Welcome back to Baseball 101, where we take you through the ins and outs of baseball, and help fans new and old gain a better understanding of the game. Over the last few weeks we delved 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 is unrelated to stats: the field itself.
What’s fascinating about baseball fields is that parts of them must be identical down to the inch, while other parts vary wildly in depth, height, and design. No two major league parks are the same, and over time they change and evolve. So let’s look at what makes up a major league ballpark, and explain some terminology you might hear.
The infield is where we get the phrase “baseball diamond” from, because of the equidistant lines between each base that create a diamond pattern on the field. The infield is also the one place on the baseball field that must meet a strict set of measurement requirements.
The Pitcher’s Mound and Home Plate
The pitcher’s mound is situated roughly in the middle of the “diamond” of the field (well, not “roughly” but more on that in a moment). It is made of the same dirt as the rest of the infield, and has an elevation of 10 inches. There is a flat, rectangular piece of rubber set into the mound called the “pitcher’s rubber.” This pitcher’s rubber is set back from the center of the mound, and is where the pitcher must be situated before he can throw.
The pitching mound itself set so that the front of the pitcher’s rubber is exactly 60 feet 6 inches from the back of home plate. Exact. This must be the same in every park, without question.
There is very little allowed on the pitcher’s mound beyond the rubber, but you may see a cleat cleaner that lets the pitcher clear dirt from their shoes mid-game, and a roisin bag, which is a small white canvas bag filled with rosin powder. Rosin is a powder derived from fir 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, there is an exact spacing required between each base on the infield. Every base is precisely 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 bases moving during games, they are actually fitted with short metal poles which stick into a designated place on the ground, which keeps the bases in place. While the bases of the infield are raised, home plate/home base is actually a flat rubber piece made similarly to the pitcher’s rubber, and in the shape of an inverted house (I believe the name for home plate precedes it actually looking like a house, and this is entirely coincidental, but it’s still kind of fun).
The bases all have required dimensions of width and height, but that’s a level of minutae we don’t need to get into.
The infield is a mix of both dirt (which is actually a red clay mixture at most stadiums) on the basepaths and the pitcher’s mound, and grass on the inner part between the bases. The outfield is all grass (or turf) with the exception of the warning track.
The outfield is really where ballparks can go nuts in terms of personalization. Want to put up an enormous green wall in your left field and call it the Green Monster? You do you, Fenway. Want to have a big fountain just beyond center field? Absolutely, Angels. The design and dimensions of MLB’s outfields are wide-ranging and often baffling. Don’t believe me?
Check out this wild graphic by Lou Spirito and be stunned by the varying sizes and shapes of all the parks in baseball. (The graphic is from 2013 so some fields used are no longer active and some have since changed their dimensions slightly, but it’s a good visual nevertheless).
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, stand or other obstruction on the right- and left-field foul lines, and 400 feet between home plate and the nearest fence, stand or other obstruction in center field.” Yet even with that rule in place since 1958, there are parks with exceptions, especially those built prior to the rule about depth being enacted (Fenway, for example, has the shortest infield in baseball, at only 390’).
Another key part of the outfield are the two foul poles. These are placed at the end of the natural baseline that goes from home to first and home to third, and are most often tall yellow poles that extend high into the air in the outfield.
The purpose of the foul pole is to provide a visual marker for whether an outfield hit that leaves the park is a foul ball or a home run, depending which side of the pole it exited on.
The Warning Track
Another part of almost every major league park is the warning track. This is a thin strip of dirt or rubber between the outfield grass and the wall, usually about 10-14’ wide. The purpose of this track is to use a different material from the rest of the field to provide a physical clue to a running outfielder that they are about to run out of space. The idea being that this can allow them to slow down before running into a wall, but for anyone who has ever watched a game of baseball, it rarely does anything to stop an outfielder who is running full tilt.
There are a few terms and phrases you might hear used when referring to areas that are not technically part of the field of play, so let’s talk about the ones you’ll find at every baseball stadium (sorry, Rays fans, we won’t get into the catwalk here, that’s its own special mess.)
The Bullpen was briefly mentioned in our piece on pitchers, but since it gets mentioned quite frequently during games, we’ll talk about it again here. There are two bullpens in each major league stadium, and they refer to a designated area where relief pitchers congregate and can warm up prior to entering a game.
At 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 past first and third base.
The bullpen will typically consist of benches and seating for several pitchers, warm up areas where one or two pitchers can throw to a bullpen catcher to get their arm loosened up before entering a game, and of course the bullpen phone, which is a direct line to the dugout so the manager or bench coach can call in relievers mid-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 in 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 sat in the dugout at Wrigley Field prior to its renovation, and the dugout was so tight and cramped it’s a wonder they could fit everyone in there). Why creature comforts of the dugout vary, it usually consists of a place to store equipment like batting helmets, bats, and gloves; a long bench where players can sit; a fence/railing that separates the dugout from the field of play; and a wide variety of beverage and snack options for players to partake in during the game.
While it might start relatively clean, but the end of games its littered with sunflower seed shells, spit, gum, and Gatorade. The dugout is where the primary coaching staff do their work, and you’ll usually see the manager, bench coach, pitching coach, hitting coach, and athletic trainer here at all times through the game. The manager will typically be poised at the top of the dugout stairs, like he’s just waiting for someone to ask him to join the game, but this is because manager’s deliver mid-inning instruction to their players and onfield staff via hand signals.
This one is just a fun term for the locker room. You might hear the “clubhouse” mentioned mid-game, and it just refers to the area allocated for players to get ready in before and after games. There is a hallway in each dugout that connects players either directly or indirectly to their clubhouse. (I say indirectly because it’s usually a bit of a hike between the dugout and clubhouse rather than a direct passage).
Like 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 prefer this information as a video, here you go!