Language lover

Do you speak baseball?

Sports idioms abound in American business language – but baseball beats them all. Do you know what they’re saying?

By Raechelle Wilson

The other day, a couple of friends invited us out to dinner. We’d already made other plans, and so I sent them a quick note: “We’d love to, but we’ll have to take a rain check.” For my Danish friend, that phrase meant nothing.

“What on earth is a rain check?” she asked.

What, indeed. And that’s when I had to admit that while phrases and idioms may be common across many languages, their origins certainly are not. This one, it turns out, is from sports – baseball, the “Great American Pastime.” And something that few outside of the US would understand.

The fact is, though, baseball-related idioms and phrases are so ubiquitous in US culture, most Americans no longer even associate them with sport. If you conduct business with Americans, you absolutely will hear them. And it helps to be forwarned – Americans will be shocked when you don’t know what they mean.

Go to bat for – This is a common business phrase, and means to defend someone or something. “Steve really went to bat for the company at that auditor’s meeting.”

The home stretch – The home stretch is the distance between third base and home plate; it’s almost the end. “I think Alice’s pregnancy is in the home stretch.”

Off base – If you’re off-base, you’re wrong or out of line. “Don was way off base when he accused the office manager of favoritism.”

Out of left field – Something unusual or unexpected. “Dan’s question about our business ethics was right out of left field.”

Step up to the plate – If you step up to the plate, you’re at bat. In life, you’re taking responsibility. “I think it’s time for John to step up to the plate and take the lead on this project.”

Two strikes against – In baseball you only get three strikes and you’re out. So, two strikes means you only have one chance left. “After missing our meeting and losing the proposal, Chris already had two strikes against her.”

Batting 1000 – If you hear someone say they’re “batting a thousand today,” it probably means they’re having a rough time. Batting 1000 in baseball is a perfect record – but this phrase is almost always used sarcastically.

Curveball A “curveball” is a pitch that banks at the last minute; batters never see it coming. So, if someone throws you a curve ball, you’re going to be unpleasantly surprised.

Play hardball – Playing hardball (as opposed to softball) means playing tough or aggressive. “It looks like the client wants to play hardball on our budget negotiations.”

Hit it out of the park – Many know the phrase “home run,” but “hitting it out of the park” is the same – maybe better. “Maria was so impressive at the presentation. She really hit it out of the park.”

Pinch hit – Pinch hitters come in when a team needs a big play. “With his sales record, I think we should have Steve pinch hit on this negotiation.”

Right off the bat Immediately; without any delay. “When I got to work, Thomas asked me about that report right off the bat.”

Swing and miss – A swing and a miss is a strike – a failure. “How did you do at the meeting?” “Ah, a swing and a miss.”

Swing for the fences – To basically give it all you’ve got and go for the big gain. “If we don’t swing for the fences, the company is going to fail.”

Get to first base – This means getting started. Progress comes with “second base,” “third base” and “heading for home,” but the next time you’re around an American, ask them about the naughtier meaning that every teenager knows.

Even if you know all about baseball, “American” is a tricky language! Test your skills and see if you can follow this story…


5 Responses to “Do you speak baseball?”

  1. Evi Larsen says:

    I should include this link on all of my emails for ‘translation’ purposes. Excellent stuff!

  2. Angel L. Vidal says:

    I will share a few clues soon…..


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