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Baseball
Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2013-09-06 12:08:39 | San Francisco, California, United States
Keywords: professional sport
One of the goals I set myself during my travels will be to attend a professional sports game in every country, to understand more of the local culture. I didn't include one in my Canadian segments because the only true national sport of Canada is ice hockey and we're in the off season. For the USA, I had basically the choice between baseball, basketball and (American) football. The first one is the most iconic one; the football season just began and with their schedule, I'm not sure I'll be able to attend a game. As for basketball... although it's very popular in the US it was invented in Canada.

Although baseball is widely known, I'll lay here a format to present you all the sports I'll encounter. I'm not a sports expert I don't pretend I'll give you all the rules and strategy details of the game, but my goal is to give you an idea of the sport, as I see it.

Origins

Most people believe baseball has been created in the US. Recent researches prove the general concept was in fact imported from England by immigrants. But the way the game is currently played is indeed an American creation. The basis of the current game were set in mid 19th century, through a book of rules named 'Knickerbocker Rules', after the name of a team of amateur sportsmen from New York City.

Concept and rules

Basically, you have two teams of 9 players facing each other. There's a pitcher, a catcher, 3 base men, 1 short-stop that plays in between 2nd and 3rd base, and 3 outfield men. The pitcher throws the ball to the catcher and a batter of the opposing team standing close to the catcher tries to hit the ball with a bat (wooden round stick). If the balls crosses the home plate in a certain area, the throw is considered a 'strike', if it's outside it's considered a 'ball'.

If he succeeds and the ball touches the ground (not catched by one of players of the other team) within the limits of the playing field, it's considered a hit and the batter runs through the bases. There are 3 bases plus the home plate, where the batter originates, placed in a square shape of a 90-feet side. The batter runs the bases as long as he thinks he can make it without being touched by the opponent team back with the ball he hit. Each team player comes to the bat in rotation. The pitcher comes up last, because he's the worst batter of the bunch (his job is mostly pitching, not hitting).

The game lasts 9 innings. During each inning, both teams come to the bat (offence), the visiting team first. For each of their turn at bat, a team has 3 'outs'... meaning they're at the batting position until 3 of their men are retired by other defence team. That could happen in a number of ways, including: not hitting the ball thrown, hit but ball was catched in the field or touched by the an opponent player (with the ball) while running the bases.

The goal of course is to get as many men around the bases and back to the home plate as possible. At the end of the 9-innings if there's a tie in scoring, the game continues until one team has more points than the other. A typical 9-innings game lasts about 3 hours.

Baseball is probably the only sport in which the defence is in control of the object played with (ball), normally that is in the hands of the offensive team.

In the USA, there are two leagues of professional baseball: the American League and the National League. Basically, the rules are the same in both leagues, except for the fact that in the American League, the pitcher never goes to the bat... there's a designated hitter (who doesn't play in defence) replacing the pitcher at the plate when it's time for batting.

There were 2 teams of baseball in Canada part of the USA leagues. The first one was the Montreal Expos, which were part of the National League, from 1969 to 2004 (when they moved to Washington DC). There's still the Toronto Blue Jays, who are in the American League since 1977.

Each team plays about 182 games during a season, typically facing an opponent team for a 3-game series (there are series of 2 games and some of 4 games, but normally it's 3). These 3-game series are just to limit the travelling, they don't have any statistical value in terms of who wins the series of games.

At the end of the season, there are playoffs to determine the champion team of each league. Then the champion teams of each league face off in a grand finale. That ultimate series of best of 7 games is called 'World Series', even if it's only American teams. The team that won most championships is the New York Yankees, with 27 wins in 40 presences in the World Series.

Baseball is a slow game where patience and strategy (based on countless statistics) plays a great role. It's good sports for ego however... since for a batter if you make a hit 3 times out of 10 you're a very good player. If you miss 60% of the time, you're considered a hero.

My game

I went last night to see the San Francisco Giants who were hosting the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Giants have won the World Series a total of 7 times, including 2010 and 2012... so they're the current champion team. But this year, they're heading to set a record for the worst season for a champion team, having lost most of their games so far. Last night was no exception, they lost 4-2.

I chose to go see the Giants along my route for many reasons. First, their stadium is easy to access and located downtown. The second reason is that I was able to get cheap tickets. They're the standing champions. I also like the name of the team... since I'm a giant guy myself :-)

I was surprised by how close we were of the action. I went to see many games of the Expos a few years back and the stadium they were playing in was huge (was the 1976 Olympic stadium, not made for baseball) and we were always far from the action. Last night, even though I was in the highest section, I had a great view of all players and I could call almost every pitch (ball or strike).  I was also able to witness the rarest hit in baseball... a triple (the batter hit the ball very far away and had time to reach safely the 3rd base).

I enjoyed my time at the park. Yes, I did spend $20 to get a hot-dog, nachos and a large soft drink. That's expensive, but that's part of the experience. Speaking of food... I couldn't believe the variety of the food offered these days in stadiums. Back in the days, the choices were limited to chips, steamed hot-dogs and pizza. Last night, I saw pretzels, nachos, BBQ, gourmet burgers, ice cream and even clam chowders! There were even vendors walking the sections to propose hot chocolate!

The stadium is located right next to the bay, so you always have people in small boats or kayaks waiting for balls being batted outside the stadium, trying to catch a souvenir of a game they haven't been able to watch! Sitting up there close to the bay also means it's windy. I enjoyed the breeze but most people were getting cold as the night progressed.

It also means you'll have lots of birds (mostly seagulls). These birds are used to the stadium... and their numbers started growing during 8th inning, as they knew the game is about to end. As soon, as the stadium begins to empty and the noise is reduced, you see flocks of birds walking in now empty rows of seats hunting for their lunches.


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