Baseball is America’s pastime. And yet, the number of loyal fans the sport claims seems low in light of this consideration. Of course, my perspective is skewed because I attend games at a small stadium that only sells out on Opening Day, or when the Yankees are in town, and is home to a team with a 25-year losing streak.
Even so, although I grew up playing softball and going to Royals games in the summertime, I lived the first 26 years of my life mostly oblivious to Major League Baseball. I could not tell you when the season started or ended, nor could I tell you who made it to the postseason in any given year (except that I always knew it wasn’t the Royals). And yet, I somehow managed to collect an arsenal of baseball terminology that I used regularly to apply to non-baseball aspects of life, and I know I’m not the only one.
Even though – since becoming a baseball fan – I’ve uncovered all sorts of Facebook and real-life baseball friends I didn’t know existed, I would still estimate the majority of people in my life to claim they are not baseball fans. And yet, I know that all of these non-fans also use baseball terminology to describe the events that unfold in their everyday lives.
By this observation alone, it makes sense that baseball retains the claim of America’s pastime, if for no other reason than that we just don’t pull terms and phrases from other sports nearly as often or in as great a quantity as we pull from baseball. Think about it. Do me a favor and come up with a mental list of all the sports-related diction you have heard or used yourself in conversations that aren’t about sports.
First, try to think only of terms that don’t come from baseball. You might consider such terms as tackle (as in a problem); the ball’s in his/her court (as related to dating, or getting a job); it’s your move (whoa, a chess reference!); and he’s been sacked (or, if you’re not British and don’t watch excessive amounts of Monty Python, you might just say fired, which discounts this last one). Are there others I haven’t thought of?
Let’s move on to baseball. There are so many in baseball, I’m actually going with list form to detail them. And let’s go ahead and put them in real-life contexts.
*I really got thrown a curveball at my mother-in-law’s. I had no idea she expected me to bring the turkey!
*That’s strike three for that toddler. Now it’ll be timeout. (Alternatively: He has struck out.)
*Sorry to hear you didn’t get your girlfriend back, but at least you did everything you could and went down swinging, eh?
*Wow, can you believe the projects those students turned in? They really hit this one outta the park (alternatively: hit a home run).
*Man, I can’t wait to tell you what I did with Suzy last night; I totally got to first [or second, or third] base (alternatively: scored).
*How in the world did we go from discussing peanut butter to I don’t love you anymore? That’s totally out of left field!
*Someone else bought the house we wanted. Our realtor totally dropped the ball on getting our offer in on time.
*What about this HUD house instead? Let’s lowball them and see what they say.
*How much would you say you’ve spent on entertainment this year? Just give me a ballpark figure.
*I’m willing to paint the living room. Remodeling the entire kitchen is a whole different ballgame.
*Finals are this week, and then graduation. You can do it; you’re on the home stretch!
*Wow, all I did was say “road trip,” and right off the bat, you listed ten places you’d like to go.
*Okay, it’s time for annual reviews. Emmy, you’re up.
*What do you think, should we ground her for one week or two? I’m gonna let this one be your call.
Okay, here’s the part where you admit that I’m right and that, even though you might claim not to be a fan of baseball – you might even claim to know nothing about baseball – you know what all those terms mean in each of those contexts. I would be legitimately surprised if anyone said otherwise. Of course, some can be disputed, such as the alternative scoring. That one can obviously apply to most any sport. And so could a whole different ballgame. But I included them here because, well, baseball counts as “any” sport.
But the reality is that those terms and phrases are so common in American vernacular that I had to italicize them just because, when I didn’t, and then went back through to edit, I had trouble realizing at first that I had inserted a baseball phrase into some of the sentences. Some of them didn’t stand out to me at all. (For people who are baseball fans, a mildly interesting side note is that, of 14 baseball-related terms listed here, roughly half are related to pitching or the ball going over the plate in some way. I suppose that just backs up the claim that pitching is the currency of baseball.)
Alternatively, what if we did try to draw from other sports for some of these metaphors? As confusing as rounding the bases is when it comes to high schoolers getting some action (after all, it seems like each set of friends has its own definitions of what each base means), I wouldn’t even have a good guess about what it meant if, instead of claiming a base number, I heard a teenage boy brag that he got to the 40-yard line (first of all, on whose side?) or to half court (so, what happens next, does he attempt a three-pointer, or pass to a teammate? I seriously hope it’s not the latter, if we’re still talking about making out).
I also would be confused if, instead of talking about the home stretch, a friend told me she was nearing the redzone in regards to writing her thesis. (Is that good or bad? Does it even refer to whether the paper is close to finished? Or is she talking about her grammar devolving and therefore indicating how much red ink will be used when the paper is evaluated?)
Lastly, if I asked a friend how his job interview went and he answered that he made it to fourth down but then had to kick, I would probably know I needed to console him, but, unless my friend was actually a quarterback trying out for an NFL team, I’d likely ask for clarification on what exactly he meant.
The point is, all we have to do is listen to some of the metaphors we all use without batting an eye to make the case that baseball – whether important to an individual personally – is indisputably this country’s sport and pastime. And if, like me, you’ve conditioned yourself to start noticing, an interesting thing is going to happen. You’re going to be watching other sports, like football or basketball or hockey or soccer, and you’re going to hear the announcers use baseball metaphors to describe what just happened in all those non-baseball sports. That was the best part about beginning to notice all of this. And actually, turnabout is fair play, since the baseball announcers do it too. More than once I heard weird crossover metaphors as I listened to and watched all those games this summer.
So, the next time you open your mouth to tell someone you’re not really a baseball fan, stop and think a couple seconds before you say that. If you think long and hard, you might realize that you know more about baseball – and how the game is played – than you ever would’ve thought it possible to know without claiming fandom. I’m also willing to bet that, even if you’ve never been to a Major League game, or any game at all, you still know the words to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” And why is that? It’s kind of a weird phenomenon, really. It’s not like we sing it after we say the Pledge of Allegiance in elementary school. And yet, I bet there are more of us who know more words to that silly song than there are who can still say the Pledge of Allegiance correctly.
You might as well stop fighting it. I’m a baseball fan. You’re a baseball fan. President Obama is a freaking White Sox fan. We’re all baseball fans. Welcome to the United States.
If you want to join me at Kauffman next year, I’ll be taking reservations beginning April 2.