There's more to baseball than ‘peanuts and Cracker Jacks', as the song suggests. Baseball has many rules to ensure fair play. And while you may understand the basics that require you to hit the ball and run, it's good to understand all of the rules of baseball. You'll be a better player and a better fan, if you know how the game of baseball is really played.
Know how a baseball field is set up. A baseball playing field is in the shape of a diamond, with a big area that extends beyond it (called the ‘outfield'.) The tip of the diamond is called home plate or home base. This is where players stand when they're trying to hit the baseball. It's also the base players must touch in order to score a run. Everything within the shape of the diamond and the outfield is called ‘fair ground'. Everything outside of this shape is called ‘out of bounds'. First base extends in a straight line directly from home base, and second and third base continue the diamond shape. Each base is the same length apart (although this distance varies depending on the age and skill of the baseball players.)
Understand the point of the game. To understand baseball rules, you first need to know why the game is played. The point of the game is to score points. The higher the score, the better. Each point in baseball is called a ‘run', and it is scored when a player runs across home plate after passing first, second and third base. The team who ends the game with the most runs wins.
Know the positions on each team. Baseball is a game played between two teams of at least 9 players on each team. Each player has a different job on the baseball team, depending on his or her position. The pitcher throws or pitches the ball toward the person on the opposite team, who is waiting to hit the ball with the bat. The catcher stands behind the batter from the other team and catches the ball if it isn't hit, and he also stands guard at home base to catch any incoming baseballs. There are players on first, second and third base who must guard the base and try to get the ball to their base before a player from the opposite team gets there. And there is also a shortstop, who stands between second and third base, and assists all of the infield players. There are three outfield players (left, center and right field), who need to catch the baseball and throw it infield to any player on their own team as soon as possible. All of these positions are defensive positions. When a team is on the field playing defense, they cannot score runs. Rather, they must try to stop the other team from scoring runs. (Only the defensive team needs to use baseball gloves.)
Learn about pitching. The job of a pitcher is to throw a ball that the other team's player will want to swing at. The pitcher can throw a ‘ball', which means that the baseball wasn't over the plate and between the player's neck and knees, and so the batter didn't swing at it. Or, the pitcher can throw a ‘strike', which means the ball was over the plate and within the batter's neck and knees, and he missed it or the batter hit the ball out of bounds. Each time a batter is up to bat, he can be thrown up to 4 balls (after which he will be given a free walk to first base) or 3 strikes (after which he will be out and have to return to his team bench). The batter can't get ‘out' if he hits a foul ball on his third strike. (A foul ball is one that goes outside of the baseball diamond shape). At any time while the pitcher is pitching, the batter must try to hit the baseball into the field before he gets 3 strikes or 4 balls.
Learn how a team can stop another team from scoring. In the game of baseball, the rules state that once a team has 3 ‘outs', they must switch to defense and play the field, while the other team takes their turns trying to hit the baseball. A team that is up to bat will send one player at a time to stand at home plate with a baseball bat and swing at the balls that the pitcher throws. If the batter hits the ball, he must try to get safely to a base without getting out. He can get out in a number of ways. If he hits the ball and a member of the other team catches it before it hits the ground, he is out and must return to his team's bench. If he swings the bat three times but never makes contact with the ball (called a ‘strike'), he's out. And if the other team manages to get the ball to the base before the runner can get there after hitting it, the player is also out. After a team has three outs, it is the other team's turn to be up at bat and try to score runs.
Understand how a team runs around the baseball diamond. Once a player hits the baseball, he will run to first base. Baseball rules require that only one offensive player can be on a base at a time. So if a player is running to first base, any offensive player that was previously on that base needs to run to second base, and so on. Depending on how far a ball is hit, players may have the chance to run more than one base during a single baseball hit. This is fine, and ideal. Players aim to hit a ‘home run', which means that he is able to run from first base to second, third, and then home base before the baseball is thrown to the base he was on, and before any other player comes up to bat. A player can also score a home run if he hits the ball out of the park. It must travel over fair ground and go beyond the limits of the baseball field to be considered a home run. If the bases were loaded at this time (with a player on each base when the home run was hit), this is called a ‘grand slam'.
Understand how innings work. Baseball rules require that each team be given 9 chances at bat, and 9 chances to play defense (or the field). Each segment is called an ‘inning'. When the game is started, it is considered to be ‘the top of the first' inning, since each inning has two segments (because each team gets a chance at bat during each inning.) When the team up to bat switches with the defensive team, it's now considered ‘the bottom of the first'. When that team goes back to the field, a new inning starts. This continues until the bottom of the ninth inning. When that is over, the baseball game is complete. Scores are tallied, and a winner is decided.