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John Grisham Explains Baseball

Posted: 04/24/2012 11:55 pm Updated: 04/25/2012 8:40 am

Calico Joe

The following is adapted from the preface to the British edition of John Grisham's new baseball novel, "Calico Joe", which is available on jgrisham.com.

Over a long publishing lunch in London, I realized that my British friends, while enjoying the story of Calico Joe and grasping most of it, did not understand the game of baseball and were baffled by its terminology. They politely asked me to explain such things as a drag bunt, a pickoff, a stolen base, a curve ball, a switch-hitter, and a grand slam — aspects of the game that most American boys have absorbed by the age of 10. I muddled through my explanations, terrified that someone might be curious about a balk, a bullpen, or, worst of all, the infield fly rule.

Eventually, someone had the idea that a foreword to this book would be helpful, sort of a brief overview of the game, complete with definitions of the game’s unique lingo. As the lunch progressed, it was suggested that such an analysis would best be written by me. I knew better and flatly said no.

The baseball rule book is six inches thick, a veritable minefield of confusion loaded with mysterious terms and phases. I once read a lengthy law review article that debated ad nauseam the fairness or unfairness of the aforementioned infield fly rule. Every baseball fan is an expert on the rules, and some of the nastiest fights I’ve witnessed were caused by hot disagreements over vague and obtuse rules. Why would I willingly venture into that pit?

But the British can be persistent, and my manhood was soon in question. How could an author who claimed to know the game so well, and who had written so much, shy away from a mere five-page summary of the basics? Or maybe ten pages? But I wouldn’t budge because I understood how daunting the task would be, and how dangerous. Over dessert, it was observed, and everyone around the table quickly agreed, that such an exercise would greatly increase sales, and not just in the UK but in all foreign markets as well. At that point, I caved. I’m only human.

Here, then, is my effort to provide a general overview of my favorite game. This has been attempted many times, and writers far more talented than I have failed miserably in their efforts to succinctly and clearly pass along their vast command of baseball. If I fail too, I will do so secure in the knowledge that I will not be the first or last to do so. Here goes:

BATTER UP

Assume you are a baseball player, one of nine starters on a team of 25 players. You are in uniform, and ready to begin the game. You are on the visiting team, as opposed to the home team, and you are the first batter (an offensive player). You walk from the dugout (the bench area where your team congregates during the game), and proceed to home plate, or home base, or sometimes simply home (a slab of hard, whitened rubber; odd-shaped with 5 sides but basically a 17-inch square, and installed into the ground so that it is level with the playing surface). For purposes of this discussion, you decide to stand on home plate and call time out. The game is played without a clock, but players and coaches are allowed to call time-out to stop the action. You wouldn’t do this in a real game, but bear with me.

As you stand on home plate holding your bat (a finely crafted piece of ash, maple or hickory, no longer than 42 inches and no thicker than 2 ¾ inches), you look at the field. Forty-five degrees to your right, and 90 feet away, is first base (a canvas bag 15 inches square, white in color and between 3 and 5 inches thick). Forty-five degrees to your left, and 90 feet away, is third base. Second base is in front of you, 128 feet away. The four bases — home, first, second, and third — form a perfect square (or “diamond”) and comprise the infield. Beyond the infield is the outfield, an expanse of green grass that comes to an end at the outfield wall. The area beyond second base is called centerfield. The area beyond first base is called right field. The area beyond third base is called left field. Though the infield measurements are precise and inflexible, the distances from home plate to the outfield wall vary from field to field, but, generally, they are between 325 and 400 feet.

A foul line, usually white chalk, runs straight from home plate, past the edge of first base, and all the way to the outfield wall in right field where it yields to a tall, yellow, foul pole. This line and pole separate foul territory from fair territory. An identical foul line runs from home plate, past third base, and to the outfield wall in left field.

If a batted ball hits the line or pole, it is a fair ball. Don’t ask.

As you survey the field and contemplate your first at-bat (an appearance at home plate), you can’t help but notice the members of the defensive team. There is a first baseman, second baseman, third baseman, right fielder, center fielder, and left fielder. The only oddity is the shortstop (usually the most gifted infielder who positions himself between second and third base). There is also a pitcher, but we’ll get to him in a moment.

The 9th member of the defense is behind you, the catcher, always a tough guy who wears a thick mask and all manner of protective padding. Behind the catcher is the home plate umpire, the chief official, who also wears a thick mask, along with shin guards, a chest protector, and perhaps other padding. In the infield, there are three other umpires, one at first, second, and third, but they are dressed in smart outfits with no padding.

