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Baseball is known as a summer sport. Yet, that definitely does not mean our warmest season is the only time to play the game. One might reasonably ask, What months are baseball season? Let’s take a look.
For Major League Baseball, generally it’s a 6-month period, from April to September. There may be a small amount of regular-season games played in March, and October, plus postseason play can continue into early November. But generally regular MLB games take up half the year, April-September.
In actuality, MLB players work more than that, since spring training starts in early to mid-February, and runs through March. So tack on 2 more months. Major Leaguers have to strap on spikes from February to October, an 8-month gig annually.
Aside from that, understand that baseball is played year-round, around the world. Wherever and whenever there is no rain, snow, or inclement to prevent play, baseball games are staged.
The MLB’s regular season consists of 162 games, all crunched into a 6-month timeframe. It means they play games nearly every day, usually with a day or 2 off (often Monday and Thursday, for travel between cities and series). But not always.
Later in regular seasons, teams might play extra games on days that had been slated as off days, to make up for games lost to rain previously. Pro baseball players will talk about the “grind” of August and September, when weather is hottest and they may go for a week or more without a day off.
They say baseball is a summer game, but for the MLB that’s true only during the middle of the year. In the summer, officially June 21 to September 21, but generally considered Memorial Day weekend into the start of school in September.
In reality, a good chunk of MLB regular seasons at the very beginning and at the end are not played in summer conditions. Games in cold climes can be postponed due to snow in March, April, and even into May. Additionally, late-season and postseason games in October (and sometimes early November) can get painfully cold, and affect play on the field.
The MLB postseason begins shortly after the regular season ends, usually the first week of October. This is when division winners and teams that clinched wild card berths compete in a tournament to reach the World Series.
Today there are 3 series to win on the road to claim a world championship (with a sort-of wild-card play-in game preceding the first series). Following the single play-in game there is the League Division Series; then the League Championship Series (LCS) where the winners of the Division Series face off. Then it’s on to the World Series, which involves the winner of the National League against the winner of the American league post-season tournament.
More a term for youth sports, this refers to leagues with games played only in the fall, or into winter. In fact, because many “winter ball” leagues play in September into early November (coinciding with the end of minor league games in early September), some people call it fall ball.
The Arizona Winter League is probably the most famous. Young, up-and-coming MLB players choose to play in this league, so games can be fun to watch. Some players also are ordered or recommended to play in this league, if they are recovering from injury, or are working on new pitches or swings.
These are leagues set up in the off-season for young players to improve and show off their skills. A notable instructional league is the Cape Cod League, which is affiliated with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), not MLB.
Something interesting about the CCLB is that, after allowing aluminum bats from 1974 to 1984, it became the first collegiate summer league to use wooden bats only, starting in 1985. This made it a popular stopping place for scouts and college players with interest in how players might transition from schools (with metal bats) to the minor leagues (with only wood bats).
See Also: What do MLB Players do in the Offseason?
There are many professional and amateur baseball leagues operating in foreign countries, pretty much all year round since winter here can be summer somewhere else on Earth. Among the most notable:
There are several high-level professional leagues in Latin America and the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Cuba, Panama, Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Colombia. Their seasons are in the fall (like Mexico’s October to December), and the winners of each compete in the Caribbean World Series each February.
Many MLB stars first play in a Caribbean or Latin American league, such as Fernando Valenzuela in the Mexican League. In 2012, the Puerto Rico Baseball League changed its name to the Liga de Beisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente, in honor of the Pittsburgh Pirates legend who learned the game on the U.S. island.
Nippon Professional Baseball (NPL) in Japan is perhaps the closest competitor to the Major Leagues in terms of its season, the number of games played, and even at times in talent. The NPL consists of 2 leagues, the Pacific League and the Central League, which stage games from Late March or early April into October (sound familiar?).
The top teams of each league play in the “Nippon Series” (also called the Japan Series), a play-off tournament. Japan has produced some significant MLB stars including Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, and, in recent years, Shohei Ohtani.
Other Asian nations also have notable professional leagues, including South Korea and Taiwan ~ where slugger Manny Ramirez played at the very end of his playing career. Taiwan’s league plays 120 games per season, from mid-March all the way into November!
Baseball has been big on the island of Cuba dating way back to the late 1800s. However, talent from the isle was contained when the communist regime government took over in 1961 and banned professional baseball, in favor of a national amateur baseball system.
Who knows how many Cuban baseball players could have excelled in the Major Leagues? Actually, some did escape the island and made it to the MLB, including recent Hall of Fame inductee Tony Oliva.
The Cuban leagues play games in the cold months, which is why the original organization is sometimes called the “Cuban Winter League.”
The World Baseball Classic is a joint venture of Major League Baseball and its Players Association, and is considered the premier international baseball tournament. It is staged prior to the start of MLB regular season games.
It started in 2006, when Japan won the title. Japan repeated in 2009, before the Dominican Republic won in 2013. The United States finally won its first title in 2017. The 2021 tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the next WBC is not expected until at least 2023.
Seasons for school and youth baseball leagues are similar to the timing of the MLB season, only they start earlier and end way sooner.
High school baseball starts in January (for practices), with games beginning in late February (weather-permitting), and ending near the end of May.
This sets up play starting at the end of the typical school year (September-May), and allows players to continue playing in older-age youth leagues, or summer ball leagues.
Question: What is the Hot Stove League?
Answer: The Hot Stove is an idiom in Major League Baseball, today referring to off-season activity, mainly involving player movement from team to team. The Hot Stove is not a real league where human players compete against one another. It’s a term for the “sport” of watching which player signs a contract and where; trade rumors; team moves; player insight; etc.
Basically, it’s a place for hardcore baseball fans to stay busy when the MLB leagues are dormant.
Q.: Why do they play so many games in baseball?
A.: Because baseball is unlike any other sport, in terms of deciding which team is best, or better. The large number of games was established in the second half of the 1800s, and just continues today almost as a matter of tradition (Major League Baseball is perhaps the most tradition-laden of all the major North American professional sports).
The thought is, in baseball, any team can beat any other team on any particular day. It is hard for baseball teams to differentiate, to show that they are better. Hence the large number of contests, which over time separates the good from the bad. (Sometimes amazingly, like when the 1962 New York Mets, which finished 60.5 games behind the first-place San Francisco Giants!).