Location: North America, bordering both the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Pacific Ocean, between Canada and Mexico.
Size: 3,718,143 square miles, or about half the size of Russia; about three-tenths the size of Africa; about half the size of South America (or slightly larger than Brazil); slightly larger than China; almost two and a half times the size of the European Union.
Population: 295 million.
People: White 81.7%, black 12.9%, Asian 4.2%, Amerindian and Alaska native 1%, native Hawaiian and other Pacific islander 0.2% (2003 est.). Note: a separate listing for Hispanic is not included because the U.S. Census Bureau considers Hispanic to mean a person of Latin American descent (including persons of Cuban, Mexican or Puerto Rican origin) living in the U.S. who may be of any race or ethnic group (white, black, Asian, etc.).
Language: English 82.1%, Spanish 10.7%, other Indo-European 3.8%, Asian and Pacific island 2.7%, other 0.7% (2000 census).
Government: Constitution-based federal republic.
Capital: Washington, D.C. (population: 500,000).
Baseball (and other interesting) notes
Most known for: Where they play the best baseball in the world in the best ballparks in the world; where those players make a ton of money; world superpower (also earth's third largest country both in size and population); home of freedom.
Quotable: "Everywhere around the world, they're coming to America," Neil Diamond.
Famous national anthem verse: "Land of the free and home of the brave."
Baseball's U.S. debut: There is still some debate as to the exact timeframe, but for certain, baseball was born in the U.S. In 1791, a town bylaw passed in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, banned the playing of baseball within 80 yards of the town meeting house. Professional baseball began in the U.S. around the mid 1860s, and the National League was founded in 1876.
Baseball hotbeds: Although baseball is "America's Pastime," American football is the most popular team sport in the U.S. Warm weather states like California, Arizona, Texas and Florida enable aspiring ballplayers to play year-round, and Major League Baseball is very popular in cities like New York, Boston, St. Louis, Cincinnati, San Francisco and elsewhere.
Number of U.S.-born currently signed to MLB organizations: Too many to count.
Some notable current U.S.-born MLB players: Barry Bonds (Born 1964 in Riverside, CA); Derek Jeter (Born 1974 in Pequannock, NJ); Randy Johnson (Born 1963 in Walnut Creek, CA).
Ones to watch for in the future: So many to list, so little space. Here are a few: Left-handed pitcher Paul Maholm (Pirates); infielder Josh Barfield (Padres); infielder B.J. Upton and outfielder Delmon Young (Devil Rays).
U.S.-born MLB record-breakers: Joe DiMaggio (most consecutive games with a hit, 56); Ted Williams (last player to bat .400; hit .406 in 1941); Henry Aaron (most home runs all-time, 744); Barry Bonds (most home runs in a season, 73).
Some notable MLB Hall of Famers: Ty Cobb (born in 1886 in Narrows, GA); Cy Young (born 1890 in Gilmore, OH); Jackie Robinson (first African-American to play Major League Baseball, born 1919 in Cairo, GA); Joe DiMaggio (born 1914 in Martinez, CA); Ted Williams (born in 1918 in San Diego, CA); Mickey Mantle (Born 1931 in Spavinaw, OK).
Baseball weather: Favorable almost year-round in the Southwest and Florida; favorable everywhere else most of MLB season, from April to September.
Biggest sports competitors: U.S. football, basketball, golf, hockey, alternative sports.
Best baseball museum: National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Only in the U.S.: MLB is the only baseball league in the world to employ multiple "retractable roof" ballparks. The roof on about a half-dozen MLB ballparks can open or close during action without distracting the players or fans.
Amateur and international competition
Approximate number of amateurs playing baseball in the U.S.: More than 4.5 million.
Amateur highlights: Won gold medal at 2000 Olympics.
Biggest international rival: Cuba.
Wood/aluminum rules: Aluminum bats are used through most college programs.
Other important notes: Professional baseball players in the prime of their careers do not participate in amateur or Olympic competition as their colleagues do in U.S. pro basketball or hockey.
USA Baseball contact information: 403 Blackwell Street, Durham, North Carolina 27701.
Tel: (+1-919) 474 8721.
Fax: (+1-919) 474 8822
Web site: www.usabaseball.com.
