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Teams alternate positions as batters (offense) and fielders (defense), exchanging places when three members of the batting team are “put out.” As batters, players try to hit the ball out of the reach of the fielding team and make a complete circuit around the bases for a “run.” The team that scores the most runs in nine innings (times at bat) wins the game.
United States is credited with developing several popular sports, including some (such as baseball, gridiron football, and basketball) that have large fan bases and, to varying degrees, have been adopted internationally.
Conversely, these very qualities provided a foothold for the upward ascent of ethnic groups from the nation’s ghettos.
It was nationalistic sentiment that helped to make baseball “America’s game.” In the quest to obtain greater cultural autonomy, Americans yearned for a sport they could claim as exclusively their own.
Just as the English had cricket and the Germans their turnvereins (gymnastic clubs), a sporting newspaper declared as early as 1857 that Americans should have a “game that could be termed a ‘Native American Sport.’ ” A powerful confirmation of baseball as the sport to fill that need came in 1907 when a special commission appointed by A. Spalding, a sporting goods magnate who had formerly been a star pitcher and an executive with a baseball team, reported that baseball owed absolutely nothing to England and the children’s game of rounders.
Baseball terms and phrases, such as “He threw me a curve,” “Her presentation covered all the bases,” and “He’s really out in left field,” soon became part of the national vocabulary, so entrenched is baseball in the ordinary conversation of Americans. As early as the 1850s, baseball images began to appear in periodicals, and, in the 20th century, popular illustrator Norman Rockwell often used baseball as the subject for his Take Me Out to the Ballgame” remain among the best-known poems and songs, respectively, among Americans.
Novelists and filmmakers frequently have turned to baseball motifs.
The World Series, inaugurated in 1903 and pitting the champions of the American and National Leagues in a postseason play-off, quickly took its place alongside the Fourth of July and Christmas as one of the most popular annual rites.
The series was, said in 1911, “the very quintessence and consummation of the Most Perfect Thing in America.” Each fall it absorbed the entire nation. Bush, a baseball player during his years at Yale University, the foreign press struggled to translate the president’s routine use of baseball metaphors.
But baseball, despite the spread of the game throughout the globe and the growing influence of Asian and Latin American leagues and players, is the sport that Americans still recognize as their “national pastime.” The game has long been woven into the fabric of American life and identity.
“It’s our game,” exclaimed the poet has the snap, go, fling of the American atmosphere—it belongs as much to our institutions, fits into them as significantly, as our constitutions, laws: is just as important in the sum total of our historic life. Perhaps Whitman exaggerated baseball’s importance to and its congruency with life in the United States, but few would argue the contrary, that baseball has been merely a simple or an occasional diversion.
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