American Baseball Idioms (See examples in action)

If you need to understand Americans, it really helps to understand baseball idioms. They often come up in conversation.

We use many of these idioms in British English too, but not all. Watch these videos to learn their meanings and see lots of examples.

There are four baseball idiom videos here, so keep scrolling down to watch them all. They’ll help you hit it out of the ball park!

Baseball Idioms Video 1

(hit it out of the park, hit a home run, pitch an idea, a strong pitch, right off the bat, take a rain check)

Football! The most popular sport in the world.
No, no, that’s soccer.
In America, we play football.
That’s a different kind of football. But this lesson’s about your favourite sport, Jay.
Baseball?
Yeah. Well, sort of. It’s about baseball idioms.
Fantastic! We’re gonna hit this one right out of the ball park. It’ll be a home run.
When he starts talking about baseball, sometimes it’s hard to know what he means.
I’m British and when I came to the United States I discovered there were lots of baseball idioms in American English. They’re easy. But you need to know something about baseball or they don’t make much sense.
Baseball’s easy. Let me tell you about the scoring system.
Hang on, Jay. Let’s keep this simple.
Oh?
Let’s start with the basics. Americans play baseball in a park.
A ballpark.
And there’s grass. It’s like a pitch.
No. You play soccer on a pitch. We play baseball on a field.
One person has a bat and another has a ball.
The pitcher pitches the ball to the batter.
‘Pitch’. Our first idiom.

I’ve got a great idea.
Uhuh.
Can I tell you about it?
Err, I’m busy at the moment. Pitch it to me later.
Oh!

So ‘to pitch an idea’ is to present it. A good pitcher makes a strong throw.

That was a very persuasive presentation.
Yes, it was a strong pitch.

So ‘pitching an idea’ is like throwing the ball out there.
That’s right. Then the batter hits it as far as they can.
They want to get a home run.
A home run! There’s another one.
Yeah, a baseball field has four bases.
If the batters run around all four bases, they’ve hit a home run.

That presentation was amazing. Was it OK?
Fantastic! What a great job!
I think the audience liked it.
Liked it? You hit it out of the ballpark.
You hit a home run.

So what does ‘hit a home run’ mean?
It means be very successful.
And ‘hit one out of the ball park’?
That’s a fantastic success. You can’t do better than that.
And if you hit a home run right off the bat….
Hang on. ‘Right off the bat’. That’s another one.

So what happened?
I walked in the room and right off the bat I knew something was wrong.
Right off the bat? Yeah.
Right away he said, ‘You’re fired’.
He said that immediately?
Yep. No delay.

So ‘right off the bat’ means with no delay.
Yes. As soon as the ball hits the bat it comes right off it. It happens immediately.
And speaking of things that are happening immediately….
What?
I’ve gotta go.
Why? The game is starting in five minutes.
But we haven’t finished the idioms.
We’ll have to take a rain check.
Stop! ‘A rain check’. What’s that?
Oh, sometimes the weather’s bad and then the game is cancelled. If you have a ticket to a game but it rains, they give you a ticket to another game. It’s called a rain check.

I’ve got a problem.
What’s that?
I can’t make Monday’s meeting. Can I take a rain check?
Sure. Are you free sometime next week?
Yeah. How about Tuesday?

The game’s starting. I need to take a rain check.
OK, then please come back later guys and we’ll have some more baseball idioms for you then.
We ‘hit things for six’ in British English.
I have no idea what that is.
Well, if you…. if you’re playing cricket and you hit the ball a long way, then you can make six runs.
Oh, I think I get it. Six runs around the bases?
Yes, well back and forth ’cause there are only two wickets.
What’s a wicket.
A wicket… a wicket is, oh you’ll be stumped by this Jay…
A wicket is, is three sticks in the ground with some little pegs on the top.
And you have to bowl a ball and hit the wicket.
What? Do you bowl the str…. Do you… what …bowl…. bowl… we bowl ..
We bowl a ball in bowling. No, we bowl the ball.
How do you strike the batter out?
You don’t strike the batter.
That would get you disqualified if you hit the batter. It would be terrible.
Click here to watch this video with a clickable transcript.

Baseball Idioms Video 2

(touch base, off base, caught off base, cover all the bases, drop the ball, a curve ball)

Welcome back to another video on baseball idioms.
Yeah. Now Vicki last time I never actually told them how to play baseball.
Yeah, you did. I didn’t. You did. I didn’t. You did. I didn’t.
Baseball is very easy. Here’s what happens. The batter hits the ball and then runs around the four bases.
The bases.
Yeah. And they briefly touch each one. The batter needs to get to each base before the ball.
Hang on. These are the bases. Yeah.
If the batter touches base before the ball, they’re still in the game. But if they don’t, they’re out.
So they have to make contact with the bases.
Exactly.