Halfway between home plate and second base, and directly in front of you, there is a pile of dirt, carefully groomed and rising 10 ½ inches above the ground. This is the pitcher’s mound, and across the top of it is a strip of hard, whitened rubber six inches in width and twenty-four inches long. This is known as the pitcher’s plate, more commonly called as the “rubber.” The mound is the domain of the most important defensive player; indeed, the most important player on the entire field—the pitcher. His job is to throw baseballs toward home plate with the goal of having the catcher catch them without them being hit by you, the batter.

At some point, the home plate umpire will yell, “Play ball,” and you must take a position in a batter’s box (a chalk-lined rectangle 4 feet by 6 feet in length). There are two batters’ boxes, one on each side of home plate. One is for right-handed batters, the other for left-handed batters. Some players are switch-hitters, meaning they are talented enough to hit from either side of home plate. It’s their choice.

Since most batters are right-handed, let’s assume you are too, and you take a position in the batter’s box. Behind you, the catcher crouches low and prepares to receive the ball from the pitcher. Behind him, the home plate umpire also readies himself for the pitch. Your goal as a hitter is to advance from home plate to first base, and then to second base, third base, and back to home plate. If you are successful, your team is awarded one run. The score is kept by runs.

Your dreaded opponent in this brief duel is the pitcher, and his goal is entirely different from yours. He has no intention of allowing you to reach first base, and he will prevail more often than you. He stands with one foot on the rubber, then goes into his wind-up, a quick pre-pitch ritual that involves a series of exaggerated bodily motions that include the thrusting of legs, kicking of feet, and flailing of arms, all designed to do two things: (1) build momentum and help power the baseball toward home plate, and (2) confuse you and hide the angle at which he will release the baseball. No two wind-ups are the same, and pitchers have developed all manner of heaves and jerks to throw hitters off balance.

The pitcher’s aim is at the strike zone, a vaguely defined and ever shifting target. According to the rule book, the strike zone is:

“That area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the pants uniform, and the lower level is a line at the hallow beneath the knee cap. The strike zone shall be determined from the batters’ stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball.”

The simpler part is “…that area over home plate…” primarily because it is fixed. The part about the batters’ shoulders, pants, knees, and stance is all but impossible to define. Since no two players are the same, the strike zone, technically, changes with each batter.

No aspect of baseball is as controversial as the strike zone. Every umpire has a slightly different version of it, and often, over the course of a two-hour game, with 300 pitches being thrown, an umpire’s strike zone may change a bit. This usually means frustration for both pitchers and hitters.

A pitch that is caught by the catcher after passing through the strike zone is called a strike by the home plate umpire. Three strikes and you’re out. A pitch that is caught by the catcher and not in the strike zone is a ball. Four balls and you will be awarded a walk, or a base on balls, which means you trot down to first base with a “free pass.” If you, the batter, swing at a pitch and miss it, it’s also a strike, regardless of whether the pitch was in the strike zone.
Often, you will swing at a pitch, hit it but not solidly, and the ball will bounce or fly away into foul territory. This is a foul ball. During each at-bat, your first two foul balls are called strikes. After that, you can “foul off” as many pitches as you like without being penalized. Good hitters swing at good pitches—those in the strike zone, and they don’t swing (or “lay off”) pitches not in the strike zone. Really good hitters deliberately foul off pitches they don’t like and wait for something more attractive.

A GAME OF FAILURE

So let’s go through a sequence of pitches, a simulated at-bat. The first pitch is a fastball (the most common pitch and one that generally travels in a straight line and with great velocity) that’s a few inches “outside,” off home plate to the right side. The umpire yells, “Ball one.” The count is now 1-0, one ball and no strikes. This pleases you because you are (temporarily) “ahead in the count,” a slight advantage to you as the hitter, though it probably won’t last long. The catcher tosses the baseball back to the pitcher, who quickly readies himself for the next pitch. He kicks a leg, goes into his wind-up, and throws the second pitch, a curve ball (a slow looping pitch designed to fool the batter) that is chest high and out of the strike zone. “Ball two,” the umpire declares.

