Baseball in the United States
Baseball has been considered America's pastime for over a century and today remains one of the biggest sports in the country. Baseball is played at a number of amateur levels, from Little League to High School to College, and professional leagues range from the lowest Minor Leagues to Major League Baseball. In almost any place in America, there will be a baseball game going on during the spring and summer months, and watching it is a fantastic way to meet the locals and experience American sports culture. It has also left a huge impact on American English, with numerous baseball terms such as "hit a home run", "hit the ball out of the park" and "touch base" frequently used as metaphors even by people who are not baseball fans.
For those who love both baseball and travel, it's a natural fit to combine the two. If there is a place in the country where you've never been and want to visit, you can combine it with when your team is also there. There is something thrilling with watching your team on the road.
Many baseball fans have the desire to visit every park in the Major Leagues. It can be a wonderful experience to tick them off one by one with family or friends.
Baseball's origins are murky at best, and there is a lot of mythology behind it. But the game does bear similarities to cricket, which, like baseball, appears to have evolved from earlier bat-and-ball games popular in England and Western Europe. For decades, the invention of the game was attributed to Abner Doubleday, with the first game said to have occurred in Cooperstown, New York (which remains to this day the home of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame), but historians now agree that neither had anything do with the game's origins. Modern baseball's actual roots seem to be in several similar bat-and-ball games that were played throughout the United States in the 19th century, with a version from the New York City area becoming popularized and spread across the country during and after the Civil War.
The game is played between two teams, each with nine players active at a time. The teams take turns playing defense and offense, with the same players playing both roles. While on offense, players come to home plate in order and try to hit a thrown baseball with a wooden or aluminum bat, with the objective of sending it far enough away that the batter can reach base before the ball can be relayed there. On defense, each of the nine players has a set position on the field: one pitcher, who throws the ball to the batter; one catcher, who catches any pitched balls that don't get hit; one baseman at or near each of the three bases; a shortstop between second base and third base; and three outfielders who roam the large expanse between the bases and the far edge of the playing field, trying to catch batted balls and relay them inward. Most leagues around the world also include a designated hitter (DH), a player who only bats, generally replacing the pitcher in the offensive lineup. As of 2022, the only significant league that does not use the DH is the Central League, one of the two leagues within Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan (the other NPB league, the Pacific League, uses the DH). From 1973 to 2021 (except in 2020), Major League Baseball used the DH only in the American League, but the National League started using it for good in 2022. Every defensive player wears a large leather glove (or, for catchers and first basemen, a mitt) on their non-throwing hand to aid in catching and fielding the ball. There is also a small group of umpires on the field who enforce the rules and make judgement calls on plays.
A batter has three chances, or strikes, to hit a ball into play; if the batter misses three times, he is out. The batter is also out if a fair ball is caught before touching the ground by anyone from the fielding team, known as a popup within or near the infield; a fly out if it's hit high in the air to the outfield; or as a line out if it's hit on a line (also called a line drive). If a ball is hit on the ground but is then relayed to a base before the batter can reach it, that is called a ground out at first base and a force out on bases other than first, and if a runner is touched with the ball by the opposing team while running between bases, they are tagged out. If the fielding team gets two players from the batting team out in a single play, this is known as a double play; the much rarer triple play requires the fielding team to get three players from the batting team out in one play. One unique feature of fly outs or line outs that are hit sufficiently deep into the outfield with one or more runners on base is that those runners can tag up, meaning they can try to advance to the next base, including home plate, at their own risk, after they touch (tag) the base they are departing from when the ball is caught. A fly ball that scores a run in this way is called a sacrifice fly.
The pitcher must give the batter a reasonable chance to hit the ball; if the ball is thrown outside of the strike zone (which is over the plate, between the batter's knees and armpits) and the batter doesn't swing at it, the pitcher is charged with a ball. If the batter swings at the ball and misses, it is a strike regardless of where the ball is thrown. Four balls to the same batter allow the batter to advance to first base automatically, called a walk. Prolific hitters are sometimes intentionally walked to avoid the chance of them getting a run-scoring hit. In the event of a walk, runners may only advance a base if they are required to vacate their base in order for the batter to be able to take first base. A walk with all three bases occupied results in a run being scored. Another less usual reason for a batter to reach base is when they are hit by a pitch.
Once a batter reaches base, they become a runner, and can attempt to advance to the next base if the ball is still far enough away. Wherever the runner stops, they wait at that base as the next batter comes up. The goal of the runner is to make it around the bases and back to home plate. The runner can try to advance to the next base at any time; normally this occurs when the batter puts the ball into play, but if the runner advances on a pitch that wasn't batted into play it's called a stolen base (steal for short). The batter may also attempt to "steal" first base if the catcher misses or drops the ball, though this is only possible (or indeed even allowed) if said miscue took place on the batter's third strike. (Advancing to first base in such a situation is not scored as a stolen base.) If the runner is not forced to advance to a given base by runners behind him (which is always the case during a steal attempt), it's not enough for the defense to get the ball to the base before the runner; in order to record an out, the defense must tag the runner before he reaches the base. If the runner is successfully tagged out while attempting a steal, this is known as being caught stealing. Pitchers will try to keep runners close to first base (and, much less often, second or third base) to prevent a steal by periodically throwing to that base instead of home plate. Much less often, the catcher may throw to first if he or she sees a runner off that base. When a runner is caught off base and tagged out in this situation, it's known as a pickoff and scored as caught stealing.
If a runner reaches home plate safely, a run is scored, and the team with the most runs at the end of the game wins. A team keeps batting until three outs have been recorded, so they can score unlimited runs during their turn at bat. Once the third out is made, the teams switch sides. A full pair of these turns is called an inning, and the game lasts for nine innings (less at the amateur levels) unless the score is tied at the end. In the event of a tie, extra innings are played until an inning ends with one team ahead. If a team is ahead after the half of the ninth inning in which the opposing side would have had the opportunity to score, the second half of the ninth inning is not played as all it could do is increase the margin of victory which is — as per usual in American sports — hardly ever relevant.