OK. I’ll talk to Pete about this.
And I’ll contact our suppliers.
And I’ll find out about the packaging. Let’s all keep in touch.
Yes. We need to know what we’re all doing.
Can you both let me know how you make out?
Yes. Let’s touch base soon.
Why don’t we meet again on Friday? Yeah.

So here’s an idiom: touch base. It means maintain contact to make sure everyone has the same information.

Can we touch base soon? It’s been a while since we spoke.
Great. Let’s meet on Monday.

What happens if a batter doesn’t touch a base?
That’s a problem. If they’re off base and the other team catches the ball, the batter could be out. You don’t want to be caught off base.
Caught off base.

Why have we got all that ice cream in stock?
Well, the weather forecast said it would be hot on Saturday.
So you bought lots of ice cream.
We thought we’d sell lots.
But then the weather turned bad.
It caught us off base.

Off base. You don’t want to be caught off base.
That’s when something unexpected and bad happens.
Our next idiom: caught off base.
Yeah, you want to be prepared. The other team is going to position someone at each base so they can try to stop you from making a home run.
Uhuh.
They’ll try to cover all the bases.
Cover all the bases. I know this one.

So if it’s sunny we’ll eat outside.
Yep. And if it’s raining we’ll eat inside.
Yep, and if it’s snowing we’ll cancel the party.
Yeah.
Good. I think we’ve covered all the bases.
Yeah.

It means deal with all the possibilities. Plan ahead so there are no shocks or bad surprises.
You know we use a lot of these idioms in the UK too. But here’s an idiom that I’ve only heard in the US.

Hey Jennifer.
Hi Jay.
I’m calling about the video.
Oh yeah? How’s it going?
Do you have the pictures? The pictures?
Yeah, you were gonna get some images.
Oh, you’re waiting for me to send the pictures.
Yeah.
I’m sorry. I’ve really dropped the ball on this one.

You said ‘dropped the ball’.
Yeah, I meant I hadn’t done what I was supposed to do.
Dropping the ball is about a failure, making an error.
That’s right. Now I never drop the ball normally.
No, but you did then. That was an idiom I hadn’t heard in the UK.
I know. We threw you a curve ball, didn’t we?
Curve ball. That’s another one.

OK. I want detailed plans before that meeting.
Yeah, yeah.
I want to know exactly what’s happening.
Yeah, yeah.
I don’t want any surprises.
Don’t worry. I won’t throw you any curve balls.

In British English we’d say ‘curved ball’.
Yes. It means do something unexpected, something that’s surprising.
But it’s a nasty surprise.
Yes, a curve ball is usually unpleasant for the batter. It’s devious. You think it’s going one way but then it goes another.
It’s a trick. Yeah.
It’s like American baseball idioms then. They can be tricky.
Yep.
OK. We’ve got to stop now but we haven’t finished.
Please check back later because we’ll have another video on baseball idioms.
And don’t worry. We’ll cover all the bases.
‘Cause in British English we say ‘curved ball’. Yep. It comes from cricket.
But the ball’s not curved. It’s… it’s round. No, no, no. It’s… it’s curved as in the adjective. E -D. It’s the past participle adjective.
A curve ball follows a curved path so it’s a curve ball. It’s a compound noun. Curve ball.

Click here to watch this video with a clickable transcript.

Baseball Idioms Video 3

(a ballpark figure, big leagues, play hard ball, in a league of your own, batting a thousand)

Welcome back to our third video on baseball idioms.
Baseball is such a great game.
If you can understand it.
Baseball’s really popular in the United States.
Everyone loves a trip to the ballpark.
Ballpark. It’s part of our first idiom.

How much will you need to fix the roof.
I don’t know. There’s materials, paint, labor.
Well, just give me a ballpark figure.
Maybe five thousand dollars.
What?

Ballpark figure. It’s an estimate. So many people attend a big game that it’s hard to count them accurately.
So a ballpark figure is a rough estimate of a big number.
Yes, basball crowds are large. The thing is everyone grows up playing baseball here.
There are lots of little leagues. Leagues – we have them in football too.
Soccer.
Leagues are groups of teams that play one another.
Yeah. Kids play in little leagues and professional players play in the big leagues.
Big leagues! Another idiom.

Oh boy, have we got a problem.
We’d better hire a lawyer.
We’d better hire a big league lawyer.

So what’s a big league lawyer?
A very important one. They operate at the top level.They know how to play hard ball.
Hard ball?
You can play baseball with a hard or a soft ball. Hard balls are dangerous so kids learn to play with softballs.

It’s a lot of money.
Everyone wants to win this contract. The competition will be tough.
Yep, they’ll be playing hard ball.

So if someone plays hard ball?
It means they’re strong, experienced and willing to take risks.
So to play hard ball is to play tough. Maybe aggressively. Baseball can be a dangerous game.
Now here’s another idiom with the word ‘league’.

Everybody say hey!
What are you watching?
Oh I love this video that Jason made.
Me too. He’s fantastic in it.
Yeah, he’s in a league of his own.

