Let’s Play Ball!

Dad probably thought he was at a basketball game, but it’s always a Kodak moment with him

 Baseball Idioms

I must admit that I am pretty clueless about baseball. Most sports for that matter. This lack of passion is inherited from my parents, who would much rather chase down famous rock n’ roll album locations (popspotsnyc.com) or ponder things about language like her daughter (thelanguagelady.blogspot.com).

ANYWAY, even though I’ve only ever been to one Yankees game (I know I know I knowwww), I realized that I can “talk baseball” without even noticing. This doesn’t mean I can talk RBIs or tell you much more about Alex Rodriguez aside from that he used to go out with Cameron Diaz. But I’ve come to notice that I toss around lots of idioms that come from baseball and baseball terminology. Here is a list of ones I feel are the most common, or ones that I personally use a lot.

Oh before I start, funny baseball/language anecdote: my friend Emily went to Mexico, and told me that vendors on the beach sell bootleg “Jankees” hats. Jajajajaja!!

Step up to the plate

  • When a player approaches home plate to take his turn at batting
  • To rise to the occasion
  • “You’ve just got to step up to the plate and show them what you got!”

Hit something out of the ballpark

  • A home run is automatically scored when a ball is hit out of the stadium, or park
  • To achieve complete or spectacular success
  • “She really hit that presentation out of the ballpark”

Take a swing at something

  • The batter swings the bat at the ball after the pitch
  • to give something a try
  • “I’ve never played piano, but sure, I’ll take a swing at it”

A ballpark figure/estimate

  • An estimate, approximation
  • “There was a ballpark estimate of 500 people at the wedding”

Play for the big leagues

  • The major league teams, American Major League Baseball
  • To be at the highest level
  • “He just got made partner at a big law firm, so he’s playing for the big leagues now”

“It’s a whole new ball game”

  • An announcer says this when the trailing team ties the score or takes he lead, usually after being behind by several runs
  • To imply that there has been a change in tactics, an altered situation, a drastic turn of events
  • “I’d been hiking before, but the Himalayas were a whole new ballgame”

Charley horse

  • a sudden stiffness or cramping in the calf

This term really puzzled me for the longest time, and unfortch I think it will continue to befuddle me for ever. Here are a few myths about its origins, but I just don’t think we’ll ever really know:

– A lame horse named Charley pulled the roller on the Chicago White Sox ballpark in the 1890s. That’s the most commonly repeated version but appears to be false as we can put the phrase before the horse, so to speak.

– Policemen in 17th century England were supposed to be called Charleys and the term migrated to America. The amount of walking the police were required to do gave them aching legs. This seems fanciful. I can’t confirm the use of the term Charleys for police in England or America and there seems nothing to explain the link with baseball.

– The pitcher Charley Radbourne was nicknamed Old Hoss. He got cramp during a baseball game in the 1880s. This at least is plausible and has no obvious fault to rule it out, but that’s not enough to prove it is the origin.


Cover all your bases

  • A defensive player covers a base by standing close to it, ensuring a runner can’t reach it safely.
  • To ensure safety, that everything is explained or accounted for, being prepared for every contingency
  • “Before you do anything crazy, make sure you’ve go all your bases covered”

A curveball

  • A pitch in baseball designed to fool the batter by curving it unexpectedly
  • A surprise, totally unexpected, usually not so good
  • “I was prepared for her questions, but then she threw me a curveball and I got completely thrown off!”

Grand slam

  • A home run with all bases loaded
  •  A sudden sweeping victory, a situation which may or may not end badly for the protagonist but from which the person emerges an obvious winner
  • “She really hit a grand slam with that one!”

Play hardball

  • Refers to the difference between balls in baseball and softball
  • To act tough or aggressive
  • “Enough messing around, let’s play hardball”

Hit or miss

  • To either achieve success or fail miserably
  • “The song is pretty out there, it’s going to be really hit or miss on the charts”

Hit a home run

  • Referencing a batter’s ability to hit the ball or miss it. Duh.
  • To have complete success with something
  • “MTV really hit a home run with The Jersey Shore

Strike out, “three strikes you’re out”, “a strike against you”

  • A strike is when the batter swings and misses a patch. A batter with three strikes is “out” and has to stop batting
  • A failure or shortcoming. My mom always used “three strikes and you’re out” to mean that if I did three bad things, I would probably be punished

It ain’t over til its over!

  •  A famous quotation from Yogi Berra, meaning you shouldn’t give up til things are officially, 100% over. You keep going until time expires.

To come out of left field

  • The left field has the farthese path to throw the ball to firs base
  • To be unusual, unexpected, irrational, odd or strange
  • “That comment really came out of left field”

Off base

  • Derives from the situation of a runner being away from the base and in a position to be put out
  •  A comment that is unexpected, misguided, based on faulty assumption
  • “His opinion is totally off base, he has no idea what he’s talking about”

Rain check

  • A ticket given to a spectator at an outdoor evening providing a refund for his or her entrance should the event be interrupted by bad weather
  • A sometimes vague promise to accept a social offer at an unnamed later date
  • “I’m busy today, but can I take a rain check?”

Right off the bat

  • Immediately, without any delay
  • “I could tell right off the bat that something wasn’t right about the situation…”

To strike

  • to fail while giving something your best effort
  • “How did the presentation go?” “Eh, not so well, I think we struck out on every point”

To touch base

  • A player who is touching base is not in danger of being put out. Also, after a fly ball has been caught for an out, a runner on base who has taken a lead or is standing off his base towards the next base must go back to touch the base before advancing to the next
  • To make contact with someone, to inform someone of one’s plans or activities
  • “I’m not sure what I’m doing tonight, but we’ll touch base later”

To go to bat for someone

  • To support or help someone
  • “She really went to bat for me, doing whatever she could to find me a job”

Thanks Wikipedia for help with the baseball and idiom definitions. Definitely the baseball technical terms 😉

About alicestockwellegan

Language and culture enthusiast from New York living in San Francisco.
This entry was posted in FYI, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Let’s Play Ball!

  1. Louise Egan says:

    Great post, Alice – you really knocked that one out of the park! xox

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