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How to Enjoy a Baseball Game Like an American


In America, “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” is probably one of summertime's most-sung songs. Why? Because America’s favorite summer sport is baseball. In fact, baseball is such an American institution that one company coined the tagline, Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet.

Okay, maybe not every American drives a Chevy, but most boys and girls learn to play the sport in school and adults pay good money to watch professionals play it very well. If you are visiting the U.S. (or even if you live there) you really should make an effort to get into the culture and see a game.

Tropicana Field in St. Peterburg, Florida, is home to the Tampa Rays baseball team.

My father is a die-hard Pittsburgh fan, so when his beloved Pirates were in town, we took him to a game as a Father's Day gift.

It quickly became apparent to us that some people have no clue as to what to do at a baseball stadium and some don't understand the game. What a pity. To help you avoid that and maximize your experience, here are my “official preparation instructions” for a day at the park. My tips should help you enjoy an American baseball game like a pro.

Finding a stadium

Check this list of all the Major League Baseball stadiums in the United States. Hopefully, you are within driving distance of a game.

On just about any day between April and September, you'll find a game being played somewhere in America. Tickets range from $8 (in what we Americans affectionately call the Nose Bleed Section) to over $300 per seat. Those expensive seats will put you right down next to the field where you can shake hands with the pros, gather a few autographs, and maybe even catch an errant ball. Trust me: If you can afford it, it's worth it.

Baseball players often chat with people in the front rows.

Preparing for the game

Don't worry about what to wear. As long as you won't get arrested for indecent exposure, you can wear anything comfortable. That said, if you're especially keen to fit in, every stadium has an MLB store that sells hats, clothing and other logo'd items for the local team.

Shop selling MLB logo'd gear for Tampa Rays.

Now, pay careful attention. After finding your level and section and BEFORE actually taking your seat, there are a few things that we need to discuss. I will list them in order, starting with the most important item.

Baseball games require traditional snacks

Tip: Look for someone decked out in the home team colors, carrying noise makers, or sporting a wild hat and facial paint. This person will know what the local favorite ballpark food is. Don’t question, just head on over and grab whatever it is. Maybe get two because it probably is going to taste delicious.

Along with that, you must get the ball park specialty … a footlong hot dog. I'll be the first one to admit that they're not health food, but at least a lot of ball parks now serve kosher hot dogs. In any event, don’t be shy here. Load up on all the fixings you want: ketchup, mustard, sauerkraut, jalapenos, onions, tomato, the works. Maybe even add a “side of cheese” to make it even more delectable.

The ‘Fixings Station' lets you load your foot-long hot dog with everything you want. Don't be shy.
  • Another required baseball game snack to buy is a package of Cracker Jack, yet another American ball park icon. You'll find footlong hot dogs and Cracker Jack at just about every American baseball stadium.This is a highly-addictive concoction of molasses-flavored popcorn and peanuts. As a bonus, it even comes with a prize in every box.
  • And of course, you will also want to grab a liquid to wash it all down. Beer, water and soft drinks are always available.
  • Picky eater? Special diet? Stadiums have regular restaurants, and sometimes even gluten free stands. Don't worry about missing any action, because food is packaged “To Go.”

Outback Steakhouse to-go stand in Tropicana Field

Other things to watch for at a baseball game

  • It is very important to locate the toilet nearest to your seat. This will come in especially handy after paying the drink vendors, as you will not want to miss any of the action down on the field. You might even want to do a “practice run” to ensure that you can get to that special location, do your duty, and return within the 4-minute gap between innings.
  • Pay special attention to the signs located around the stadium, as many of them give very important advice. (If you ignore this tip, then you might be researching all aspects of a facial reconstruction surgery after getting hit by a free-flying bat or a foul ball.)
Warning sign in Tropicana Field, Beware of foul balls or thrown bats.
This is no joke. Balls and bats do end up in the nose bleed section!

Moving to your seat

Armed with these necessities, head to your assigned seat. The first thing you will notice is the warmth and kindness of your fellow fans, who will thoughtfully get up to let you pass. (That is, if you did not wear anything in the colors of the opposing team.)

Sit down, settle in and get your food organized. Seats in most parks have a drink holder, so don't worry about kicking it over. It's traditional to store any excess food under your seat.

To save waiting on a long line later, you might wish to make a quick trip to use the lavatory before the game starts.

Take a look around the stadium, as it is a sight for sore eyes.

The first thing you might notice is the array of monstrous screens in the stadium. They keep you in touch with the action, give you the latest statistics of the players and even offer audience participation instructions at certain points during the game. All of these add to the fun and make you feel sorry for those poor folks who can only watch the game on television.

One baseball player's stat screen
American baseball fans know how to participate at a game. 🙂

It won't take you long to see the food vendors. They are easy to spot because their outfits contrast against the sea of team colors. Get acquainted with their getup; you will need them later in the game.