A ball hit out of play beyond the foul lines is a foul ball and counts as a strike (unless the batter already has two strikes). If the batted ball hits the batter while in the batter's box, it is also considered foul regardless of the batter's actual position at that time. However, the foul lines themselves are in play, as are the foul poles, vertical extensions of the foul line placed on each side of the outfield fence or wall. A batted ball that bounces in fair territory and passes first or third base in fair territory is fair regardless of where it eventually lands, as is a ball that hits first or third base, or a ball which first bounces on a foul line after passing first or third base. If a foul ball that is not hit high in the air is caught by the catcher before hitting the ground or touching another player, this is known as a foul tip and also counts as a strike, but unlike a regular foul ball, may also count as a third strike. If the foul ball is caught by any other fielder before touching the ground, or if it is hit high in the air and caught, it counts as a regular fly out, and is often called a foul out. If the batter hits the ball beyond the outfield wall within the foul lines without touching the ground (or hits a foul pole on the fly), it's an automatic home run and the batter and all runners may freely advance to home plate. A home run, or "homer", is always sure to get the fans on their feet; it's the game's signature play. A home run that is hit with all three bases occupied (hence scoring four runs) is known as a grand slam, though this is quite rare. An even rarer event is an inside-the-park homer, in which the batter completes a trip around the bases while the ball is in the field of play.
If a hit ball bounces off the ground on its way beyond the outfield wall within the foul lines, this is an automatic double, also known (technically incorrectly) as a ground rule double. This results in the batter and all runners automatically advancing two bases (hence scoring runs for the runners on second and third base). Technically, a "ground rule double" is a double awarded when a batted fair ball is affected by the features of a given ballpark. Examples of actual ground rule doubles include balls getting caught in the ivy covering the walls of the Chicago Cubs' home of Wrigley Field, and balls hitting some of the catwalks above the Tampa Bay Rays' home of Tropicana Field.
Some levels of play have a run rule, known in the international rule set as the "run-ahead rule" and informally as the mercy rule. In international play (i.e., games involving national teams), a game ends if a team has a lead of 10 or more runs after the trailing team has completed at least seven innings of a nine-inning game. In seven-inning games (used in women's international play and in international doubleheaders), the run rule can be invoked after five innings, with the same 10-run lead required. Youth baseball invariably uses a run rule; for example, in the flagship 12-and-under division of Little League Baseball, in which games are only six innings, the rule is invoked if the lead is at least 15 runs after the trailing team has completed three innings, or 10 runs after four innings. However, US college baseball almost never uses the run rule, and professional baseball leagues do not use it at all.
Beyond these basics, there are many quirks and special cases in the baseball rules, some of which baffle even die-hard fans to this day. Some more or less new rules as of 2023 that may confuse even seasoned baseball fans include the rule that each half inning of an extra-inning game in the Major Leagues starts with a runner on second base, and also the fact that the manager of each team may challenge a certain number of play calls per game. When such challenges occur, a time out is taken by the umpires, and an official reviews replays to determine, for example, whether a ball hit over the fence was foul or a home run or whether a runner was really safe or out on a base.
There is much more to say about the rules of baseball and how the game is played, but part of the fun of going to games is speaking with other fans who are happy to explain the rules of the game and the roles of different kinds of players to people new to baseball, so while the explanations in this section should help you understand many of the basics, it is not at all bad to leave some of the details for when you are at the game.
Major League Baseball
Major League Baseball (MLB) (also known as majors or bigs) is the highest level of baseball played in the U.S. and the richest professional baseball league in the world. It attracts the highest level of talent from North America, Central America, South America, East Asia, and the Caribbean. There are thirty major-league teams in twenty-five U.S. metropolitan areas (plus one in Canada); New York City, Chicago, the Los Angeles area, and the San Francisco Bay Area each have two teams. Every team plays in its own stadium, all of which have a capacity of over 35,000 (although the Tampa Bay Rays cap attendance at most home games to 25,000 as of 2023).
Tickets generally cost between $15 and $50 for most seats; the best seats cost more — and sometimes much more. The New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs are the most difficult teams to get tickets for, but online seller-to-seller websites almost always have available tickets. Major League Baseball's season runs from early April to late September, with pre-season Spring Training games in March and the post-season playoffs in October. Games during the season are organized into series of 3-4 games in a row between the same two teams in the same city. Teams will play two or three series in a row at their home stadium, referred to as "homestands"; after which teams will play two or three series in a row at other teams' stadiums, referred to as being "on the road".
Since the 1990s, a wave of new ballpark construction has seen many stadiums built in lively neighborhoods with lots of bars and restaurants catering to fans. However, there are still certain stadiums that sit isolated in a sea of parking lots. Many ballparks, particularly the newer or the more famous ones, are open for tours on off-game days; see the individual city articles for further details.
Major League Baseball is divided into two leagues: the American League and the National League, each of which is further divided into three divisions: East, Central, and West. The American and National League were historically separate entities (with the American League successfully challenging the established National League and hence sometimes being referred to as the "Junior Circuit") and for most of Major League Baseball's history teams from the two leagues only met in the World Series at the end of each season. However, the distinctions between the Leagues have been erased more and more and these days teams of the different Leagues face each other several times throughout the season arguably removing the mystique from the competition between teams as representatives of their League or from the All Star Game which is still organized based on League.
Before 2022, the main distinction between the two leagues was that the designated hitter was used only in the American League; the National League required pitchers to bat along with the other fielders. In games that involved teams from both leagues (called "interleague" games), the home team's rules were used. The NL used the DH in the abbreviated COVID-19 season of 2020, but returned to its non-use in 2021. As part of the settlement of a labor dispute in the 2021–22 offseason, the DH was made a permanent feature in the National League.
