Now that the Australian Baseball League is back, a whole new generation of Aussie sports fans is getting the opportunity to enjoy high quality professional baseball. Since baseball is not one of the more widely known sports in Australia, there is a lack of general understanding of how to enjoy a baseball game. Going to the cricket or the footy is a staple of any young Aussie sports fan's diet. However, baseball is a little different and new. With that in mind, here are 6 Ways to Get the Most Out of a Trip to the Ball Game.
1. Take the kids and spend some time trying to souvenir a foul ball
Any kid who has spent time at a professional baseball game will tell you one of the best parts is trying to get your hands on a foul ball. At most Australian sports, such as any code of football, or cricket, spectators are required to return any balls that have left the field of play. This is not so at a game of baseball, and in any game, many dozens of balls are hit out of the field of play. Every time a hitter hits a foul ball out of play, it's fair game for anyone nearby.
I look back very fondly on the old Australian Baseball League, where games were played at Parramatta Stadium, back before the stadium was fully developed as it is now. Many a foul ball was hit onto the hill, and it was always a mad scramble to be the first kid to take the catch [or to come out of the ensuing scrum with the ball in hand]. What better way to improve a young whippersnapper's agility, catching ability and speed than by encouraging him (or her!) to try and snare a souvenir at the game.
2. Get to the game early and watch batting practice
Many teams warm up their hitters on the ground about an hour or so before game time. This can be a great way for you to appreciate the skill and power of the players. It is also a good way to kick back, and to see the players in a more relaxed setting. Usually at this time the crowd has not built up, so you have plenty of room to move around and find somewhere comfortable. The players too will be feeling relaxed. It can be interesting to watch them go through certain drills - trying to hit the ball to a certain side of the field, or simply hitting for power. Watching batting practice is a great way to develop an understanding of the strengths of your team's offense.
3. Focus on one aspect of the game and watch it closely
Baseball is a multi-dimensional game. At any time there are at least two things going on: a hitter trying to successfully reach base, and a defense trying to stop him. Once runners reach base, different elements of the game come in to play as well. The pitcher and catcher concentrate on keeping baserunners honest. Position players adjust their alignment depending on the situation, and coaches put on different plays. Different situations have different tactics and strategies, and complex signalling is used to communicate with the players
If you are learning about the game, pick one aspect of the game and watch it closely. You could focus on hitting - look at where the hitter hits the ball, was it a deliberate ploy to hit it there? Did he produce anything from his effort, even if he got out himself? Can you figure out what sort of pitch he prefers to hit?
Or, you could focus on defense. Where do the infielders stand at certain times? How does it change as the game progresses?
One of the reasons I love baseball is that EVERY player has a role to play EVERY time the ball is put in play. When the hitter smashes the ball to deep center field - the centerfielder clearly has a job to do, but so does the first baseman, the pitcher, and the players on the infield. Similarly, even on a ground ball to third base, the outfielders should be moving.
Don't feel you have to watch the ball all the time. You can also pick out a position and watch it every play. This will help show all the defensive assignments each position undertakes during the game. This can also be interesting as it will highlight which players work hard during the game, and which players get lazy.
4. Enjoy the cuisine
They say 'when in Rome, do as the Romans do'. Well, when you're at a baseball game, you should do as the Americans do - have a hot dog and a beer. You could grab a dog and a cold one to watch batting practice or the opening pitch. Or, you could take a minute to run to the food stand during a slow point in the game (yes, they do happen). Or, you could do both!!!
A marriage of three great American pastimes.
5. Learn how to keep score
A baseball game usually takes more than two or three hours, and by its very nature is going to see each hitter get at least three shots at the plate. Most fields have reasonable quality scoreboards and ground announcers, however trying to remember what happened to each hitter each time they appeared will take a superhuman effort. To get the best information about the game, there is no better option than to score it yourself.
There are a wide range of scoring methods - ranging from very simple to very complex. A simple approach might track only the outcome of each at-bat, whereas a complex system will capture details of every pitch thrown.
The advantage of scoring yourself is that you get a great understanding of exactly what each hitter did each time they appeared. This can add to your experience late in the game when you can recall what happened last time the hitter appeared, and assess how the defense might approach the situation.
Often when I have gone to the game and have not kept score myself, I find myself in the later innings asking 'what did he do last time?' or 'has he got a hit?'. Taking along a scorecard means this is never a problem, and it can be a conversation starter for those around you - as you can bet that they will have the same questions.
You can learn how to score a baseball game at About.com, or at BaseballScorecard.com, which also provides a range of free scorecards to download.
6. Get close to the action
Perhaps the best thing to do at the game is to wander around to different vantage points and get up close to the action. The power, control and speed shown by professional baseballers is impressive. To get the best sense of the athleticism, see if you can get a good spot close behind the catcher. Alternatively get close to the bullpen and watch the pitchers warming up. At most grounds in Australia it is possible to get within metres of the pitchers, so you can really get an appreciation of just how hard and effectively they throw the ball. You can also get in nice and close for a good sledge if you are that way inclined.
Most teams in the ABL will also spend some time after the game chatting with fans and giving autographs. If you have picked up a program, or managed to snare a foul ball, drop by the dugout after the game and pick up a few autographs - you never know, some of the guys running round the ABL might crack the big time down the track, and you will be able to say you were there when they were roughing it!
Got any other suggestions on how to enjoy a baseball game? Leave a comment below or let me know on twitter @ozmlbplayers