A pitcher has many weapons in his arsenal, the fastball and curveball being the most common. There’s also a slider, change-up, knuckleball, screwball, cutter, and a dozen others, and not every pitcher can throw all of these pitches. Most pitchers, though, have three or four they can deliver with astonishing accuracy and speed, and the history of baseball is replete with efforts to develop even more ways to grip and spin and release a baseball, all in an effort to further frustrate and humiliate the batter.

Because I was a weak hitter, I have a strong bias against pitchers. I always found them to be intimidating, cruel, even sadistic. And, at the age of 19, when I saw a fastball spinning wildly in the direction of my head, at 90 plus miles an hour, I promptly retired from the game. And there was no sadness in doing so.

Anyway, since I did not pitch I am ill-equipped to discuss the finer points of the various pitches. Let’s just say that the ball rarely travels in a smooth straight line from the pitcher’s hand to the catcher’s glove. Instead, it is far likelier to wiggle and dance and drop in such a manner that would terrify the average spectator were he, for some reason, standing at home plate.

The count is 2-0 (again, two balls and no strikes), and you the batter have the upper hand in this at-bat. The pitcher is now under pressure to throw something in the strike zone, where you plan to smash it as hard as possible. He does, and you do—a fastball down the middle of the strike zone, and you pounce on it. However, in your enthusiasm, you fail to make solid contact, and instead the ball lands in foul territory, off in the stands where the fans are watching. Strike one. The count is 2-1.

Since you are the lead-off hitter, the first batter for your team, you are probably blessed with great foot speed. It’s your job to get “on base,” or reach first base without making an out. You might consider a bunt, a shortened swing designed to tap the ball and push it just a few feet away from home plate where the defense, caught off-guard, would scramble to field it. A fast runner who can “lay down a bunt” is a potent offensive force. There are different versions of the bunt, one of which is the drag bunt, a rare means of attack in which the batter, always from the left side because it’s a bit closer to first base, starts his run as he trails his bat in an effort to make contact as he is sprinting down the baseline (also the foul line) to first. I mention this only because our hero here, Joe Castle, drag bunts in Chapter 2.

But you eschew the notion of bunting and decide to “hit away,” or swing freely. The fourth pitch in our sequence is a slider, let’s say, and I’m not sure what a slider does but I do know it’s quite difficult to hit if thrown properly. This one is perfect, you are “fooled by the pitch,” do not swing, and the umpire yells, “Strike two.” The count is 2-2, and you are one strike away from being out, or sent back to the dugout with nothing to show for your labors at home plate. A strike-out is the most humbling of all failures during an at-bat, but there are others.

Baseball is a game of failure. You will make far more outs than otherwise. Indeed, if you get a hit (reach first base before the ball arrives there) in only 30 percent of your at-bats, you will be considered great and practically worshipped, someone will pay you millions each season, and the powers-that-be will eventually vote you into the Hall of Fame (the final resting place for all great players).

Each team gets three outs during each inning, or its turn at-bat. A game has nine innings. The visiting team bats first in the top of the inning until it suffers three outs, then the home team bats in the bottom of the inning until it does likewise. At the end of nine innings, the team that has scored the most runs wins the game. If, at the end of nine innings, the score is tied, the game will progress into extra innings, with each team getting three outs per inning. Eventually, one team will outscore the other and the game is over. The longest game in history went 26 innings and lasted over eight hours.

With the count 2-2, the pitcher delivers his next pitch, and you have a split second to decide if it appeals to you. The pitch looks good, you swing, make “good contact” with your bat, and hit a ground ball in the general direction of the shortstop, between second and third base. A ground ball is just that: it bounces across the infield, as opposed to a fly ball that is launched into the air. There is also a line drive, a hard hit ball that does not touch the surface but gains little altitude.

As soon as you hit the ball, you are required to drop your bat and sprint toward first base. The shortstop grabs the ball with his glove, plants his feet and rifles a throw to first base, where the first baseman is hustling over to catch the ball. Meanwhile, you’re flying down the base path trying to step on first base before the ball arrives. The first baseman plants his foot on the first base and prepares to catch the throw from the shortstop, and if he does so before you step on first, then you have “grounded out.” Out number one for your team, in the top of the first inning. If, however, you “beat the throw,” or step on first base before the ball arrives, you have earned a hit, a cleanly struck ball that places you at first base. In an effort to beat the throw, you are allowed to “run through” first base and slow down after passing it.

However, you cannot run through second base and third base as you advance around the infield.