Here is a run-down of all the teams and their respective stadiums:
American League East
- Baltimore Orioles - Oriole Park at Camden Yards - Baltimore, Maryland (in South Baltimore). Opening in 1992, Camden Yards is notable for being the first of the "retro" ballparks in the major leagues: modern stadiums whose designs hearken back to classic, early-20th century ballparks. The success of Camden Yards sparked a wave of new ballpark construction across the country, but it's still regarded as one of the best. Nearby is the Babe Ruth Museum, preserving the house where the Great Bambino himself was born. The "O's" have very enthusiastic fans, who are known for yelling out the "O!" in the penultimate line of the national anthem.
- Boston Red Sox - Fenway Park - Boston, Massachusetts (in Fenway). The oldest active ballpark in the major leagues, Fenway Park opened in 1912 and is a celebrated stadium that has acquired certain quirks which are legendary among baseball fans. The most noted of these is the Green Monster, a particularly tall section of the left field wall that's, of course, painted green. The ballpark is relatively small by major league standards, tucked into an urban neighborhood of restaurants, taverns, and souvenir stores. Boston's famously rowdy fans (the "Red Sox Nation") are fiercely loyal to their team and their rivalry with the Yankees is legendary, ranking as arguably the most intense in American sports.
- New York Yankees - Yankee Stadium - New York City, New York (in the Bronx). Though not "The House That Ruth Built" stadium of old (which was replaced by a city park), the design of the new Yankee Stadium just across the street pays homage to the original in its design, both inside and out. An on-site museum covers the history of one of the most storied teams in baseball, and Monument Park in center field contains plaques dedicated to great players from the team's past. The Yankees are noted (and often vilified) for their frequent postseason appearances, with their record 27 championships unmatched in North American professional sports.
- Tampa Bay Rays - Tropicana Field - Saint Petersburg, Florida. After struggling as an expansion team, the Rays managed to rise to be a competitive force in the fierce American League East. They play in the uninspiring Tropicana Field, the only ballpark in MLB with a fixed dome roof and one of only four to still use artificial turf on the field instead of actual grass. On-site is a museum dedicated to Red Sox legend Ted Williams, who retired to the Tampa area, with exhibits and memorabilia on some of the best hitters in baseball history. Another highlight is a touch tank beyond the right-center field wall, where fans can touch and feed live stingrays.
- Toronto Blue Jays - Rogers Centre - Toronto, Ontario (in the Entertainment District), Canada. The only MLB team playing in Canada, the Blue Jays play in Rogers Centre, a massive stadium with a retractable roof (to protect against the colder Toronto weather) that sits in the shadow of the iconic CN Tower. Within the stadium is a hotel with rooms that overlook the field.
American League Central
- Chicago White Sox - Guaranteed Rate Field - Chicago, Illinois (in Bridgeport). The White Sox play on the South Side of town in Guaranteed Rate Field, commonly known as Comiskey Park (the name of the old White Sox ballpark). While the stadium lacks the charm of its crosstown National League rival, tickets here are easier to get and the fans are no less loyal. There are a couple of unique features that are carry-overs from the old stadium: one is a shower and a pair of "rain rooms" for fans to cool off on hot days, and the other is the "exploding" scoreboard with its distinctive pinwheel signs that light up and shoot off fireworks when the White Sox hit a home run.
- Cleveland Guardians - Progressive Field - Cleveland, Ohio (in Downtown). Widely regarded as one of the better ballparks in the league, Progressive Field was a more modern take on the "retro" ballpark design when it was constructed. The interior offers a splendid view of the Cleveland skyline.
- Detroit Tigers - Comerica Park - Detroit, Michigan (in Downtown). Adjacent to Detroit's theater district, the Tigers' stadium has a number of interesting features, notably excellent views of Downtown Detroit, statues of tigers which growl after a Tiger home run, a fountain behind center field, and plenty of tributes to one of baseball's oldest and most storied teams, including statues of former Tiger greats such as Willie Horton, Hank Greenberg, and Ty Cobb.
- Kansas City Royals - Kauffman Stadium - Kansas City, Missouri. The Royals have heated up lately; after going nearly thirty years without a playoff appearance, they staged a stunning World Series run in 2014 and were crowned champions in 2015, much to the joy of their fans. They play in Kauffman Stadium on the edge of the city, one of the few remaining examples of 1960s-era modernist stadiums and still one of the best examples of modernist stadium design, with a fountain beyond the right field wall that sends jets of water high into the air.
- Minnesota Twins - Target Field - Minneapolis, Minnesota (in Downtown). The Twins play in Target Field, a marvelous ballpark with plenty of amenities for fans and splendid views of Downtown Minneapolis.
American League West
- Houston Astros - Minute Maid Park - Houston, Texas (in Downtown). Reigning World Series champions, having won in 2022. Members of the National League for their first 50 seasons, the Astros moved to the American League with the start of the 2013 season, and won their first World Series in 2017. However, that victory and their 2019 World Series appearance were tainted after it was revealed that the team was illegally using technology to steal pitching signs, and the Astros are now by far the most reviled team in MLB. Their stadium is full of bells and whistles, with an entrance through what was once a train station, a retractable roof that protects fans from Houston's humid weather, various oddities in the design of the outfield fence, and a miniature train that moves along the exterior wall past left field whenever the Astros hit a home run.
- Los Angeles Angels - Angel Stadium of Anaheim - Anaheim, California. For many years, the Angels were a running joke in baseball, even inspiring a film by their then-owners Disney about their misfortune on the field. A World Series victory in 2002 turned the team's fortunes around for a time, and they were frequent contenders for the playoffs into the 2010s. However, the Angels have since fallen on hard times, having finished with a losing record in every season since 2016 despite the presence of two of the game's biggest names in outfielder Mike Trout and more recently Japanese two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani. Their stadium is most noteworthy for the giant haloed "A" that stands in the parking lot as well as sitting within spitting distance of Disneyland. If you're lucky enough to witness an Angel home run, geysers and fireworks erupt out of a small mountainside beyond left field.
