Baseball is a bat-and-ball sport played between two teams of nine players each. The goal of baseball is to score runs by hitting a thrown ball with a bat and touching a series of four markers called bases arranged at the corners of a ninety-foot square, or diamond. Players on one team (the batting team) take turns hitting against the pitcher on the other team (the fielding team), which tries to stop them from scoring runs by getting hitters out in any of several ways. A player on the batting team can stop at any of the bases and hope to score on a teammate's hit. The teams switch between batting and fielding whenever the fielding team gets three outs. One turn at bat for each team constitutes an inning; nine innings make up a professional game. The team with the most runs at the end of the game wins.
Evolving from older bat-and-ball games, an early form of baseball was being played in England by the mid-eighteenth century. This game and the related game of rounders were brought by British and Irish immigrants to North America, where the modern version of baseball developed. By the late nineteenth century, baseball was widely recognized as the national sport of the United States. Baseball on the professional, amateur, and youth levels is now popular in North America, parts of Central and South America and the Caribbean, and parts of East and Southeast Asia. The game is sometimes referred to as hardball in contrast to the derivative game of softball.
In North America, professional Major League Baseball teams are divided into the National League (NL) and American League (AL). Each league has three divisions: East, West, and Central. Every year, the champion of Major League Baseball is determined by playoffs culminating in the World Series. Four teams make the playoffs from each league: the three regular season division winners, plus one wild card team. The wild card is the team with the best record among the non–division winners in the league. In the National League, the pitcher is required to bat, per the traditional rules. In the American League, there is a tenth player, a designated hitter, who bats for the pitcher. Each major league team has a "farm system" of minor league teams at various levels. These teams allow younger players to develop as they gain on-field experience against opponents with similar levels of skill.