known as the ballpark, it’s called a home run.

A tactic within baseball is to load up first to third base, then get the designated hitter to hit a home run; the team batting gets four runs on the scoreboard due to all of the players on the bases.

Brief History of Baseball

The origins of baseball are the subject of much debate and dispute, but the first recorded game in America took place in 1838.

In 1871, the first professional baseball league was born. By the beginning of the 20th century, most large cities in the eastern United States had a professional teams.

The sport really came of age in the 1920s, when Babe Ruth (perhaps it’s most famous-ever player) led the New York Yankees to several World Series titles and became a national hero thanks to his unrivalled ability to hit home runs.

World Series

The first World Series was played in 1903 and has taken place every year since. The New York Yankees have appeared in 40, winning 27 times – no-one else even comes close to their feats.

And yet, the World Series seen as the greatest ever didn’t involve the Yankees, but featured the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves in 1991.

Clayton Kershaw, star pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Five games in this series were decided by a single run, four games were decided in the final at-bat, and three games went into extra innings.

Both Game Six and Game Seven went beyond the 9th inning, with Minnesota winning both at their Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome home.

Game Six was won in the 11th inning on a walk-off home run by Minnesota outfielder Kirby Puckett.

In Game Seven, Minnesota pitcher Jack Morris threw a 10-inning, complete game shutout, with Twins utility man Gene Larkin getting a series-winning RBI single in the bottom of the 10th. (AXS, 2015)

Baseball Statistics

Baseball statistics play an important role in evaluating a player or team’s progress.

Since the flow of a baseball game has natural breaks, and normally players act individually rather than performing in clusters, the sport lends itself to easy record keeping and statistics.

Statistics have been kept for professional baseball since the creation of the National and American Leagues, now part of Major League Baseball.

A lot of people agree that the statistical side of the game helps people to understand what is going on on the field.

However, not everyone likes the influx of statistical measurements that now go on in the MLB.

An interview between MLB Network’s Brian Kenny and Chicago White Sox TV play-by-play announcer Ken Harrelson shows this.

What started out as a pleasant conversation quickly devolved into Harrelson decrying the use of numbers in baseball and introducing the most interesting metric of the past 25 years, ‘The Will To Win’.

Give it a go

The statistical side of baseball can be very complicated but don’t let that put you off of potentially going to watch a game live or watching a game on ESPN which is part of the BT Sport package.

The atmosphere at baseball games is second to none, and nothing beats watching a home run soar into the stands.

Venezuelan baseball vs the US influence

Venezuelan baseball players have slowly started dominating the Major League Baseball in North America. While many have been quick to attribute the successes of said Venezuelans to the US influence, baseball in the Latin American country has been carving out its own identity and style since 1941.

This video essay deconstructs the history of Venezuelan baseball, as well as its relationship with Cuba and the US. Featuring quotes from an original interview with writer and historian Milton Jamail.

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Baseball on the radio – an American love affair

Colleen Brenton’s road to working as a reporter on the Green Bay Packers for Wisconsin radio station WTMJ is a fascinating one.

As she told Elephant Sport, it was listening to the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team on the radio as a kid that changed her career path and life.

The baseball regular season is 162 games long, a baseball game lasts about three and a half hours, so keeping up with a team is difficult for most avid fans. If you’re a fanatic of Major League Baseball, you’ll spend a considerable amount of hours watching baseball each year.

“Bob Uecker changed my life, really”

To put that into perspective, if you watched every game of your team in full during a season, you’d be sitting down to watch for 567 hours, or 23 and a half days.

The very essence of the baseball’s lengthy format therefore leads fans to explore all the different methods of following games, whether it be partial season tickets, short highlights, condensed game highlights, or even just reading boxscores in newspapers.

But for Colleen Brenton, growing up over a thousand miles from her nearest team, she only had one choice when she was growing up in the 80s: radio.

An essential medium

Scully_GM
Dodgers commentary legend Vin Scully

Baseball is a very conversational sport. With notable gaps between innings and pitches, it gives commentators a chance to breathe, and share personal anecdotes. The best commentators often make the game seem like it’s being played around their spoken cues, and engage their listeners in their musings from their lives in the sport.

The continuing importance of radio coverage of baseball, has made many broadcasters famous down the years.

During the summertime, they’re heard in millions of American homes, in cars and while out and about over portable devices. Most people are too busy to invest multiple hours five days a week to watching the sport.

The best commentators – like Vin Scully, who has been calling Los Angeles Dodgers games for 66 years – feel like family to the fanbases they talk to, and employ a masterful sense of timing and pace.

