Faced with the task of explaining the game of baseball to my son, I asked Slate readers to help me define it in 150 words or fewer. Boy, did you respond. We received hundreds and hundreds of entries.
Some submissions were addressed directly to my son. "Do your best," wrote one. "Don't put the glove in front of your face. Don't pick the grass," wrote another. Bases were described as "pillows" (perhaps because I'd said I used our bed as a makeshift diamond). Others drew analogies to Little Red Riding Hood, tag, and kickball. Some got metaphorical: "Your warriors are lost and trying to make their way home." Another inspired nightmares: "Try to run to next base and finally reach where you started. Meanwhile, there are bad people wanting to stop you and send you home." Others made the national pastime seem like a scene from The Wild One: "Seven guys wait for these other two guys to play catch but this other guy is jealous because he wants to play and so he's trying to stop them with a stick."
Advice for how to approach the game was plentiful. Some was nutritional: "Insist on lots of candy at the snack shack. Baseball is about sugar." Some was subversive: "You can say bad things about your coach, but say them very quietly so no one hears, especially the coach." Some was newsy: "If you're not good enough at this you take drugs to do better." And some frankly got a bit militant: "All of the little league coaches who told kids to go up there hacking and made them ashamed to strike out have fostered generations of people who can't comprehend the value of driving the ball. The worst myth ever put upon us was the idea that baseball is about putting the ball in play. It's about putting hard-hit balls in play. Extra-base hits win games."
We should let a handful of you know that we are indeed familiar with Wikipedia. It has a very good short baseball definition. Some of you tried to pass it off as your own. For shame, though you did help us teach our son about plagiarism.
Some of you used the contest to work out unresolved anger issues about the game. For example, this correspondent: "Baseball is boring, son. So, so, so boring. I can't even find words strong enough to tell you just how soul-crushingly boring the 'sport' of baseball is. Find something, anything, else to spend your time and efforts on. You'll thank me later."
And apparently if you like cricket, one of the rules is that you must enter 150-word baseball contests to brag about how great cricket is. By contrast, many of you, however, turned in lovely purple paeans of the game of baseball, describing your first Rawlings Mickey Mantle glove, the sweat and dirt and raspberries, or the plight of the faithful Pittsburgh Pirate fan. A few in this category seemed to be the product of too much medication or perhaps too little. These warmed our hearts but would only have confused our audience.
In the end, we decided to pick winners in two categories: One definition for an actual 6-year-old and one for adults. The criterion for the former was an entry a kid might be able to follow. For the latter category, we tried to pick an entry that was clear, simple, and touched all the bases, as it were. Thank you to everyone who participated, from a father in need.
For a 6-year-old audience:
Baseball is like tag, except the only way you can tag someone is with the ball. There are two teams: the fielders, who try to tag the other, the batters. The batter's goal is to lap the field, without being tagged. That scores a run. The game starts when a fielder pitches the ball toward a batter. The batter attempts to hit the pitch with his bat. Once the ball is hit, the batter starts his lap while the fielders try to catch the ball and tag the batsman with it, which would score an out. But, along the field, there are three bases, where the batter can stand and can't be tagged out. He can stop there and try to run home after the next batter hits the ball. If the fielders get three outs, they get to bat.
—John Hague, New York
For an adult audience:
Two teams take turns trying to score the most runs. Runs are scored by hitting the baseball, which is thrown by the opposing team. After the ball is hit, the batter must run to all four bases (in order) to score a run. It must be hit within the white lines to be considered fair. While on these bases, the runner is safe. If the ball is caught in the air or reaches a base before the runner does, he is "out" and must leave. Runners may not pass one another. In the case the ball leaves the field, it is considered a home run, and the batter gets to run all the bases and score a run. Each team has three outs before the other team can bat themselves. This change is done nine times. At the end of the nine innings, the team with the most runs wins.
—Jose Alvarez, San Juan, Puerto Rico