- Oakland Athletics - RingCentral Coliseum - Oakland, California. A regular contender for the playoffs, the A's play in the Coliseum, the last of the multi-purpose "cookie-cutter" stadiums built in the 1960s remaining in the major leagues (the NFL Oakland Raiders played here before their 2020 move to Las Vegas). Due to this, there are oddities in the design of the field, such as the most foul territory of any MLB field by a large margin. With the A's lease on the Coliseum expiring at the end of the 2024 season, and plans for a new stadium in Oakland having fallen into development hell, the team is now planning a move to Las Vegas, having purchased land near the Las Vegas Strip in April 2023 for a new park.
- Seattle Mariners - T-Mobile Park - Seattle, Washington (in Sodo). Built on former industrial land south of Pioneer Square (and indeed, there's still quite a bit of industry in the neighborhood), the modern retro-style T-Mobile Park (renamed from Safeco Field in 2019) has some interesting features, including a retractable roof to protect against the regular Seattle rain and quite possibly the best selection of food of any ballpark in the country.
- Texas Rangers - Globe Life Field - Arlington, Texas. In the last several years the Rangers have emerged as one of the most competitive forces in the American League. They opened the 2020 season in the new Globe Life Field, directly across the street from their former home of Choctaw Stadium, with both lying roughly between the Dallas Cowboys' stadium and a Six Flags theme park. The new park has a thoroughly modern retractable roof and air conditioning, but otherwise is much like their old park—a retro-style ballpark with plenty of nods to the classic ballparks of old.
National League East
- Atlanta Braves - Truist Park – Cumberland, Georgia (just outside Atlanta). The Braves are one of the most prominent franchises in baseball, owing in large part to the national coverage that used to be given by the locally headquartered TBS network. Braves fans are known for their use of the "Tomahawk Chop," a war chant accompanied by a rhythmic "chopping" motion made by the arm. The team plays in one of MLB's newest parks, opened for the 2017 season as SunTrust Park, and renamed in 2020. Besides the typical bells and whistles of a 21st-century ballpark, fans seated behind home plate are treated to views of the Atlanta skyline.
- Miami Marlins - LoanDepot Park – Miami, Florida (in Little Havana). One of the newest stadiums in baseball, LoanDepot Park (originally Marlins Park) was the first new ballpark to buck the retro trend since Camden Yards started it in the first place. It switched from grass to artificial turf in 2020. LoanDepot Park is a thoroughly contemporary structure of glass and steel, with a retractable roof and air conditioning offering relief from the humid weather, a nightclub and a swimming pool beyond the outfield (although you have to pay to be in a special section to use it), a bobblehead museum, and colorful art elements throughout. The stadium sits in Little Havana, a Latin American neighborhood with plenty of local shops and restaurants.
- New York Mets - Citi Field – New York City, New York (in Flushing, Queens). Standing in marked contrast to the crosstown Yankees, the Mets have always had a hard go of it, but the faithful continue to turn out to cheer on their lovable underdogs. They play in a fairly new ballpark with a facade that pays homage to Ebbets Field, the classic ballpark that was once home to the Brooklyn Dodgers. If the Mets hit a homer, look for the Home Run Apple, a huge apple that rises out of the center field wall. The Mets are also known for what may be the most popular mascot in baseball, Mr. Met, a man with a baseball for a head. Citi Field sits adjacent to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, with its museums and the famous Unisphere.
- Philadelphia Phillies - Citizens Bank Park – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (in South Philly). The oldest single-city team in baseball, the Phillies have overcome their long championship drought to become a competitive force in the NL East, most recently with a losing World Series appearance in 2022. Citizens Bank Park is a beloved retro-style park, with features like a sign in the shape of the Liberty Bell that lights up and "rings" after a Phillies home run and Ashburn Alley, a promenade beyond center field that holds restaurants and memorabilia from Phillies history. The Phillies also have one of the most popular (and strangest) mascots in baseball, the Phillie Phanatic, a big, furry, green creature who engages in various antics on the field.
- Washington Nationals - Nationals Park - Washington, D.C. (on the Waterfront). The newest team in the major leagues (i.e., in their current location, though not the newest franchise), the Nationals are the latest incarnation of professional baseball in D.C. and have quickly proven to be a favorite of the locals. Their ballpark sits on the south side of town in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood near the Navy Yard.
National League Central
- Chicago Cubs - Wrigley Field - Chicago, Illinois (in Lakeview). Few teams can claim the storied history or agony of defeat that the Cubs can, but the curse has come to an end: after going over a hundred years without a championship and not even an appearance in the World Series since 1945, the Cubs finally won the championship in 2016. But win or lose, a game at Wrigley Field is undoubtedly one of the greatest experiences in baseball and has been celebrated in many films. The ballpark, one of only two remaining classic ballparks (the other being Fenway Park), is renowned and beloved for its many unique features, from its bright red marquee sign out front, to the ivy-covered outfield walls, to the rooftop seats atop the buildings across the street, and to the surrounding neighborhood which embraces game day to the fullest.
- Cincinnati Reds - Great American Ball Park - Cincinnati, Ohio. The oldest professional team in baseball, the "Big Red Machine" (a nickname earned due to their powerful hitting lineup in the 1970s) have long been entertaining their loyal fans. The Reds' riverfront ballpark is full of nods to the history of the team, including the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and an extensive museum.
- Milwaukee Brewers - American Family Field - Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Milwaukee faithful pour into American Family Field, until 2020 known as Miller Park, which sports a fan-shaped retractable roof and plenty of nods to the city's brewing heritage. A highlight is the "Sausage Race" during the 6th inning, when a group of sausage mascots race around the field. Another mascot, Bernie Brewer, slides down a plastic yellow slide beyond left field after every Brewer home run.
- Pittsburgh Pirates - PNC Park - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (on the North Side). The Pirates have had a hard go of it over the last couple of decades, but lately the "Buccos" have found new life, ending a 20-year string of losing seasons with a playoff berth in 2013 and proving strong competitors since. Their stadium is widely considered one of the best in the major leagues, sitting on the city's superb riverfront with a breathtaking view of the Pittsburgh skyline.
