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Someone considering how to get into baseball should start by acknowledging that each person’s attraction to the game can vary, from the excitement of play, the game’s history, its culture and “lore,” particular players, or something else.
A simple formula for how to get into baseball: watch as many games as possible, preferably with someone with knowledge of the game; follow teams or players daily or weekly; watch movies or read books related to baseball; and attend live games to appreciate the overall atmosphere of America’s oldest major sport.
If you’re young enough, try playing a little baseball. Just learning to throw and catch a ball for the first time can be fun. Hitting a ball coming at you with a round bat and hearing — even feeling — the sensation of batting could be a thrill.
Here are simple tips, some gathered by scouring baseball fan forums, to help someone to get to know and eventually love the game of baseball.
Watch Baseball Games
For someone entirely new to baseball, the game can deceivingly look barely involved, even slow, especially between action. But just seeing players spread around the diamond is like looking into the mirror to try learn everything you need to know about yourself. That is, you don’t. All you see is an exterior face, and maybe an emotion of expression, but there’s so much more.
Beneath the face is a big world of emotions, thoughts, plans, schemes, desires, and more. Just like baseball.
As stated above, it’s best to watch baseball games with people who’ve played or who really know the sport. To get into baseball, constantly ask questions about what’s going on. At its foundation baseball is a simple game — 3 strikes you’re out, 4 balls you walk, 3 outs ends an inning, 9 innings per game. But at its root you’ll find strategy, gamesmanship, and pure physical talent resulting in splendid action.
To illustrate, consider what might be going on when a pitcher prepares to throw a pitch:
- The pitcher and catcher are exchanging signs, shared with hand signals, to choose the type of pitch to come, and where exactly the ball will be thrown to the batter.
- The batter will get his own signs from a coach (usually the 3rd base coach) as to what the manager or team wants him to do, whether it means hit, bunt, fake bunt or other tactics.
- Infielders can communicate verbally or with hand signs about where they want to position themselves, to be in the best position to nab a ball hit in play and get the batter out.
- Coaches or players on the bench could be signaling to outfielders to play further or closer to home plate, or to move left or right depending on what they know about the hitter’s tendencies.
- Players on the bench could be counting pitches, marking where pitches are thrown, verbally jockeying members of the other team, or whatever other type of strategy they think will help win the game.
- Managers and coaches will be busy calling pitches, and generally disseminating signs to players to indicate what they are expected to do.
All this before a pitch is thrown. Put runners on base and it gets even more active. Baseball players don’t just stand around waiting for a ball to be hit or thrown to them. There is a tremendous amount of strategy, both before and during games, a reason why some call baseball a “cerebral” or “thinking-man’s” game.
Watch a game with someone in the know and you can learn why all this activity is going on. All of this does not take into account actual game play, when a ball is pitched, there’s a hit, or runners are active around the bases. The ultimate goal is to score runs — for a batter to touch all 4 bases — and it’s a battle between one team trying to take bases, against another trying to prevent that.
Pick a Team, Player or Players
It helps when watching baseball to have a feeling for, or an emotional tie with, a team or particular players. If you go to a field and want the red team to win over the blue team, you’ll pay close attention to how the red team fares. If you see something to like in player No. 1, you’ll wait for that player’s time at bat, or for him to enter a game to pitch.
That’s what causes much of the noise heard in stadiums — emotions for teams and players. Newcomers to baseball might sit in a stadium and, once commotion rumbles through the crowd, wonder about the cause. Maybe it’s a player known to hit the ball far coming to the plate. Or a strikeout-expert pitcher facing an especially good hitter.
If you do this, eventually you’ll start peeking at standings showing which teams are winning most, or at player statistics to see how your favorite players fare compared with the rest of the league. Even later, you might learn about records in certain categories and root for a team or player to keep streaks going.
It can be as easy as starting out by picking a random team or player, and carefully follow them for several days or weeks. Can you predict outcomes? What team will they face next? Baseball fans can be very involved with the game even when nothing’s happening on the fields.
Following a Baseball Team
Choosing a favorite baseball team (or two) is perhaps the starting point. Most newcomers to baseball start rooting for the team their father (or parents or other influential adult or friend) roots for.
Kids might wonder why dad is yelling at the television screen, or whooping and hollering after hearing about some score. It’s almost animal instinct to investigate what exactly caused the hubbub.
Secondarily is location. Professional baseball teams represent the communities in which they are located. Communities get regional pride when their team succeeds. And wearing the cap of your home team while away from home shows team spirit, triggers conversations with strangers, and indicates an attachment to baseball.
Root for Baseball Players
Many youngsters get into baseball due to the hype they see in the media: reports on television, newspaper stories, game accounts on the internet. In past years, radio and even baseball trading cards played a part.