Getting hits is the most important element in offensive baseball. They come in several varieties. A single is a hit that gets you to first base. A double gets you to second. A triple gets you to third. And a home run is a beautifully struck baseball that travels a long distance in the air, clears the outfield wall, and sends the crowd into a frenzy. A rare play in the inside-the-park-home-run in which the ball does not go over the fence or wall but bounces around the outfield while a speedy runner “rounds the bases” and scores at home plate. There is also the grand slam, but more about that later.

Because you are a fine athlete with great speed, you “beat the throw” to first. The umpire declares you to be “Safe!” and your game is off to a good start. Because the ball did not reach the outfield, it is called an infield hit. A successful bunt would share the same classification.

GETTING TO SECOND

Now that you’re on first base, your thoughts are immediately consumed with getting to second base. There are several ways to do this, some more dangerous than others. The pitcher has the ball, on the mound, and he glances over his shoulder at you. The first baseman is standing on first base because you, now as a base runner, have the right to “take a lead,” or venture off the base a few steps in an effort to get closer to second base. You have to be careful, because the pitcher might whip the ball over to first where the first baseman would catch it with his glove and slap it on to your feet or legs or arms as you lunge desperately back to the safety of first base. This is a pick-off attempt, and if successful, then you have been picked off. You’ve made an out, an inexcusable one, and you must return to the dugout in disgrace.

But you are too wise for this, and there is no pickoff attempt. The pitcher goes into a stretch; a modified wind-up used when there are runners on base, and delivers a pitch to home plate, where your teammate, the number two batter in the batting order, or line-up, is now having an at-bat. “Strike one,” the umpire says. The catcher glances at you, then tosses the ball back to the pitcher, who stands on the mound, one foot on the rubber, and “stares in” at the catcher, who is deciding which of the aforementioned pitches he would prefer next. With his right hand and fingers, the catcher signals the pitch. The pitcher agrees, nods, and goes into his stretch.

The stretch is carefully monitored by the umpires. Its movements are strict and confining, and if a pitcher attempts to deceive you at first base with a false move during his stretch, one of the umpires will call a balk. You will be awarded second base, free of charge. Balks are rare, though, and most games are played without one.

Your coach, who is standing in a coach’s box in foul territory near third base, goes through a series of motions (called “signs”) with his hands, and in doing so secretly orders you to “steal second base.” This is a risky offensive strategy that works about 60 percent of the time, but you have no choice. You take a lead, watch the pitcher to make sure he will not attempt a pick-off, and when he begins his delivery to home plate, you turn and sprint toward second base. It’s the longest 90 feet you’ll ever run. Catchers have great throwing arms. They fire the ball around the infield, fearlessly, and with deadly accuracy, and they are insulted when a base runner attempts to steal a base. The second batter, your teammate, swings at the pitch and misses. The catcher snatches the ball as he’s bolting upright, and in a split second he unloads a bullet to second base where the second baseman is hustling over to make the catch. As you go into second at full speed, you execute a slide, a lunging, diving action with your feet first, all in an effort to beat the throw from the catcher. Grittier players slide “head first” into the base, but their careers often do not last as long.

Stealing a base is one of the most exciting plays in baseball. It happens so fast — a speedy runner, a hard throwing catcher, dust flying, bodies sometimes colliding, and, always, the umpire on top of the play.

You touch second base with your foot just as the glove with the ball is slapped onto your arm, and the umpire yells, “Safe.” In the statistical summary of the game, or box score, you now have a stolen base to go with your base hit. You call “Time out,” wipe the dirt off your uniform, and begin thinking about third base.

On the next pitch, the batter hits a long, fly ball to left field where it is caught “on the fly” by the left fielder for the first out of the inning. This is called a fly out, or pop out. A line drive caught by a defensive player is called a line-out. You are unable to advance. The next batter hits a ground ball to the shortstop, who snares it, takes a look at you to make sure you’re not thinking about sprinting to third, then tosses the ball to first for the second out. Because there is no runner on first, you are not forced to run to third. Had there been a runner on first, he, of course, would be forced to run to second on the ground ball, and that would in turn force you to run to third.

The fourth batter for your team comes to the plate. He is known as the clean-up hitter, because he is expected to clean the bases of runners, or drive-in everyone on base. Generally, the best hitters appear in slots 1 through 5 of the line-up, with the lesser hitters down in the batting order. Clean-up hitters have power and launch massive home runs, which are also called, in baseball slang, “bombs, blasts, tape-measure shots,” and many other descriptive terms. Because they usually “swing for the fence,” they also strike out a lot. And, because they are feared, pitchers are very careful when facing clean-up hitters.