- St. Louis Cardinals - Busch Stadium - St. Louis, Missouri. A regular feature in the playoffs, the Cardinals command a huge and enthusiastic fanbase in this diehard sports town. They play on the south side of the city's downtown, with an excellent view of the skyline with its famed Gateway Arch. An impressive hall of fame for the Cardinals is on-site, a testament to the winningest team in the National League (in terms of World Series championships).
National League West
- Arizona Diamondbacks - Chase Field - Phoenix, Arizona. Despite their short history, the Diamondbacks have proved to be a surprisingly strong team in the NL West. Chase Field sports a retractable roof, air conditioning and even a swimming pool beyond the center-right field wall (although the pool is only accessible as part of a luxury suite), must-haves in the blazing Phoenix heat. It switched from grass to artificial turf in 2019.
- Colorado Rockies - Coors Field - Denver, Colorado. Widely regarded as one of the best ballparks in the major leagues, Coors Field is a retro-style ballpark that has earned a reputation as a home run-friendly park, owing in large part to the dry air and high altitude. The ballpark sits on the edge of the LoDo neighborhood of Downtown Denver, popular for its restaurants and bars as well as the home of the National Ballpark Museum, with a fantastic collection of artifacts from many classic ballparks.
- Los Angeles Dodgers - Dodger Stadium - Los Angeles, California (in Elysian Park). The Dodgers are one of the most famous and successful baseball teams of all time, with a long history in Los Angeles since their move here from Brooklyn in the 1950s. Their ballpark, carved out of a hill north of Downtown L.A., is the largest baseball stadium in the world by seating capacity and has earned a reputation as a pitcher's park, and is also perhaps the best remaining example of the modernist stadiums built in the 1960s.
- San Diego Padres - Petco Park - San Diego, California (in Downtown). Sandwiched into Downtown San Diego near the harborfront and the historic Gaslamp Quarter district, Petco Park has a number of unique elements, including a historic brick warehouse incorporated into the left-field seats and a grassy lawn beyond the center field wall that's open as a public park on non-game days. The stadium has gained a distinction as the most pitcher-friendly park in the major leagues, due to the dense, humid air along the nearby coast.
- San Francisco Giants - Oracle Park - San Francisco, California (in SoMa). One of the oldest teams in baseball, having played in New York prior to their move to California in the 1950s, the Giants play in Oracle Park (renamed from AT&T Park in 2019), a popular retro-style ballpark looking out on the bay. A small cove next to the park is the frequent target of home runs, which makes it popular for kayakers hoping to snag a souvenir. The Giants haven't always had an easy time of it since moving to San Francisco, but a trio of recent World Series victories have made them a force to be reckoned with.
Prior to the start of the regular season, the Major League teams participate in a series of exhibition games through the month of March. Spring Training is an opportunity to get a lot closer to your favorite players than would be possible during the regular season. For climate-related reasons, all Spring Training games are held in Arizona or Florida, the Cactus League and Grapefruit League respectively.
- Arizona Diamondbacks - Salt River Fields at Talking Stick - Scottsdale
- Chicago Cubs - Sloan Park - Mesa
- Chicago White Sox - Camelback Ranch - Glendale
- Cincinnati Reds - Goodyear Ballpark - Goodyear
- Cleveland Guardians - Goodyear Ballpark - Goodyear
- Colorado Rockies - Salt River Fields at Talking Stick - Scottsdale
- Kansas City Royals - Surprise Stadium - Surprise
- Los Angeles Angels - Tempe Diablo Stadium - Tempe
- Los Angeles Dodgers - Camelback Ranch - Glendale
- Milwaukee Brewers - Maryvale Baseball Park - Phoenix
- Oakland Athletics - Hohokam Stadium - Mesa
- San Diego Padres - Peoria Sports Complex - Peoria
- San Francisco Giants - Scottsdale Stadium - Scottsdale
- Seattle Mariners - Peoria Sports Complex - Peoria
- Texas Rangers - Surprise Stadium - Surprise
- Atlanta Braves - Champion Stadium - ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at Walt Disney World.
- Baltimore Orioles - Ed Smith Stadium - Sarasota
- Boston Red Sox - JetBlue Park at Fenway South - Fort Myers
- Detroit Tigers - Joker Marchant Stadium - Lakeland
- Houston Astros - The Ballpark of The Palm Beaches - West Palm Beach
- Miami Marlins - Roger Dean Stadium - Jupiter
- Minnesota Twins - Hammond Stadium - Fort Myers
- New York Mets - Tradition Field - Port St. Lucie
- New York Yankees - Steinbrenner Field - Tampa
- Philadelphia Phillies - Bright House Field - Clearwater
- Pittsburgh Pirates - McKechnie Field - Bradenton
- St. Louis Cardinals - Roger Dean Stadium - Jupiter
- Tampa Bay Rays - Charlotte Sports Park - Port Charlotte
- Toronto Blue Jays - Florida Auto Exchange Stadium - Dunedin
- Washington Nationals - The Ballpark of The Palm Beaches - West Palm Beach
Held every year in early to mid-July, the All-Star Game is an exhibition game pitting the best players in the American League against the best of the National League. Wherever it is held, the All-Star Game is the centerpiece of a week-long celebration, which includes a fan fest and a home run derby. The league determines the location of the game in advance, and tickets are very expensive.
Upcoming All-Star Games:
- 2024: Date TBA at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas
- 2026: Date TBA at Citizens Bank Park in South Philadelphia. This site was announced years in advance, as that year will mark the 250th anniversary of US independence.
Every October, the leaders of each of the three divisions plus three Wild Card teams in each league compete in the postseason (MLB used the word "playoff" only to refer to very rare tiebreaker games used to determine playoff berths; said games were eliminated after 2021). Each league plays in a knockout tournament with three rounds. The first round, known as the Wild Card Round, consists of best-of-three series (i.e., a maximum of three games). This is followed by the Division Series (best-of-five) and the League Championship Series (best-of seven). The LCS winners advance to the World Series, in which the AL and NL winners play a best-of-seven series.