Then kids play baseball and try to emulate what they’ve seen from their favorites in the major leagues: taking mighty swings like their favorite slugger; diving head-first like a favored fielder; hucking a fastball by a batter for the final out of the World Series.
Baseball can be an emotional game, and being attached to a player (or players) gives you something to look forward to with every game. A player could go 0 for 5 at the plate on a Monday, but on Tuesday morning he starts 0 for 0 and anything can happen. It’s fun to root for players and teams.
As new baseball fans progress in knowledge and appreciation of the game, inevitably a team, player or players will catch their fancy and the fan will want to learn more and more about them. Today it’s much easier with internet searches, and there are a great variety of sources to seek information from team websites to the league’s website (mlb.com) to blogs, forums and more.
In the old days, fans relied mostly on newspapers — and for kids, sometimes the backside of baseball cards which usually featured a player’s lifetime statistics. Fans can like a player for any number of reasons, including his style of play, his look (both physically and the way he might wear a uniform), or maybe his numbers (especially home runs, the power stat of the game).
Master the Scoreboard and the Box Score
Watching baseball with someone who has deep knowledge of the game provides insight and an opportunity to ask questions about the contest at hand as well as rules, baseball history and more. Real baseball fans are happy to help, and no question is out of the ordinary.
Newcomers might even play a game of trying to stump their companion, with questions like, “Why do they call the pole at the end of each foul line the “foul pole” when in fact if a hit ball strikes it, it’s ruled a fair ball?”
A key starting point to watching baseball games is to understand the scoreboard. The bottom line is, the most important thing to know is how many runs were scored by both teams — listed under a big “R.” Not counting newfangled stadium electronic scoreboards that bombard fans with numbers, a typical scoreboard contains a row for each team, from left to right showing runs scored each inning, then a total of runs scored, hits, and errors while fielding for each team.
While the runs column is most important, savvy fans will look at the number of hits and errors also to gauge just how well a team is playing. Sometimes a team has fewer hits, and more errors, but holds a lead. This could indicate A) some luck by the team ahead in the score, such as some base on balls followed by a 3-run home run; and B) the team behind is actually playing better so it’s best to keep watching.
Once the scoreboard is mastered, consider the post-game box score. These are the little vertical rectangles filled with tiny agate type that fill sports pages in newspapers, and hold baseball nuts captive each morning. The box score is a summary of action in a baseball game, something invented in the late 1800s when there was no radio, television or the internet to report what happened.
Box scores are very expanded scoreboards, showing how each player in a game performed. Batters will be listed first, and right of their names across a row will be a list of his number of at bats, hits, runs scored and runs batted in.
At bottom, pitchers will be listed with their accompanying performance data, which can vary but usually at least conveys innings pitched, hits against, runs against, and earned runs against. Only earned runs count against a pitcher’s earned run average (ERA), a general performance indicator equivalent to the batting average for hitters.
Scoreboards tell game and team stories; box scores tell player stories. Looking at a box score, notice how many zeroes are there. To quickly gauge which hitters did best, look for “crooked” numbers like 2 or more. Players with 2 or more hits, runs or RBIs were a big part of the game’s play. Anything higher and that player probably did spectacularly.
For pitchers, just compare how many innings they pitched versus runs they allowed — and maybe how many strikeouts they logged. In general, a pitcher who strikes out a batter per inning is throwing pretty well.
Movies, Books & Video Games
It can be helpful to watch baseball movies including “Field of Dreams,” “Bull Durham,” “The Natural,” “The Rookie,” “Moneyball,” and “The Sandlot.” Solid starting-point baseball books are “Our Game” by Charles C. Alexander, and “Watching Baseball Smarter” by Zack Hample.
Question: Why are statistics such a big part of baseball?
Answer: Who knows? Except that the game seems to lend itself to minute-detail stats, and that unlike other major sports baseball developed at a time before electronic media made reporting on games, players and teams easier. It simply progressed over time, and has actually grown exponentially with the introduction of the computer and analytics. It just seems that almost everyone who really gets into baseball also gets deeply interested in the stats.
Q.: What does “baseball lore” mean?
A.: Loosely, “lore” means a particular or traditional belief or knowledge; or something that is learned. In baseball, it means spectacular or memorable occurrences (that may or may not have happened). These actions get passed from generation to generation, establishing great baseball traditions.
A great example is Babe Ruth “calling his shot” against the Chicago Cubs in the 1932 World Series. Did the Babe actually point to center field and tell the pitcher he was going to hit it there in the bleachers? Verbal accounts vary, with some saying Ruth just pointed at the pitcher and cursed. All we have for proof is a grainy photograph of Ruth at the plate with arm raised. There are other tales over the years including the Billy Goat Curse, Curse of the Bambino (also involving Babe Ruth), Abner Doubleday as the inventor of baseball, and much more.