Let’s say your team’s clean-up hitter is particularly frightening and in the middle of a hot streak. With first base “open” (no runner occupying it), and with two outs, the pitcher decides to play it safe. He “pitches around the hitter,” or, in other words, throws a few pitches that are out of the strike zone. When the umpire calls “Ball four,” the clean-up hitter is awarded a walk and trots benignly down to first base. You’re on second, he’s on first, and there are still two outs.

You consider the possibility of stealing third base, but such an attempt is even riskier than stealing second because the distance from home to third is shorter; thus the catcher’s throw is shorter. It has a success ratio of 2 in 5, and your coach decides against it. You stay where you are, take a lead off of second base, and watch as your teammate, hitter number five, “digs in” at the plate. The first pitch is “in the dirt,” a wild pitch that bounces before the catcher can grab it. It rolls a few feet away, enabling you to sprint to third base. The clean-up hitter at first sprints to second; both runners advance. Each game has an official scorer, and if, in his opinion, the catcher should have caught the ball, then it is scored as a passed ball, an error on the catcher. At any rate, it’s a defensive mistake.

The next pitch is a fastball “down the middle” of the strike zone, and the hitter swings, makes contact, and hits a hard ground ball to the third baseman, who mishandles it and cannot make a clean catch. By the time he finally grabs the ball and is ready to make a throw to first base, it’s too late. The scorer gives the third baseman an error, another defensive mistake.

GRAND SLAM

With runners on first, second, and third, the “bases are loaded.” Still two outs, and the sixth batter comes to the plate. Off to such a bad start, the pitcher is probably angry at this point. He tries to do what pitchers often do when they’re frustrated — throw the ball as hard as possible. This usually leads to more trouble. His second pitch is a fastball, and the batter “takes a rip,” makes perfect contact, and launches a bomb, a blast, a tape-measure shot. The ball clears the wall in left field, a beautiful home run. And, because the bases are loaded, it’s not just any home run, but a grand slam. Four runs score.

You trot home, step on the plate and score the first run. You are followed by the runners who were on second and first base. When the clean-up hitter finishes his “home run trot” by stepping on home plate, his is the fourth run.

After the third out, the teams exchange places. The nine defensive players come “off the field” and go into their dugout where they exchange their fielding gloves for their bats. You and your teammates put down your bats and pick up your gloves. In the bottom of the first, the home team will bat and your team “takes the field.” Let’s say you’re the second baseman. The first batter hits a line drive up the middle for a base hit. He’s now on first. The second batter swings three times and misses, for a strike out. Out number one. The third batter hits a ground ball to the shortstop, who catches hit cleanly and throws the ball to you as you “cover” second base. When you catch the ball, the runner on first, who is forced to run to second, is out. Out number two. As soon as you catch the ball, you whip it to first base and beat the runner (the hitter) to complete a double play. Out number three. In a matter of seconds, the second and third outs are recorded, and the bottom of the first inning is over. Double plays are routine and are the most important of all defensive plays.

In the second inning, you are in the on-deck circle (an actual circle near your dugout where you wait your turn to bat). Since your team sent eight batters to the plate in the first inning, the number nine batter “leads off” the second inning. You, as the lead-off, or first, batter will follow him. The number 9 hitter is always the pitcher, and pitchers are lousy hitters. However, on this splendid night, your pitcher hits a ball “up the middle,” right over second base, for a rare base hit.

You’re “up next.” You dig in at home plate and prepare for the pitch. Let’s say that you and this pitcher go back a few years, and it’s not a good history. He doesn’t like you, and the feelings are mutual. He’s having a bad night anyway, and for some reason (and often there is no valid reason) this pitcher decides to start trouble by throwing a bean ball—a fastball deliberately intended to hit a batter in the head. He goes into his wind-up and fires the ball at your head. At the last split-second, you manage to turn away and barely miss getting beaned. You’re hot about this and you yell a few choice words to the pitcher, who responds, and soon the umpire is telling both of you to cool it.

I mention the bean ball only because it has a place in the story of Calico Joe. Most games at the professional level are played without a bean ball being thrown. However, it’s not unusual for a pitcher to throw “inside,” or close to a hitter, and there are several strategic reasons for doing this. Such a close pitch is often called a “brushback or “chin music.”