For most of the existence of professional Baseball, rail was the main mode of travel for fans and teams alike to get to road games. With the move of the Dodgers and the Giants from their erstwhile New York homes to the West Coast in the fifties, most teams switched to air travel as their primary mode of transport and fans visiting road games eventually followed suit. Details for getting into each city are in the individual city articles. All major league teams are in major cities, with excellent air and road access. In some parts of the country it is possible—with careful planning—to hop from city to city and see multiple stadiums in the course of several days. This is easiest on the Eastern Seaboard (Boston/New York City/Philadelphia/Baltimore/Washington, D.C.) with convenient road and rail access and relatively short distances between cities. With a car, this can also easily be done in the Midwest (Pittsburgh/Cincinnati/Cleveland/Detroit/Toronto or Minneapolis/Milwaukee/Chicago/St. Louis) or California (San Diego/Anaheim/Los Angeles/Oakland/San Francisco). Outside these areas, however, the distances between cities are simply too great to make this feasible except by airplane.
Parking and accessibility varies considerably between ballparks. In general, stadiums in cities in the Northeast and in the Midwest will see heavy traffic and limited, expensive parking, while those in the South and the West will have ample parking, though there are exceptions to this. All stadiums charge for parking, generally in the range of $10-$25 depending on the individual stadium and how close you park to the ballpark, with certain high-demand teams charging more.
For the most part, all stadiums have made a strong attempt to provide enough parking, but in a few cases—namely Boston, New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Toronto and San Francisco—parking is such a challenge that it's preferable to use the local mass transit systems, which are well-developed in these cities and do a good job serving games.
Part of the thrill of attending a game is catching a foul ball, or even a home run ball. Fans will sit in a part of the park specifically geared to catching these. When the ball approaches, it can deflect of hands like a pinball so you never know where it will land. If you are trying to catch a foul ball or a home run, be respectful of those around you and don't do anything to hurt yourself or someone else. Also keep in mind that in some ballparks, such as Wrigley Field, local tradition calls for home run balls hit by the visiting team to be thrown back.
In the Women's College World Series of NCAA softball (see "Softball" below), a unique tradition is that a home run ball is taken by the ushers and given to the family of the player who hit it (or, if the player's family is not present, to that team's coaches, who will present it to the family later). People who catch home run balls at that event are given other memorabilia, such as unused game balls, in exchange for the home run ball.
Have patience. The game can move slowly, especially if you aren't familiar with it.
- All teams have a team store at the stadium to purchase jerseys, hats, and other memorabilia.
- Team merchandise can often be purchased at nearby stores for less than what the stadiums charge.
- One of the exciting things about going to different ballparks is sampling foods that only they have. All stadiums have a plethora of eating options (mostly fast food) from standard ballpark fare like hot dogs, hamburgers and nachos to more specialized eats like sausages in Milwaukee, fish tacos in San Diego, and sushi in Seattle. Prices usually run between $3-$5 for hot dogs and $10 or more for specialized food like barbecue or chicken. Ballpark food is usually more expensive than comparable food sold at restaurants.
- If you have dietary restrictions (halal, kosher, vegan, gluten-free) you should check ahead of time to see what is available.
- Most baseball stadiums sell beer, albeit at prices higher than bars or liquor stores. Some ballparks also serve wine or cocktails. For drinkers of non-alcoholic beverages, sodas or bottled water are also available.
- Smoking is prohibited in most locations in most stadiums. Some may ban it in all locations.
- Many stadiums prohibit coolers, large bags, backpacks, plastic or glass bottles, cans and video cameras from the stadium. Check specific stadium policies before attending. All stadiums will ban knives, firearms, fireworks, and noisemakers.
- Don't be loud or obnoxious to other fans: A common crowd maneuver is the "wave", in which to support the team fans stand up and immediately sit back down, with the motion progressing around the bleachers, creating said "wave". However, ask most hardcore baseball fans and they will tell you they despise the wave, as it causes obstruction of eyesight towards the action on-field.
Minor League Baseball
Minor League Baseball is the general name for a group of developmental leagues operated by major league teams for younger players who have not yet developed the skills to play in the major leagues. Almost all small to mid-sized cities in America will have a minor league team of some sort, and it's considered a very affordable and fun alternative to higher priced major league games. The leagues are organized in a system based on the level of talent. The Triple-A level is the highest, dropping to Low-A and then to the Rookie level. Minor League Baseball operates from early April to mid-September, though lower levels may only play from late June until late August. The minor leagues are praised for being fan-friendly and cost-efficient for families.
Tickets generally cost between $7 and $15 each, with special promotions sometimes lowering that price. At almost all stadiums, it is possible to purchase tickets at the gate, but some higher level teams sell out ahead of time. Parking will either be free or available for a small fee, and because these are smaller cities, mass transit will usually be sparse or non-existent. Food is priced similarly to major league stadiums and generally the same things are available, although variety decreases dramatically below the Triple-A level.
After the 2020 minor league season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Major League Baseball completed a takeover and reorganization of the affiliated minor leagues that had begun prior to the pandemic. Entering 2021, the number of affiliated clubs has been reduced to exactly 120 teams: each of the 30 major league clubs now has one affiliate at each of the four levels (Triple-A, Double-A, High-A, and Low-A). Attempts were also made to keep farm teams within driving distance of their affiliates. These changes have resulted in some teams (especially in the smallest markets) being eliminated or forced to find unaffiliated leagues. Other teams have changed classifications. But most minor league teams have survived, albeit in many cases with new major-league affiliates.
Triple-A, or Class AAA, covers most of the largest metropolitan areas without Major League Baseball franchises, as well as some smaller cities.
- International League
- Buffalo Bisons, Charlotte Knights, Columbus Clippers, Durham Bulls, Gwinnett Stripers (Lawrenceville), Indianapolis Indians, Iowa Cubs (Des Moines), Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Allentown), Louisville Bats, Memphis Redbirds, Nashville Sounds, Norfolk Tides, Omaha Storm Chasers, Rochester Red Wings, Saint Paul Saints, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, Syracuse Mets, Toledo Mud Hens, and Worcester Red Sox.
