Jezebel Investigates: Baseball

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On Wednesday night, Game 7 of the World Series happened, and two teams played. Those two teams were the Washington Nationals and the Houston Astros. One of those teams won.

It was the Nationals! A first-time championship. This game took place at a ballpark named after a soft drink brand: Minute Maid Park in Houston. While I’ve been a basketball/NBA freak since birth, and I understand a football game enough to follow the Super Bowl, I’ve never quite gotten the logistics of baseball, nor the thrill of it. America’s sport.

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These are the main things I know about baseball: 1) There are nine innings. 2) Two teams play against each other, and one has to win. 3) Home runs are good.

I know some smaller things as well. But that’s not enough. What we’re trying to do here is understand two things: 1) Baseball, and 2) Why the Nationals won the World Series. And I refuse to ask men for help.

I begin by messaging Jezebel’s Megan Reynolds, who knows baseball, “Okay, so how is baseball played?” I have asked this to many people previously and drifted off while hearing the answer.

She kindly responds with a summation: “There are innings. A man goes to bat, he can either strike out, hit the ball, or be intentionally walked.” I’m already confused and have more questions. Who gets to decide how many teams play? A baseball field (which is shaped like a diamond) is so big, there could be three teams out there to make it more interesting.

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So a pitcher (ball thrower) for one team walks to the mound (the pile of dirt) and throws the ball. There’s a catcher on the other side squatting and wearing a face mask (not the Dr. Jart’s kind) and a mitten—excuse me, mitt—so they can catch the ball. The man (women don’t play baseball) with the bat has to hit the ball. Let’s call him Batman. The pitcher and catcher are on the same team. The Batman is on the opposing team.

Megan helps some more. “So if the pitcher throws four balls as opposed to strikes, meaning a ball that is like not in the strike zone, then the batter gets to go to first base, not sure why.” I laugh.

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A “what is baseball” Google search yields a few results. I bypass Wikipedia and this New York Times article from 1981, What Is Baseball’s Meaning And Its Effect on America? and go straight to WikiHow, because the SEO headline says “With Pictures,” and I like illustrations. I’m immediately comforted by this sentence—“For those new to the game, the rules can seem confusing and complicated”—which makes me feel like I’m not alone.

There are nine players. A bunch of infielders (the players inside the diamond field) “protect the bases,” according to WikiHow, by planting themselves at first, second, and third base. They are “basemen.” Then there’s a shortstop who moves around and tries to catch the ball when it’s up in the air. The “outfield” players basically take different positions outside of the diamond field and try to catch balls in the air as well as those that fall to the ground. (Please don’t fault me if this is inaccurate. It’s baseball’s fault for being that way.)

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While writing this, I learn that the Washington Nationals used to be the Montreal Expos, and D.C. had a team called the Senators. Not sure why they changed that name

Reading through WikiHow, things are starting to get complicated, despite the helpful pictures:

Bases are numbered counterclockwise from home plate: first, second, and third. Second base is on a direct line from home plate through the pitcher’s mound.

Each base is approximately 90 feet (27.5 meters) away from the previous one.

Numbers... too much. Let’s get lazy. I close the tab and search “easy summation of baseball.” Here’s what How Stuff Works says:

During the first half of each inning, the visiting team bats and attempts to score points, called runs, while the home team players take their respective defensive positions in the field. The defense’s goal is to get the offensive team’s players “out” in a variety of ways. After three outs are recorded, the teams switch — the offensive team moves to defense, and the defensive team moves to offense. The batting team sends one player at a time to try and hit the ball.

[...]

To set the game in motion, the pitcher attempts to throw the ball past the batter into the catcher’s glove or make the batter hit the ball to put it in play. As the ball is put in play, the eight fielders try to catch it or throw out the batter (more on this later) so he can’t get on base and ultimately score a point (a run). The batter’s goal is to put the ball in play so that the eight fielders can’t catch the ball or throw it to another fielder to record an out.

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Incredibly helpful. One team is trying to hit all the bases to get to home plate and score a run before being “out.” If the Batman hits the ball in a great uncatchable way, it’s a home run. What I find most compelling in this article, though, is this description: “The engine of the sport is composed of two players—the pitcher and the batter. All of the action in a baseball game revolves around these two combatants.” This must be what makes baseball interesting. While it is a team sport, it is also a drawn-out Medieval duel between two men representing their teams/states. It’s the ultimate graceful dude fight, and it’s all a fight to find the comfort of home.

Now that I understand at least the basics of baseball (there is more to it, like strategy, but that’s too complicated to get into now), why did the Nationals win? Besides the fact that they scored more runs. Well, it took seven games to get there, so it wasn’t easy. I assume they won because they were better than the other teams, and because last I heard, Derek Jeter no longer plays for the New York Yankees. It appears that it also took them awhile to be this good.

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Oh, the score. The Nationals won 6-2 against the Astros, and it was on the other team’s field. According to NBC News, “It was the first championship to go seven games in any major sport—baseball, basketball and hockey—where the winner won all four games on the road.” I love this. And maybe one day I’ll even love baseball.

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