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Stitch ‘n Pitch: A Baseball Primer for Knitters

July 20th, 2011

Tonight, hundreds of knitters will flock (hardyharhar) to the Rogers Centre in Toronto for the annual Stitch ‘n Pitch promotion.

For me, it’s a strange night where my two worlds collide, where yarn balls meet long balls.

My Blue Jays column today profiles the event, and also gives the baseball fans some “Do’s and Don’ts” when encountering Knitters outside of their natural habitat. Go read it, then come back.

Are you back?

Did I get everything right? Good.

Now, I know that some Baseball Fans are also Knitters. And I know that some Knitters are also Baseball Fans. But those of you who only know half the words to “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” might have some questions as you watch the game.

This little primer is for you, all the Knitters who (sometimes) find yourself in a baseball park, and want to have a better idea of what’s going on.

The Basic Stitches Rules
The objective of the game is to score runs. Whichever team has the most runs by the end of 9 (or more) innings, wins.

Each inning has 2 halves. Each half ends when the batting team gets out 3 times. In the first half inning, the home team plays in the field (defense) and the visiting team bats (offense). The second half? They flip.

A run is scored when a batting player is able to hit the ball, and move safely around all of the four bases.

The goal of the batting team is to score runs. The goal of the fielding team is to prevent the opponent from scoring by getting “outs”. Once the batting team has 3 outs against them, the half inning is over, and the teams flip.

An out can be made in many different ways. These are the three most common:

  • A fielding player catches the ball before it hits the ground; the batting player is called out.
  • A fielding player picks up the ball after it hits the ground and throws it to the defensive player on base. The running player is called out.
  • A batter fails to make contact with the ball. This is called “striking out”.

Likewise, there are a few ways to score runs.

  • Home runs are the most glamourous. They’re like the cashmere of baseball. Everyone wants them, few get them on a daily basis. Typically, a home run is scored when the batter hits the ball in fair (not foul) territory, out of the park or into the stands. When a home run is hit, any players on base also get to run home. A Grand Slam is a home run when 3 players are on base (the bases are loaded); 4 runs score.
  • More typically, a run is scored when a player on base (usually second or third), is able to run home when the next batter hits.
  • Occasionally, a run can be “walked” in. If the pitcher isn’t able to throw good pitches, the batter gets a free pass to first base. If the bases are loaded, this means that all base runners get to advance to the next base. In this way, a walk with bases loaded actually equals a run for the batting team.
  • It’s also possible to STEAL a run. Stolen bases can be a fun part of the game. A player on base is allowed to try to run for the next base when the ball is being pitched to the next player, as long as the batter doesn’t hit the ball. If he gets there without being thrown out? He’s safe. Very rarely, a player can even steal home base, thus stealing a run.

To sum up, a game is made of 9 innings. In each inning, each team has 3 outs before they lose their turn. The goal is to score as many runs as possible, in order to win.

Know Your Stash Roster

Think of a team’s players (the roster) like different types of yarns. Just because a player could technically be used in any position, doesn’t mean he’d be any good there. Making the catcher play the outfield would be like trying to knit a sock out of lace weight mohair.

The 9 players bat in a pre-set order (the lineup), determined by their individual abilities. A faster runner may bat early in the lineup; his speed may help with stolen bases, or getting a run on a hit. A batter who hits a lot of home runs will probably bat third or fourth; it assumes the bases may be full by the time he comes to the plate.

As you move further down the lineup, you’ll find slower players (typically the Catcher), and players that don’t tend to hit the ball as well. Why? The batters that hit early in the lineup may have more opportunities to hit in a normal game. If every single player gets out every single time, each of the 9 players will come up to bat 3 times. Realistically, at least 4 or 5 players will make it on base during any given game. This means that the top half of the lineup will almost always come up to bat 4 times.