“I swear,” exclaimed Fox Sports Radio’s Colin Cowherd last September on his radio show The Herd. “It’s like Dodgers players wait for Vin Scully to finish telling stories before hitting balls or throwing pitches sometimes, it’s unbelievable. All his stories end perfectly with a catch.

“He’ll tell a nine minute-long story and then say: ‘and man landed on the moon… Oh, this ball looks like it’s headed to the moon, and it’s gone! 3-2 Dodgers, home run!’ That’s the power of his announcing.”

For Colleen Brenton, who grew up in Idaho, it wasn’t Scully who provided her window into the baseball but another US baseball broadcasting legend: Bob Uecker of the Milwaukee Brewers.

The first pitch

“Bob Uecker changed my life, really,” Brenton told Elephant Sport. “My parents were never interested in sports when I was growing up, so I pretty much had to fend for myself.

“The Boise State Broncos – who play college football to a decent standard – are the only relevant sports team in the whole state, so finding a team to follow was hard because there wasn’t a local pro team for me to latch onto. I had to look outside my state. That’s when I found the Brewers.”

“It’s like Dodgers players wait for Vin Scully to finish telling stories before hitting balls or throwing pitches sometimes, it’s unbelievable”

Milwaukee just happened to be the closest team to Brenton, as well as the smallest market in the Major Leagues. It suited her to be supporting ‘small town’ team after living in a state which is ranked 39th out of 50 in terms of population.

“They’re the underdogs. They don’t have the money to compete with the big teams, or the location. But that’s what makes the fanbase what it is, and it’s special,” she continued.

Heated rivalry

During mid 1960s, Milwaukee had it’s first taste of Major League Baseball, when the ‘Braves’ played at County Stadium. Financial issues forced the team to switch to Seattle as the ‘Pilots’ but they lasted just a single season before going bankrupt again and moving back to Wisconsin, becoming the Brewers.

That season away from the Mid-West came as a wake up call for much of the fanbase, who have remained some of the most loyal fans in the sport since.

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“I remember what happened, I was tuning the dial on the radio – I was 14-years-old and it cut to a Brewers-Cardinals game. Now the Brewers rivalry with the Cards is pretty heated, and it hooked me immediately.

“I’d never seen a baseball game before, I knew nothing about the team, or the sport but the enthusiasm of Uecker was infectious. I continued listening for the rest of the season and beyond.

“I went to see the Brewers without having ever seen anything other than pictures of them in papers”

“I find that baseball in many ways is better on the radio than it is on TV and even live because of the way colour commentators describe the game. I found that as I grew up Uecker was always there for me, almost every day, during the summer, through thick and thin, he was on the radio in my room.

“Maybe that’s because how I grew up following it? Back then it wasn’t even on TV in Idaho outside of the World Series.

“I then became desperate to see the game properly, after just hearing it for so long, so when I learnt to drive at 16 I drove to all the way to Milwaukee to see the team for the first time.”

Road trip

Going to your first baseball game live is a real milestone for many Americans, and it was no different for Brenton, when she saw the Brewers at County Stadium playing the Chicago Cubs for the first time.

“After falling in love with the Green Bay Packers as well, I moved across the country to fulfil my dream”

“Can you imagine being a fan of a team for years, and never seeing them with your eyes? I went to see the Brewers without having ever seen anything other than pictures of them in papers. I had only ever seen the World Series on TV.

“I remember Greg Counsel hitting a home run to give the Brewers the lead, jumping up and down and screaming in the aisles.

“When I left County Stadium, I had seen baseball – and sport – in a different light. It was that day that I decided it was such a big part of my life, that not only did I want to work in the sport, writing about it, but move to Wisconsin to be closer to it.

“And in 2012, after falling in love with the Green Bay Packers as well, I moved across the country to fulfil my dream.”

New beginnings

When she arrived in Wisconsin, finding a job covering the Brewers was harder than she thought.

Writing about baseball is by no means an easy job, as so many people want to do it. So instead, she took a different approach, taking an internship at WTMJ – a local radio station – which eventually allowed her to cover the Packers during the season for a full-time wage after years of writing for free.

“It’s my dream job, writing about sports. It’s even more of a dream because I worked so hard to get there. I’d always loved writing as a kid, and I didn’t know back then that writing about sports would be how I’d earn a living. I love it!

“I may not be writing about the Brewers, but it’s because of them that I’m writing about sport. Without Bob Uecker’s radio calls, I doubt I’d be living in Green Bay, Wisconsin right now, writing about American football for a living.

“And I certainly wouldn’t have a Brewers season ticket…”