The count is one ball, no strikes. You’re still thinking about the bean ball, and the pitcher throws a perfect fastball on the “outside corner” (the edge of home plate, just barely close enough to be called a strike). One ball, one strike. You forget about the bean ball and concentrate on getting a hit. You foul off the next pitch. One ball, two strikes. The next pitch is a beauty, and you rip it “into the gap” between the left fielder and the center fielder. Your pitcher, who is on first, scores easily to make it 5-0. You stop at second base for a double, and a Run Batted In, or RBI. A hitter with a lot of RBI’s will have a long, rewarding career.

The next batter, number 2 in your team’s line-up, hits a pop fly that drifts into foul territory where it is caught by the third baseman for an out. A fly ball is playable in foul territory, but a ground ball is not.

The next batter strikes out, leaving you “stranded,” or left-on-base (LOB). You trot off, get your glove and take your defensive position. Because your half of the inning is over, you will not be allowed to return to second base in the next inning. The opposing team does no harm in the bottom of the second inning. It sends three batters to the plate; all three are “retired in order.” It’s “three up and three down.”

(Don’t worry—this preface will not drag you through an entire nine-inning game).

In the top of the third, the opposing pitcher gets into more trouble. He walks two batters, then gives up another double. It becomes obvious he does not “have good stuff,” and needs to be removed from the game. It is rare for the starting pitcher to pitch all 9 innings, or a “complete game.” The coach is happy if he can survive 6 or 7 innings before being replaced by a relief pitcher, or reliever. On a professional roster there are twenty-five players, and ten are pitchers. Of the ten, five are starting pitchers and five are relievers.

A pitcher’s success is measured by wins and losses. In every game, there is a winning pitcher and a losing one. Another measure of success is a pitcher’s ERA, or Earned Run Average. In broad terms, this is the number of runs a pitcher allows per game.

Baseball is a game of endless statistics, but only a few are really crucial. For a hitter, it’s his batting average and RBI’s (Runs Batted In). For a pitcher, it’s his won-loss record and ERA.

THE WORLD DOES NOT PLAY BASEBALL

A professional baseball team has a staff of coaches; pitching, hitting, on-field coaches in foul territory near the first and third base, and a dugout coach, to name the most important. The big boss is the manager, a wise and battle-hardened guru who rules the dugout, makes the crucial decisions, plots strategy, and is the first person sacked when the team starts losing. For some reason, he and his coaches wear uniforms identical to those worn by the players. This often provides a bit of comic relief as these aging warriors vainly attempt to look fit and youthful in tight polyester. After years of research, I have yet to find a reasonable explanation of why baseball coaches dress like their players. Imagine a basketball coach (middle-aged, short, pudgy) roaming the sidelines in sneakers, baggy shorts, and a sleeveless game jersey. Or a football coach in full pads and a helmet.

But I digress.

Back to the pitcher who is in trouble. It’s time for a “pitching change,” so the manager leaves the dugout, calls time-out, and walks slowly to the mound. Meanwhile, a couple of relievers are limbering up in the bullpen—an enclosed area beyond the outfield wall where the relief pitchers pass their time waiting to enter the game. Because they are generally bored, a lot of baseball’s off-color humor originates from the bullpen.

The manager motions for a reliever to enter the game. The starting pitcher walks off the mound after a “bad start,” and heads for the dugout. He is finished for the night, cannot re-enter the game, and will not pitch for another three or four days because he must rest his weary arm. The reliever takes the mound, tosses a few warm-up pitches, and is ready to face the next batter.

Your team is leading 7-0 in the top of the third, with a runner on second and no outs. The starting pitcher for the opposing team has just been “chased,” or “sent to the showers,” or suffered other descriptive humiliations that cannot be printed here. With such a large lead, your team should win the game, and if it continues to win about 60 percent of its games, it will qualify for the divisional playoffs, perhaps even win the “pennant,” also known as the league championship, then advance to the World Series, which is a best-of-seven-game playoff between the American and National Leagues.

(Yes, we are well aware that most of the “world” does not play baseball. Also, we refuse to engage the other baseball playing countries in a true, universal play-off series. Like everything else about baseball, it’s complicated).

So, after 5,000 words, I have taken you from your first at-bat to the World Series. Hopefully, you can now watch a baseball game and understand the basics. To understand every minute and complicated aspect of the game is to take away much of the fun. Leave that for the players, coaches, managers, sportswriters, and novelists.

Copyright Belfry Holdings.

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