- Pacific Coast League
Double-A, or Class AA, teams can be found in many mid-sized cities.
- Eastern League
- Southern League
- Texas League
Single-A, or Class A, teams can be found in many small cities, as well as mid-sized cities near larger cities already served by higher level teams.
- High-A leagues: Midwest League (Cedar Rapids, Dayton, Fort Wayne, Peoria, etc.), South Atlantic (Asheville, Brooklyn, Wilmington, Winston-Salem, etc.), and Northwest League (Boise, Eugene, Spokane, Vancouver, etc.).
- Low-A leagues: Carolina League (Augusta, Charleston, SC, Fredericksburg Myrtle Beach etc.), Florida State League (Daytona Beach, Fort Myers, Tampa, etc.), and California League (Fresno, Modesto, San Bernardino, San Jose, Stockton, etc.).
Rookie Level teams play in the spring training complexes of their parent teams. Admission is not charged, but as such concessions are not sold. Major league clubs are allowed to field more than one team at this level.
- Arizona Complex League
- Florida Complex League
College baseball is the general term for non-professional baseball organized by any of several bodies. Most four-year schools are governed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), with some instead governed by the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). Three bodies govern two-year schools: the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA), the Northwest Athletic Conference (NWAC) in the Pacific Northwest, and the California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA, usually pronounced "3C-2A"). College baseball play can run the gamut from high level programs such as the University of Oregon, University of North Carolina, and University of Miami which compete in the NCAA, to small schools like Lewis-Clark State College (in Idaho) of the NAIA. The biggest event in college baseball is the Men's College World Series, an NCAA-sanctioned event featuring the best Division I college baseball teams held each June in Omaha. Almost all four-year colleges, plus a fair number of two-year schools, will have a baseball team and play runs from February to June. College baseball games are usually sparsely attended and seats are very cheap, if not free.
Men's College World Series
Held in Omaha every June, the MCWS pits eight teams against each other. The tournament is divided into two four-team double-elimination brackets, with the winners of each bracket then playing a best-of-three series to choose the NCAA Champion. Tickets range from $28-33 for reserved seats and $11 each or $80 for ten for general admission (non-guaranteed) seats. Tickets generally go on-sale in May.
National Alliance of College Summer Baseball
These are NCAA-sanctioned summer baseball leagues[dead link], partially funded by Major League Baseball, drawing from college-age players. A high percentage of drafted players come from these leagues.
- Cape Cod Baseball League, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Over 110 years of history. One in seven Major League Baseball players played in this league.
- Central Illinois Collegiate League, Illinois.
- Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League.
- New York Collegiate Baseball League, New York.
- Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.
- Southern Collegiate Baseball League[dead link].
- Valley Baseball League, Virginia.
- Florida Collegiate Summer League, Florida.
- Coastal Plain League, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.
Though it's not an NACSB-sponsored league, the Alaska Baseball League is a collegiate summer league that's worthy of special note as the host of the Midnight Sun Game, an experience that's unique in the sport of baseball—it's played on the summer solstice in the midnight sun, beginning around 11PM, at Growden Memorial Park in Fairbanks, the northernmost baseball stadium in the world. The ABL boasts over a century of history and such famous alumni as Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and Mark McGwire.
High school baseball
High school baseball is played around the nation by teams organized by each individual high school. The level of play is lower than college baseball, though some elite schools produce multiple players each year who advance to either college or minor-league baseball. Schools typically play local and regional competition in an April through June schedule. There is no national championship like in college baseball or pro levels, and teams rarely charge to attend games.
Little League Baseball
Little League Baseball is a collection of youth baseball leagues run by Little League Baseball. It operates leagues for children from ages 8–16, plus grassroots programs in "tee ball", a baseball variant for children from 4–7 in which batters hit a ball from a tee placed at home plate. Its premier event is the Little League World Series. In almost any town across the country, you can find a Little League game between April and June, and seating is free with most places having a food stand of some kind.
Little League World Series
Held every year in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, over 10 days ending on the last Sunday of August, the LLWS pits twenty teams of 11–12 year olds from around the world in a tournament to prove the best team. It's very popular among people of all ages, and the atmosphere is electric for every game. Tickets are available on a first-come-first-served basis for all games except the World Championship Game. Those tickets are distributed by a lottery system, but seating beyond the stadium fences is always available.
Softball is a game similar to baseball with two variants — "fast-pitch" and "slow-pitch", referring to the speed at which the ball is allowed to be pitched. The two variants also differ in team sizes—the fielding team in fast-pitch has 9 players, while the fielding team in slow-pitch usually has 10 players. Fast-pitch is most commonly played by women, and is a widely popular competitive women's sport in high schools and colleges/universities, with some professional leagues and a well-developed structure for international play. Men's fast-pitch, by contrast, is extremely obscure. Slow-pitch is more often seen as a recreational sport (though high-level leagues do exist); unlike fast-pitch, it's frequently played by men. Many local leagues have coed divisions, with all teams required to have a batting order evenly split and alternating between the sexes.
The most noticeable difference is that softball uses an underarm pitch, in contrast to the overarm pitch that is used in baseball. In slow-pitch, the pitch is required to be lobbed toward home plate, with the minimum arc (and usually the maximum arc) regulated. Fast-pitch has no restrictions on the arc of the pitch. Softball also typically uses a larger ball and thinner bat than baseball, and also has a smaller field, with the distance between the bases being 60 feet and the pitcher starting her delivery 46 feet from the rear of home plate, in contrast to baseball's 90 feet between the bases and 60 feet, 6 inch pitching distance. Also, softball pitchers do not work from a raised mound as baseball pitchers do; the pitching circle is at the same level as the rest of the infield. (This may vary in recreational leagues that use baseball fields.) Softball games are also usually shorter, with only seven innings being played, in contrast to nine in baseball.