You have two types of pitchers in the game. The “Starting Pitcher” is the one who starts the game (duh) and can usually be counted on for six or seven innings of work. When the starting pitcher starts to get tired (as evidenced by giving up runs or walks later in the game), or reaches 100 or more pitches, a relief pitcher is called in from the ‘bullpen’.

Typically, the better Starters can be counted on for 100 or 110 pitches in a game, getting them through the 7th inning. A sign of a great pitcher? When he pitches a complete game (full 9 innings), a complete game shut-out (full 9 innings, allowing no runs), a no-hitter (full 9 innings, allowing no hits), or a perfect game (full 9 innings, allowing no hits, giving up no walks).

Relief pitchers are specialists, generally used for a single inning (or even less). During the course of a long or close game, you may see 3 or 4 different relief pitchers as the manager will choose a reliever based on who’s coming up to plate for the opposing team.

Learn How to Measure Your Gauge Players and Teams

Knitting is actually all about math. Patterns are made up of numbers of stitches of particular sizes and shapes. They come together to create a garment or object that, hopefully, fits flawlessly.

Likewise, baseball and numbers go together like knitters and sock yarn.

There are statistics to measure everything from how a player did five weeks ago, to what kinds of elevation a typical left handed batter gets on home runs at night when visiting Yankee Stadium during June as opposed to September.

You can get into it as much or as little as you want, but it helps to understand a few basic concepts.

  • Batting Average (AVG): This is one of the simplest stats in baseball – and most popular. The AVG is simply the percentage of time that the batter hits the ball without getting out. The higher number, the better. A pretty good batter has a .250 AVG; he gets a hit every four times he comes up to the plate, or maybe once a game. A great batter? .300 or higher.
  • On Base Percentage (OBP): Because a ‘good’ batter should actually get on base through walks as well as hits, a far better stat to use is OBP. This is just the percentage of time a batter reaches first base; through walks or through hits.
  • Earned Run Average (ERA): Pitchers are rated differently; in terms of how many runs they ‘allow’ during the course of a game. ERAs tend to range from 2.00 to 5.00, and indicate how many runs the pitcher would give up over 9 innings. This is calculated by multiplying the number of actual runs by 9 innings, and dividing by the number of innings he pitched.

The Cheat Sheet: How to Act Like You Know The Game

When a team is getting a lot of hits in a row, say, “Wow, that pitcher is really getting high in the zone.” (Waist-high pitches tend to be easier for batters to hit; a skilled pitcher tries to locate pitches at the corners.)

Don’t boo your own team, even if other “fans” are doing it. Boo bad calls. Boo when the opposing pitcher almost nails a player in the head. But don’t boo your team. Would you want to be booed when you have to frog? No?

Disappointed that your team struck out? Is the home umpire Joe West or Bob Davidson? If so, say, “Man, Joe West / Bob Davidson really needs to retire. Terrible call.”

A good pitcher should be able to get out of every inning with fewer than 20 pitches. The pitch count is displayed in the ballpark and often on television broadcasts. If a pitcher has a 25 or 35 pitch inning, say, “Look at his pitch count! The bullpen is going to have to really cover for him.”

Feel like getting The Wave started? Do it during a commercial break or not at all. Baseball isn’t as welcoming of the trend as with many sports. Although it may seem ‘slow’ or ‘dull’, baseball fans watch the movement of the batter, the advancing of the base runner, and the shift of the fielders with every pitch. It’s a details game, and it’s a quiet details game. Want to jump up and cheer for that run sliding in to score? Go for it! There’s nothing better than a stadium full of fans, all on their feet.

If you’re in Toronto and John McDonald gets substituted in, cheer “JOHNNY MAC!!!!!” as loud as you can. He’s not the best batter, but he’s an unsung fan favorite.

Finally, remember to have fun. It’s not the end of the world if your team loses. Even great, World-Series winning teams lose a third of their games – or more – during the course of the season.

Are you going to a Stitch ‘n Pitch this year? Please share your stories and pictures!

Play ball!

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