Major League Baseball
Overview: Major League Baseball is comprised of 30 teams separated in two leagues. The American League, founded in 1901, features 14 teams while the National League, founded in 1876, has 16 teams. Each club plays a 162-game regular season schedule from April through September, with only a small number of those games against teams in the opposing league. The three division winners from each league, plus a fourth team with the next best overall record, advance to the playoffs. The first round playoff, a best-of-five, determines the two teams left to compete for their respective league titles. These league championship series are a best-of-seven. Since 1903, the best team from each league competes in the "World Series," which today is a best-of-seven series. About 30 percent of the players in MLB were born outside the U.S., and there are no rules regarding the number of foreign-born players that may be on a particular team. The American League employs the designated hitter while the pitcher must bat in National League games. During the World Series and games between the leagues, the club that is the "home team" dictates whether the designated hitter or pitcher will bat.
Web site: www.mlb.com.
Most successful franchise: The New York Yankees have won 26 World Series titles.
Biggest rivalries: Red Sox-Yankees; Giants-Dodgers; Cubs-Cardinals.
Show me the money: Most players get paid a minimum of approximately $250,000 per season, with the best players earning as much as $10 million per season or more.
Free-agent policy: Players can declare free agency after participating in six full seasons of play.
Best ballparks: Only three of MLB's current ballparks debuted before 1960, and they are considered the game's three remaining shrines: The Boston Red Sox Fenway Park (1912); the Chicago Cubs Wrigley Field (1914); and New York's Yankee Stadium (1923). The majority of MLB ballparks were built in the last 15 years and include a natural grass playing surface both in the infield and outfield. Only three playing surfaces, in Minnesota, Toronto and Tampa Bay, are not natural grass.
Ballpark food and drink: American fare such as the hot dog, popcorn, soda pop and beer have been joined in the past decade by international cuisine, reflective of the infusion of foreign-born players into MLB. For example, in Seattle, home of the Mariners, fans can purchase an "Ichiro Roll," in honor of Japanese star, Ichiro Suzuki. More sophisticated food and drink is also available at other ballparks, including wine.
Ballpark atmosphere: MLB's three oldest ballparks are also home to the game's best atmosphere. Fenway Park is known for its rabid fans, known as "Red Sox Nation" that sell out every game. Wrigley Field, nicknamed "The Friendly Confines," is known for its famous bleachers and 7th inning stretch in which an announcer will lead fans in song. Yankee Stadium, known as "The House that Ruth Built," is notable for its public address announcer Bob Sheppard, known to some for a "Voice of God," who has been introducing Yankees for more than a half-century. The stadium is also known for its thunderous noise and tribute to former Yankees players in Monument Park beyond left field fence (before the game, fans can walk through the park to enjoy plaques and more of the likes of Babe Ruth and others).
Wildest mascots: "The Philly Phanatic" is a nearly 30-year-old mascot for the Philadelphia Phillies that came to power after "The San Diego Chicken" rose to prominence in the 1970s working for the San Diego Padres. Both mascots remain as popular today as ever.
American baseball speak: "The Show" is a common phrase U.S. ballplayers share in the minor leagues; when one of their peers gets called up to MLB, he's finally made it to "The Show."
Unique traditions: The 7th inning stretch is a unique MLB tradition in which fans stand up together, loosely stretch and sing "Take me out to the ballgame." It takes place after the visiting team has batted in the top of the seventh inning and begins when the public address announcer prompts fans with "It is seventh inning stretch time!" The origins of this tradition are murky, but they were incorporated into professional baseball in the 1880s. In 1882, a Manhattan College coach, noticing restless fans on a hot, muggy day, encouraged them to stand up and unwind during the seventh inning. The New York Giants tried the approach during an exhibition game and the rest is history ... Every summer, at the halfway point of the regular season, Major League Baseball holds an All-Star Game featuring the best players from the two leagues, with the game taking place on the second Tuesday evening in July. The league that wins the game receives home-field advantage in the best-of-seven World Series. The site of each All-Star Game is determined by the MLB Commissioner, and often rotates between the leagues.
Joe Connor is a contributor to ESPN.com. He has a Web site at www.modernerabaseball.com.