How Long Do Baseball Games Last? Here's How Much Time to Allot at the Ballpark

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Last updated: 10 January 2020, 04:02 GMT

It seems like a simple question when one has a ticket to a ball game. How long do baseball games last? Unfortunately, baseball is an activity where this answer becomes quite complicated and can vary greatly. Knowing how much time is required at a ballpark involves factors beyond the game. Depending on the park, transportation may be a serious issue, as well as the time needed to enter to park and exit again at the end.

With all these factors, the time required for a baseball game can vary greatly. However, by looking at each individual factor, one can make a good estimate for how much time to allot at the ballpark.

How Are Baseball Games Timed?

A football game uses four 15-minute quarters, a hockey game has three 20-minute periods, but a baseball game is not limited by time. Instead, a baseball game's length is controlled by the events of the game. It is broken into nine innings, where each team has a chance to score before making three outs.

Of course, that means that a team can theoretically score an unlimited number of runs if they do not make any outs. This is just one example as to why one cannot easily answer, "How long do baseball games last?" To make this even more complicated, a baseball game does not necessarily last 9 innings. Little league and high school games last 5-7 innings. For college baseball games, there is a "Mercy Rule" where a game can end after seven innings if one team is up by 10 runs or more.

In the major leagues, games can last 8.5 innings. Since the visiting team bats first in each inning, the game ends after the first half of the ninth inning if the home team is leading. since at that point, the game has already been decided. Of course, if the game is tied, then another inning is added until a winner has been decided.

Can the Environment Affect the Length of a Baseball Game?

Environmental concerns can greatly affect a game's length. Games may be shortened due to darkness if there are no lights, though this is now uncommon. More likely, games can be shortened due to rain or other weather conditions. For major league baseball, an official game can be as little as five innings if it ended due to weather.
However, weather can also lengthen a ballgame. If the weather report indicates rain for only an hour or so, there will be a rain delay where the field is covered by a tarp and teams exit the field until it is dry. These delays have no official length, but officials have the authority to delay a game if they feel that the field is no longer safe. If bad weather continues, a game may be rescheduled to be played or continued another day.

How Long Is an Inning?

If the weather is good, the length of an inning controls how long do baseball games last. Even though each inning has two halves of three outs, their length varies greatly. If the pitcher is dominant, the batters quickly make three outs and the team jogs off the field. It usually takes about 3 or 4 minutes for the teams to change.

But if the batters are hitting pitches, an inning can take much. Aside from more batters, pitchers can also take as long as they wanted to pitch to a batter. Also, they can throw to bases unlimited times to keep runners close. If a pitcher is doing poorly, they may be switched out for another pitcher. This adds to the length of an inning and occurs more commonly in later innings of the game.

Batters can also be switched out for pinch hitters, which can also increase the time of an inning. With all of these possible events, the average inning takes about 20 minutes, though some last over an hour. Because of the great variation possible in this length, the average time may not be an accurate estimate.

Can the Starting Lineup of Players Affect the Length of a Game?

One can sometimes look at a lineup to guess how long do baseball games last. Overall, the more scoring there is, the longer a game will last. Since baseball is good at reporting the statistics of players, scoring estimates can be made based on the lineup. For example, a pitcher making his first start against a team leading the league in runs generally results in a long, high-scoring game. On the other hand, hall-of-fame pitcher Greg Maddux was good at inducing poorly hit ground balls, so his innings could be over in 3 minutes.

In all sports, playoff games contain added spectacles and last longer than regular-season contests. Baseball is no exception. More people are watching playoff games online and on TV, so the whole game must cater to this. With lengthened introductions and flashbacks to the past season, games take longer to start. During the game, managers also tend to change pitchers more often, further lengthening the game.

What Is the Average Length of a Major League Baseball Game?

Given all these factors, an average major league baseball game lasts three hours. The longest game ever lasted 25 innings and over 8 hours. Several rules have been proposed to speed up games and shorten the time, but they have yet to be implemented.
Bear in mind that this three-hour limit only includes the actual game time. The time one should allocate to attending a sporting event involves many more factors.

What Factors Besides the Game Affect the Time Required at a Ballpark?

Although not contributing to the actual question of how long do baseball games last, the time you require at a ballpark also involves getting to the park, entering the park, and any other festivities occurring around the game.

Entering the Ballpark

Although not as bad as the TSA, passing through security is required to enter a ballpark. The time required to pass security can vary greatly by the amount of foot traffic. Since ballparks have multiple entrances, people can greatly reduce this time if they know of "secret" entrances.

Some parks may allow guests to bring in picnic food, and these have to be inspected. This too can greatly affect the time required to enter. Of course, gates open hours before the game, allowing fans to watch players take batting practice. Many fans take advantage of this, avoiding long lines in the process and spend more time at the park.

Getting to the Ballpark

Transportation to the ballpark can take a long time. When ballparks are near public transportation, such as in New York, commute time can be predictable. But in other cities where a car is required, a massive traffic jam can last over an hour.

This becomes worse if the team is popular. Leaving the ballpark also involves dealing with a massive crowd. It's always a good idea to research a particular ballpark to see time estimates, but allocating an extra hour for each commute can be a good estimate.

Festivities Around the Ballpark

Although tailgating does not normally occur, the question of how long do baseball games last should include any pre-game and post-game activities. Many stadiums are built close to bars and restaurants, and many fans prefer relaxing in these places rather than fighting traffic. Fireworks displays and concerts also occur on special nights.

This is one factor where people need to research the area around the ballpark. For example, Nationals Stadium in Washington DC is surrounded by a food truck area, bars, restaurants, and rows of entertainment in the newly-renovated Navy Yard area.

How Can Fans Control Their Time Spent at a Ballpark?

Although the question of how long do baseball games last can be quite variable, many fans solve this problem by planning their schedule independent of the length of the game. If they have time, fans can go early to a ballpark, avoiding the traffic and crowd, and relax while watching batting practice.

Some ballparks offer bars inside the park where people can relax before, after, and during a game. Another way fans plan their time is to leave before the end of a game. Los Angeles Dodgers fans are notorious for this as lines of cars can be seen exiting the parking lot in the 7th to 9th innings.
Of course, this means that many fans will miss late-inning heroics, such as a walk-off home run. If they wish to watch the whole game, one should estimate travel time and adjust the three-hour game time based on the teams playing and the other factors listed above. However, at best, this is a rough estimate.

How Long Do Baseball Games Last?

Baseball games are not timed and can potentially last many hours, though a typical game lasts 3 hours. For fans attending a game, factors at and around the game affect how much time to reserve. In the end, scheduling comes down to the desires of the individual fan.

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