Life in the USA
Baseball has been played on a professional level in the United States since the 19th century. The sport even has a nickname, “the national pastime,” although in recent years faster-moving sports such as football and basketball have rivaled baseball for attention and excitement. Whether watching on television or live at a baseball stadium, Americans sit back and relax at baseball games, consuming food and drink while they do so.
Many terms from baseball have become part of the American language, when used figuratively. A complete success in any endeavor is called a “home run,” the opposite, a “strikeout.” If you are in the top level of any profession you are in the “big leagues.” If you are taken by surprise, you are “caught off base.” If you rise to the occasion to help out, you “step up to the plate.” If you meet briefly with someone to “get your signals straight,” you “touch base.” If a situation changes completely, it becomes “a whole new ball game.” These are only a few examples that show baseball's deep reach into American culture.
The song “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” has been popular for more than a hundred years. It is commonly played during baseball games, often during the “seventh inning stretch,” while the crowd sings along.
Although the rules of baseball are extremely complex, one of the keys to understanding the culture of baseball is the fact that the game is not timed. The game features many moments of waiting and tension combined with key moments of quick action and excitement. While one side of nine players takes turns batting the ball until the team earns three “outs,” the other takes the field and defends. During the typical game, each team comes “up” against the other on nine occasions, called “innings.” Team managers make player substitutions and position shifts, particularly among pitchers, in order to gain a strategic advantage against the other teams.
Professional American baseball is managed officially by Major League Baseball (MLB), an organization whose director is called the Commissioner of Baseball. Within MLB, two separate leagues operate. The National League (NL), founded in 1876, comprises teams from the United States only, while the American League (AL), founded in 1901, has a team from Canada in the mix. Teams in each league play each other and occasionally play teams from the other league during a “regular season” that lasts for 162 games between April and October of each year. At the end of the regular season, the teams from each league with the best won-lost records engage in a series of games called “playoffs” to determine the league champion, called “winning the pennant.” The pennant winners from each league then face each other in a “best of seven” series of games called “The World Series” (the “Fall Classic”).
Each of the leagues is divided into three divisions, based on geography:
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