Another difference with baseball is that the run rule is used in almost all games, with the only significant exceptions being games in the championship series of the Women's College World Series. In international rules, the run rule is invoked if the lead is 20 runs after three innings, 15 runs after four innings, or 8 runs after five innings (in all cases, referring to the number of innings completed by the trailing team). College rules use only the 8-run, five-inning criterion. As in baseball, youth play has similar run rules.
There are also differences in equipment between softball and baseball; softball uses a larger ball, and a shorter and more slender bat than baseball, and softball bats may be made of modern composite materials, while baseball bats must be made of wood at the professional level.
The Women's Professional Fastpitch (WPF) is the main professional softball league in the United States, though it does not have viewership levels anywhere close to that of Major League Baseball, or even the Women's College World Series (see below).
Women's College World Series
The biggest event in American softball is the Women's College World Series, the final phase of the NCAA Division I championship. Held each June at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, its format is almost identical to that of its men's counterpart, featuring eight teams in a double-elimination tournament until two teams remain, at which point the survivors play a best-of-three championship series. The major difference is that the WCWS format allows any two of the participating teams to advance to the championship series.
Museums and other attractions
In addition to the many, many opportunities to take in a baseball game, there are also plenty of museums in cities across the country devoted to the game, from the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown to little museums dedicated to hometown heroes and many more. Here are just some of the most noteworthy sights to take in the history of the sport:
- A destination for any baseball fan is Cooperstown, New York, home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, which honors the game's history and its finest players. According to folklore, Cooperstown is where the game of baseball was invented, but no one has been able to prove that this is the case. Nevertheless, the town has become synonymous with the history of baseball and is a must-visit for baseball fans.
- While popular legend suggests that Cooperstown was where the game was invented, history makes a compelling case that Elysian Fields in Hoboken is the actual birthplace of baseball, where the first organized game of baseball was played in 1846. Since then the fields have been developed into housing, so no remnant of the field exists, although its location is marked by a plaque at 11th and Washington Streets.
- On the campus of the Montclair State University in New Jersey is the Yogi Berra Museum, devoted to the life and career of the famous Yankee, with a collection of artifacts and memorabilia that puts the museum in Yankee Stadium to shame.
- Right around the corner from Camden Yards in South Baltimore is the Babe Ruth Museum, which preserves the house where the Great Bambino himself was born. There are also displays on baseball's most famous player, as well as an exhibit on the 500-home run club.
- In South Williamsport, home to the Little League World Series every August, is the Little League Museum, with lots of Little League trivia and memorabilia, and a hall devoted to distinguished ex-Little Leaguers.
- The University of Pittsburgh campus in Pittsburgh is home to two remnants of Forbes Field, a beloved stadium that was torn down when the Pirates moved to new digs on the riverfront. Inside the university's Posvar Hall is the old home plate in a glass case embedded in the floor, while outside is a section of the left field wall where Pirate Bill Mazeroski hit a walk-off home run to win the 1960 World Series. Every October 13th, Pirates faithful mark the occasion by turning out at the wall to listen to a radio broadcast of that game.
- The site of the Atlanta Braves' old home, Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium in South Atlanta, has a preserved section of wall where Hank Aaron hit his historic 715th career home run to break Babe Ruth's record. Georgia State University, which now owns the stadium site, is planning to build a new ballpark for its baseball team at the site, and plans to incorporate the Aaron wall in the structure.
- The Louisville Slugger Museum allows you to tour the factory where the official bat of the major leagues is made. In addition to watching bats get made, you can also view plenty of memorabilia and get a custom name bat as a souvenir. Finding the museum is easy enough, thanks to the giant six-story replica of Babe Ruth's bat—"the world's largest bat"—standing outside.
- Kansas City's 18th & Vine Historic District, an important center for jazz, is home to the Negro League Baseball Museum, which honors the history of the Negro Leagues, a historic league for African Americans that was segregated from the major leagues, which from the 1920s to major league baseball's integration produced some of the sport's greatest players. The museum tells the history of the leagues in loving detail, with lots of memorabilia to take in.
- Outside the town of Dyersville, Iowa, west of Dubuque, sits the Field of Dreams, the movie set for the popular 1989 film (and unabashed celebration of the game) Field of Dreams. The attraction is a simple one, with the set preserved as it appears in the movie with only a small souvenir stand nearby. However, MLB later built a separate temporary ballpark about 500 feet away from the actual movie site on an adjacent property, which it first used for a special 2021 regular-season game marketed as MLB at Field of Dreams. With the game drawing the highest TV ratings for a regular-season game in more than 15 years, the special game returned to the second ballpark in 2022. Future MLB games at the site are on hold while a youth baseball facility is being built on the property used for the MLB games.
- Housed inside a shopping center in Fargo is the Roger Maris Museum, devoted to the hometown hero and former Yankee, who was the first to beat Babe Ruth's single season home run record. The museum is small but contains plenty of Yankee memorabilia from the 1960s.
- Across the street from Coors Field in Denver is the National Ballpark Museum, the culmination of one of the most fantastic private collections of baseball artifacts ever seen, with a stunning amount of artifacts from the classic ballparks of old, including signs, bricks, seats, light fixtures from Ebbets Field, and a section of Fenway Park's Green Monster.
Outside the United States
Baseball has spread from the United States to other countries. The premier international baseball tournament is the World Baseball Classic, organized by MLB and sanctioned by the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC). The tournament has been held every four years, barring COVID-19 issues, and was most recently held in 2023. The next edition is set for 2026. The World Baseball Classic was in part instituted as a replacement of Olympic Baseball since it has been removed from the Olympic schedule, and because MLB players cannot participate in Olympic baseball due to scheduling conflicts. A second top-level tournament, the WBSC Premier12, was added in 2015, and is also scheduled every four years. The Premier12 differs from the WBC in that it features the 12 top-ranked national teams, while the WBC has a larger field and a worldwide qualifying process.
While domestic leagues outside the US and Canada (which has one MLB team) are strong and often enjoy local popularity, the deep pockets of MLB ensure that the top crop of the talent usually comes to the US to play and thus fans often follow both the local league and local stars playing in the Major Leagues. Countries where Baseball is popular include: