Welcome back to Baseball 101, where we’ll walk you through the ins and outs of baseball and help fans new and old alike better understand the game. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been delving into basic pitching and hitting stats, player positions and how to be a fan of the game, but today we’re going to look at something that has nothing to do with stats: the pitch itself.
The fascinating thing about baseball fields is that parts of it have to be identical to the centimeter, while other parts vary enormously in depth, height and design. No two major league parks are alike, and they change and evolve over time. So let’s take a look at what a Major League Ballpark is, and explain some terminology you may hear.
The infield is where we get the expression “baseball diamond” because of the equidistant lines between each base that create a diamond pattern on the field. The infield is also the only place on the baseball field that must meet strict measurement requirements.
Pitcher’s mound and home plate
The pitching mound is approximately in the middle of the “diamond” of the field (well, not “roughly” but more on that later). It is made of the same dirt as the rest of the infield and is 10 inches high. A flat, rectangular piece of rubber is placed in the mound called the “thrower rubber.” This pitcher’s rubber is set back from the center of the mound, and that’s where the pitcher must be before he can throw.
The mound itself is set so that the front of the thrower’s rubber is precisely 60 feet 6 inches from the back of home plate. Exactly. This should definitely be the same in every park.
Very little is allowed on the pitcher’s mound outside of the rubber, but you can see a cleat cleaner that allows the pitcher to remove debris from their shoes during the game, and a roisin bag, a small white canvas bag filled with resin powder . Rosin is a powder derived from pine tree sap and its use allows pitchers to maintain a better grip on the ball, which is allowed as long as it is not mixed with other substances.
Like the distance between home plate and the pitcher’s mound, an exact distance is required between each base on the infield. Each base is exactly 90 feet from the other. This is what creates the precise and perfectly spaced infield.
At each base position, there is a physical base made of hard rubber or canvas. To avoid the risk of the bases shifting during play, they are actually fitted with short metal posts that protrude into a designated spot on the ground, keeping the bases in place. While the bases of the infield are raised, home plate/home base is actually a flat piece of rubber made in the same way as the pitcher’s rubber, and shaped like an upside-down house (I believe the name for home plate comes from it). precedes looking like a house, and this is totally coincidental, but it’s still kinda fun).
The bases all have required dimensions of width and height, but that’s a level of minutae that we don’t need to get into.
The infield is a mix of both soil (which is actually a mixture of red clay in most stadiums) on the basepaths and pitcher mound, and grass on the inside area between the bases. The outfield is completely grass (or turf), with the exception of the warning lane.
The outfield is really where baseball fields can go crazy in terms of personalization. Want to put a huge green wall in your left field and call it the Green Monster? You too, Fenway. Do you want a large fountain just outside the midfield? Absolutely, angels. The design and dimensions of MLB’s outfields are wide and often mind-boggling. Do not believe me?
Check out this wild graphic from Lou Spirito and be amazed at the different sizes and shapes of all the baseball parks. (The image is from 2013, so some of the fields used are no longer active and some have slightly resized since then, but it’s a good image nonetheless).
The requirements for the outfield are in terms of minimums. There must be a minimum distance of 325 feet between home plate and the nearest fence, grandstand or other obstacle on the right and left field foul lines, and 400 feet between home plate and the nearest fence, grandstand or other obstacle in center field. But even with that rule since 1958, there are parks with exceptions, especially those built before the depth rule was introduced (for example, Fenway has the shortest infield in baseball, just 390′).
Another important part of the outfield is the two foul poles. These are placed at the end of the natural baseline that goes from house to first and house to third, and are usually tall yellow posts that extend high into the air in the outfield.
The purpose of the foul post is to provide a visual marker as to whether an outfield hit leaving the park is a foul ball or a home run, depending on which side of the post it was left on.
The Warning Trail
Another part of almost every major league park is the warning lane. This is a thin strip of dirt or rubber between the field grass and the wall, usually about 10-14′ wide. The purpose of this course is to use different material from the rest of the field to give a running outfielder a physical clue that they are running out of space. The idea is that this can slow them down before hitting a wall, but for anyone who has ever watched a baseball game, it rarely does anything to stop an outfielder running at full throttle.
There are a few terms and expressions you might hear when referring to areas that aren’t technically part of the playing field, so let’s talk about the ones you’ll find in every baseball stadium (sorry Rays fans, we won’t step here on the catwalk, that’s its own special mess.)
The Bullpen was briefly mentioned in our section on pitchers, but since it’s mentioned quite often during games, we’ll talk about it again here. There are two bullpens in each major league stadium, and they point to a designated area for assist throwers to congregate and warm up before starting a game.
In most stadiums, a bullpen is an actual fenced-in area in the outfield, often at the base of the left and right field walls. Tropicana Field does not have a designated fenced bullpen, but rather has their bullpens on the field, in the foul areas beyond first and third base.
The bullpen usually consists of benches and seating for multiple pitchers, warm-up areas where one or two pitchers can throw at a bullpen catcher to release their arm before starting a game, and of course the bullpen telephone, which is a direct line to the dugout so that the manager or bench coach can call in the relievers halfway through the game. This is where the phrase “call to the bullpen” comes from.
The dugout is the designated area where players who are not currently on the field of play can rest between innings and at bats. There are two dugouts in each Major League park, one for visitors and one for the home team.
The dugout can vary in size and comfort level (I was in the dugout at Wrigley Field prior to the renovation, and the dugout was so cramped and cramped it was a miracle anyone could get in). Why the comfort of the dugout varies, it usually consists of a place to store equipment such as battle helmets, bats and gloves; a long bench where players can sit; a fence/railing separating the dugout from the playing field; and a wide variety of drink and snack options for players to partake in during the game.
While it may start out relatively clean, the games ending is littered with sunflower seeds, spit, gum, and Gatorade. The dugout is where the primary coaching staff do their jobs, and you’ll usually see the manager, bench coach, pitching coach, batting coach, and athletic trainer here at all times during the game. The manager will usually be at the top of the dugout trap, as if just waiting for someone to ask him to join the game, but this is because mid-inning managers give instructions to their players and to the field staff via hand signals .
This is just a fun term for the dressing room. You may hear the “clubhouse” mentioned halfway through the game, and it just refers to the area assigned to players to prepare before and after the games. There is a corridor in each dugout that connects players directly or indirectly to their clubhouse. (I say indirect because it’s usually a bit of a walk between the dugout and the clubhouse rather than a direct passage).
As with the other off-field features, there is a clubhouse for the home team (usually much, much nicer) and one for the visiting team.
If you’d rather have this information as a video, go!