If you’re in a league of your own you’re exceptional.
Yeah, you’re too good even for the top team.
Now statistics are important in baseball, aren’t they.
Yes, we have batting averages. If a batter has a perfect record for hitting the ball, they get a batting average of a thousand.

I’ve been reviewing everyone’s sales figures. Vicki, your results are excellent.
Thank you.
You’ve been our top salesperson every month this year. You’re batting a thousand.
Batting a thousand.
Now Jay.
It’s been a difficult year for me.
I can see that. You’re in a slump.

So batting a thousand. That’s the maximum possible. You can’t do better than that.
And if a batter is in a slump? Their statistics have been very bad.
OK. It’s time to stop but we hope these idioms will help you bat a thousand.
And come back soon and we’ll have another baseball idioms video.
What are you eating.
Oh. Crackerjacks. People eat them at ball games. Would you like some?
Oh yes please.
Here we go.
They’re like in the song. Buy me some peanuts and crackerjacks.
You know we should teach them the song in the next video.
Yeah. It’s like popcorn.
Yep.
Click here to watch this video with a clickable transcript.

Baseball Idioms Video 4

(a whole new ball game, step up to the plate, three strikes and you’re out, out of left field, stuck out in right field)

This is our final video on baseball idioms. You’ll learn some great new expressions.
And you’ll learn a song. Come on. Let’s get going.
The wonderful thing about baseball is you never know what will happen. Every game is different. It’s a new game with new possibilities.

We need an idea for a sales promotion.
Let’s have a competition.
We had one last year. And nobody entered.
Forget last year. It’ll be very different this time.
We do have a lot of new products this year.
Exactly. It’ll be a whole new ball game.
Hmmm.

A whole new ball game? Yes, it means a completely different situation – totally new.
Now we’d better tell everyone about home plate. It’s a piece of white rubber and it has five sides.
It marks the place where the batter stands.
Yes, home plate is where a lot of the action starts.
When a batter steps up to the plate….
Hang on. There’s another idiom.

We’ve got a problem. The website went down three times last week.
Yes, I’m afraid the webmaster quit. There are problems with the code, but we have no control over that.
Well, who’s responsible then? Somebody’s gotta fix it.
Yes, fix the code. It’s quite a challenge.
Well, who’s going to do it?
What? Me?
Don’t worry Christina. Jay will fix it.
It’s a wonderful challenge for him. He can’t wait to start.
Excellent. Thanks for stepping up to the plate, Jay.
Bye now everyone.
But I don’t know anything about website code.

So to step up to the plate means to take on the responsibility for something.
Yes, when the batter steps up to the plate, they rise to a challenge.
Now how many chances does the batter get to hit the ball, Jay.
Well, it depends. They can only get three strikes. Now I’m the batter. The strike zone is from my chest to my knees. If the pitcher throws a ball and it’s in the strike zone and I don’t swing, that’s a strike. If I swing and miss, that’s a strike too. Three strikes and you’re out.
That’s another idiom!

You were two hours late this morning.
Yeah.
And you were two hours late last Wednesday. Yeah, sorry.
That’s two strikes.
If you’re late again, you’re out.
You’d fire me?
Yes. Three strikes and you’re out.

So a strike is a kind of failure. That’s right, and you’re only allowed to fail three times. After that, you’re out.
Now tell us about left field and right field. Left field is a long way from first base.
It’s hard to throw the ball to first base from left field.
So it’s surprising when balls come out of left field.
Yeah.

We have big plans for you, Graham. We’re going to give you a promotion.
You’re going to be our sales manager for all of Asia.
Gee, I’m sorry guys, but I quit.
You’re resigning?
Yeah, I got a better job.
But we had everything planned!
Wow! That came out of left field.

So something out of left field is surprising.
Yep. It’s odd or strange. It’s often something bad too. We don’t expect balls to come from left field.
They’re unconventional.
Yep. When ideas are crazy or eccentric, we might say they came out of left field.
So is it the same with right field?
No, that’s a little different. Right field is a quiet place. Nothing much happens there.

How long have you been working here, Jay?
Twenty seven years.
And you’ve always had the same job?
Yep.
You’ve never had a promotion?
No.
Sounds like you’re stuck out in right field.
Yep.

So if you’re stuck in right field, nothing much happens.
Yeah, if you’re in right field, you’re disconnected from the action.
I’ve heard a lot of these basball idioms used in British business conversations as well. And some of them are similar to cricket. But some of them were a whole new ball game for me too. We hope you find them useful.
Yeah, we hope they help you hit it out of the park.
We’ll be batting for you.
Batting for you?
Yes, we’ll be on your side, rooting for you.
Rooting for you?
Yeah, you root for your favorite team.
You mean you support them.
Yeah, like I root for the Phillies.
Root, root, root for the home team, if they don’t win it’s a shame.
And it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out at the old ball game.

Click here to watch this video with a clickable transcript.

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