Pre-game ceremonies

Every park has a pre-game ceremony that begins with presenting of the flag, after which a guest performer leads everyone in singing the National Anthem. It is customary to stand up, remove your hat and sing along. Don't worry about how you sound. Sing as badly as you want; you will blend in with the crowd.

The next formality is at home plate (that five-sided rubber thing on the field). Here, both teams' managers will meet to exchange player line-ups and rules about the particular ball park.

Next comes the First Pitch, where someone of distinction attempts to throw a ball 66 feet 6 inches – from the pitcher's mound to home plate. It is a miracle when anyone comes close.

Don’t worry about that. The real players always put on a spectacular show.

Rules … rules … rules

The basic rules of the game are easy. One player (the pitcher) throws a fist-sized ball at speeds in excess of 95 MPH to a teammate (the catcher). Meanwhile, a player on the opposing team (the batter) attempts to hit said tiny ball with a wooden stick (the bat) so it lands somewhere out of easy reach.

The pitcher's goal is to send the ball over the plate, lower than the batter's shoulders and higher than his knees. That area is known as the “strike zone.”

  • If the batter swings and misses it, it's called a “strike.”
  • If he misses it three times, he's “out.”

Sometimes the pitcher throws the ball outside of the strike zone.

  • If a batter swings and misses a ball outside of the strike zone, it still counts as a strike.
  • If he doesn't swing, it's called a “ball.”
  • When the pitcher throws four “balls,” the batter advances (walks) to first base. That's called a “walk.”

Bottom line: Three strikes and you're out. Four balls and you walk.

What happens after a batter hits the ball?

When the batter makes a hit, he runs to “first base,” the white square on his right. His goal is to reach it before an opponent tags him with the ball or the ball arrives at the base he's running to. If he gets tagged or the ball beats him to the plate, he's “out.”

If he's lucky, he'll be able to run around the entire dirt circle, get past second and third base without getting tagged out, and return “home” to where he started. This is called a “home run.” Scores are tallied by the total number of home runs each team gets during a game.

Not too complicated.

To keep the game interesting, theft is also a part of the game. Sometimes, a runner manages to run to the next base when the pitcher isn't looking, and Americans enjoy a good “stolen base” or two during a baseball game. Although we don’t usually condone theft, in baseball it is admired and exciting.

Josh Harrison stole a base during this play, running from first to second base.

How long does a baseball game last?

Good question. A typical game will last 9 innings, and each inning is made up of both sides getting time at bat. They switch sides when the batting team gets three outs.

There is no time limit to a baseball game. It will end after 9 innings, unless the score is tied. In that case they will keep playing until a team wins an inning. So your normal $16 ticket might buy you 2-3 hours of entertainment or 2 days' worth.

Tip: Inclement weather can shorten a game or postpone it altogether. Unless you’ll be in a stadium with a roof, like Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg – be sure to check the weather forecast before you buy your ticket, or bring a raincoat and umbrella.

 

 

It rains a lot in Florida, so this is the roof at Tropicana Field.

What to do during the baseball game

Around the third inning, you'll probably be out of food and drink and ready for more. You won't want to miss any of the action, so scout out one of the vendors walking through the stands. Buy a bag of roasted peanuts – because, after all, the song from the 7th inning says, “buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack…” And of course you'll probably want another beer to wash it down….

If you're sitting in the middle of the row, hand signals will get what you want. Wave like a maniac to get noticed by the vendor. Shrug to ask, how much does it cost? He will hold up maybe 4 fingers, meaning $4. Give a ‘thumbs up’ to accept and the vendor will pass your purchase down the row, from one fan to another, until it reaches you.

If you have been a good fan, none of them will take a sip as it passes by. Simply pass your money back down the row to complete the transaction. And hope nobody pilfers a dollar or two because you were a naughty fan.

Cotton candy vendor in the stands.

By the seventh inning, your rear end may be tired. Fortunately, halfway through that inning, they'll have the famous “Seventh Inning Stretch.” This is when some celebrity guest (or it could be a guy in the stands) leads everyone in a rousing rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

The routine is to stand with all the other fans, lock arms and sway back and forth as he butchers a great ball park song.

More importantly, this is the unspoken last call for beer. Grab your final one and sing along.

Filming the seventh inning singing of 'take me out to the ball game' in Tropicana field
There's always a cameraman in the stands, filming fans singing the song.

The home run

The single most favorite event in baseball is when a batter hits the 95 mph pitch so hard that it clears the fence beyond the outfield. Home Run! When this happens the batter gets to jog, instead of run, around the bases, and so do any of the other players that are already on base. Teammates celebrate this monumental effort with high fives as he crosses home plate at the end.

