It wasn’t until Dash had been playing baseball for a while that I realised just how many expressions in common use – on both sides of the Atlantic, these days – come straight out of the game. If you ever wondered why we say some of these things, here’s your answer:
Step up to the plate
Metaphorically: We use it to mean that it’s time to take action, put your money where your mouth is.
In baseball: The plate is the home plate, where the batter stands (and where he returns to when he’s made a run). So when it’s your turn to bat, you step up to the plate.
Out of the ballpark
Metaphorically: Way out, far away, unrealistically far.
In baseball: If you hit the ball out of the ballpark, you’re guaranteed a home run, because nobody can catch it.
In the ballpark ( or a ballpark figure, for instance)
Metaphorically: Something likely, reasonable; an estimate that’s realistic.
In baseball: Obviously, a ball that’s hit within the bounds of the field. It can be caught, or it might not be, but everyone has a chance to make something of it.
Three strikes and you’re out
Metaphorically: If you do the wrong thing three times, you don’t get any more chances.
In baseball: A strike is when the batter swings at a ball but misses. It also happens when the pitch was good (within reach, as judged by the umpire) but the batter didn’t swing at all. If you get three strikes, your turn to bat is over and you don’t get to run.
A good inning
Metaphorically: A decent length of time; often, a good life.
In baseball (and cricket too): The game is divided into innings. One team bats until they’re out, while the other team fields. The this is top of the inning. Then the teams switch for the second half – the bottom of the inning. When the first team bats again, this is the next inning. A little league game usually has at least six innings. If you scored some points, or stopped the other team from scoring, you had a good inning.
Metaphorically: We talk about giving someone a “heads-up” if we want to warn them about something in advance.
In baseball: Shouted when the ball accidentally goes flying towards the spectators, or anywhere outside the bounds of the field, so that everyone pays attention and doesn’t get conked on the head. It’s the “Fore!” of baseball.
Cover all your bases
Metaphorically: You might talk about covering all your bases if you want to be sure you’ve planned for all eventualities.
In baseball: The fielding team has to have a player protecting each base to make it harder for the batting team to get their players around and back to home.