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In modern baseball, the term gets thrown around by young players, parents and coaches alike: “in the dugout” must be heard innumerable times over a season. Yet not every baseball fan is truly aware of what the dugout really is, where it came from, and modern uses.
A dugout in baseball is the area where the bench is located for players to sit during games and practices. Baseball fields have 2 dugouts, for both the home team and visiting team, located between home plate and either 1st or 3rd base in foul territory.
The dugout began as a place for players on a team who at the time were not active in play on the field. Managers also spend most of their time in the dugout, and as the game added more and more coaches, and even trainers, they too could fill a dugout.
It is important to point out that the term “dugout” is often applied to the general bench area of a baseball field ~ even if there is not a true dugout either dug into the ground, or created with fencing. The words bench and dugout are often interchangeable in baseball.
Why Dugouts Matter in Baseball
Comfort, Safety, and More
Aside from providing a place for players to sit and rest between action, the dugout grew into a storage place for all player and team equipment; and the location where coaches give signals with their hands or voices to players on the field.
Imagine a baseball field without dugouts. Actually, almost every parent has seen their child practice on fields lacking benches or dugouts. Many young players practice at parks or empty school grounds, where they might be lucky to have a backstop, if that.
The result is a mess and confusion. Players’ equipment bags and gloves and other gear gets tossed off to the side of the field in foul territory, often in the same general area. Items are hard to find if something is needed quickly, and all those bags can get in the way of actual play.
Pop-up to the 3rd baseman in foul ground? Hope he doesn’t trip over Kyle’s bag!
Without an actual bench, players not in action must sit on the grass uncomfortably. Most dugout- and bench-less baseball fields do not come with some sort of cover from the sun or rain, so everyone is prone to getting really hot or super wet.
Baseball Game Management ~ from the Visible Dugout
As stated above, during games the dugout is the focal point for where players in the field can peek for signs given there. They don’t have to look all around and wonder which coach is where. The entire operation of a team is centralized, in the dugout, in this respect.
Some leagues even make rules where managers or coaches must stay on the field or be in the dugout during games. All kinds of shenanigans can happen when coaches or associates of a team hide out in the stands, for instance, or behind outfield walls. (See Astros, Houston, 2017).
Of course, at the higher levels this still occurs, especially with people scouting future opponents, usually in advance of playing against them later.
But in terms of game play, the dugout is the Strategic Operations Center. Typically managers will give signals to coaches of the bases, at 1st and 3rd base, to relay to baserunners.
A manager or coach, from the dugout, could signal to the catcher to then relay that message to the pitcher (most often calling the type of pitch and location ordered or desired). Or, anyone in a dugout can wave hands to get a player’s attention and maybe have them move a few feet.
Let’s face it, baseball equipment today is not inexpensive. It can be unnerving to toss that $300 glove off to grass on the side while you hit, when there are a lot of strangers in the vicinity.
Dugouts provide privacy and/or protection from unruly persons not affiliated with the team. Baseball gloves, bats, batting helmets, catcher’s gear, and more are just too valuable today to leave them to chance.
Where the Dugout Came From: for the Fans
The term is said to come from the fact that many baseball dugouts are just that: dug out into the ground, in effect lowered. They are built like that purposely, so the floor is below ground level. The original reason: to respect the views of spectators sitting behind. Simple as that.
It has to do with where the main action of baseball occurs, at home plate. So, many seats close to home plate look straight out over the top of the team bench areas. This makes baseball different from other major team sports, and it’s a reason the bench area was dug out.
There are also field-level dugouts, that is, ones where the floor is the same level as the playing field. Basically, these are just contraptions built right on the field, often with fencing up to it, and beyond it toward the outfield.
In the majors, most dugouts are dug out below field level. The few that are field level are usually in multipurpose stadiums where dug-out holes would not be easily covered for other sports.
In those stadiums the seating behind dugouts is usually raised, to address the main reason for the existence of dug-out dugouts in the first place.
Most amateur and youth ball dugouts are at field level.
Players’ Perspective on Dugouts
In the years I played baseball, into college, I only encountered a couple of below-field level dugouts. What I remember is they tended to be cooler in temperature; and they provided a cool perspective of the field. Your eyes are basically at ground level.
Unlike other sports, in baseball the bench area is often in play. That is, balls that fly into them can still be caught by defenders running off the field. However, for thrown balls the dugout is out of play, forcing stoppage of the game by the umpire and a penalty assessed to the fielding team.
Dug-out dugouts can give the perception of being safer, since much of your body is “underground.” However, sometimes this makes it more dangerous, as really the only part of your body that can be seriously hurt by a foul ball or bad throw is the head, face, and neck.
Which, in a dug-out dugout, is right at field level.
Baseball Dugout Trivia
- Cardines Field of Newport, R.I. has both dugouts on the side of 1st base. It is the home of the Newport Gulls, an amateur league for collegiate-level play.
- Some real dugouts have no rails or fencing in front ~ so players on the bench must pay attention for hard-hit foul balls, or a fielder running in trying to make a play.
- Most MLB stadiums connect the clubhouse to the dugout via tunnel.
- MLB rules stipulate that only players, substitute players, managers, coaches, trainers, injured players, and batboys are allowed in the bench area during game play.
- Anyone ejected from a game, including coaches and players, cannot be in the dugout.
Question: How do they decide which team gets which dugout?
Answer: In general, the home team gets the choice; which most often ends up being the 3rd base side (because a lot of managers also coach that base, so it makes it easier). Some youth and amateur leagues might have rules about this. In the MLB it is entirely arbitrary ~ the rulebook has nothing about it. Often in the majors, it was pre-dictated by the situation of facilities underneath. For instance, a dugout might be larger than the other at a stadium, so the home team of course takes it. Sometimes it has to do with where the sun sets (home coaches want to avoid the setting sun light in their players’ eyes during games).
Q.: Which side is preferred most in the major leagues?
A.: 1st base side, by a 9-6 margin, in both leagues.