Outfield players watching the ball fly over the field, out of reach.
HOME RUN! Andrew McCutchen knocks it out over the wall in left center field
“Cutch” (Andrew McCutchen) jogs past second base after hitting a home run
Nice finish to Andrew McCutchen's home run.

When we went, we were able to see last year’s most valuable player, Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates, hit a home run and circle the bases. Although the Pirates lost the game, I wasn't disappointed. They won two games out of a three-game series against the Rays, and I still saw Cutch hit that home run. Sharing a baseball game was the best way for me to spend time with my dad, a tradition American fathers and sons have shared since the 1800s.

Final word of advice

On a final note… If you are driving, it will take quite a while to get out of the parking lot due to traffic. Plan for it: It is best to just hang around the ball park and watch the post game activities. Oh … and use the rest room before you leave.

Have you been to a ball game? Share your tips and comments below.

Written by Dan

Professional photographer specializing in street, food and travel shots at As We Saw It travel blog. Enjoys catching children at play, showing their innocence in every situation … we all can learn that, to be content with what our Father in heaven has provided. Photography is unique in that it captures light in all forms, and since the Bible says YHVH (God) is light, photography captures Him in many forms.

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14 thoughts on “How to Enjoy a Baseball Game Like an American

  1. For those on a budget, or the convenience of location, you can also enjoy baseball at the Minor league levels. There’s always the chance of seeing a major league star playing or seeing an up and comer.

    All the tips in the original article are still valid here also. Stadiums are usually a little less elaborate but still fun. The savings on tickets makes up for it though. Minor league comes in single, double or triple “A”. Triple is the closest to the Majors. There are a lot of these hidden gems spread out so its worth the investigation. Hope this helps.

    1. Thanks, Joe. We’d forgotten about the minors, and it’s such a good tip. We lived in Bradenton, Florida, and enjoyed watching the Pittsburgh Pirates during spring training.

  2. Thanks for pointing out that there’s no time limit for a baseball game, and its length is solely determined by how long the 9 innings take. My son is in a wheelchair, but he loves to watch MLB on TV. I was thinking of finding a ticket package to get for him for his upcoming birthday, and your article will help us have a really great time.

    1. Thanks, Amanda. We love to hear when one of our articles has been helpful. Please extend our best wishes for a happy birthday to your son. Hope you have a great time!

  3. Great read – as a european and a newbie to MLB games I just wonder…

    When is the “right” time to arrive to a game – or might I say how much time before the “ticket game time” would be a good choice?

    Will be going to my first MLB game in Cincinnati next week – did spend a little more on the ticket (behind the ScoutBoxes) with free food 🙂

    1. Hello René,

      What a great question. I try to get there at least an hour before game time. Why? Well several reasons. One is there is a greater opportunity to gather autographs from the players. Second is it is fun watching batting practice before the game begins. But the BIGGEST reason is baseball. Really the ball itself. When there are not as many people, it is far easier to get a ball hit into the stands and then you can take it home with you. Getting a foul ball is the dream of every person attending the game. You’ll see young and old alike bringing ball gloves to the game with a dream attached… Catching either a home run ball or a foul ball. Please let me know how your experience is.

      1. Hi Dan

        As promised I will give you a short recap of my experience at The Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.

        Reds vs. Pirates early game on a saturday – I had a ticket to the Club Level including all you can eat pass.

        Was seated just left of the homeplate and had a good chat with a couple at my own age – that was a good addition to the experience as I was traveling alone. Reds won, there was a homerun and a broken bat – very nice game. Got a “First Reds Game” diploma – and I might mention that the staff at the Balla Park was extremely friendly and helpfull – as the learned that this was my first time ever, the went far to help me have the best gameexperience ever.

        After that I went to Lexington for the next 4 days.

        Returning to Cincinnati I realised that I could catch the Reds vs Red Sox – I was in Boston in June and had the tour of Fenway Park (wich was super) but no opportunity to watch a game. So I quickly decided to buy another ticket to the Friday night game with fireworks and all. HAd tickets i the clubsection again, this time in section 405 with at good view towards 1. base. This time I didn’t talk to the guys near me but had the full attention on the game – wich was faster that the first one. Lots of hits and runs – Reds had a good start with at bases loaded HR.

        All in all two good experiences – and will for sure catch a game next time Im over.

        Thank you for the guide, it did really help me feel like a part of the game day.

        1. What a wonderful time you had. I’ll still talk to you… Maybe only for a few days, as you saw two of my favorite three teams. Boston Red Sox and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Guess I’ll hear that you are heading to Chicago next to catch the Cubbies. I’m really glad you got to enjoy two games. BUT, next time you must get a field level ticket so you can meet and talk to the players.

          Thank you so much for the update. BTW, that HR with bases loaded is called a “Grand Slam”

  4. I really like that you point out to find the closest bathroom to your seat. I agree that it is important to know where this is. I imagine it would be pretty embarrassing running around looking for a bathroom.

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