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KA WORDCAST: Idioms and Phrasal Verbs
Lesson 21: TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME
Take Me Out to the Ballgame- All Star Sports Music Crew
From the pee-wees to the big leagues, Americans love baseball. This week, millions of fans will be glued to their TV sets as the best players in the American and National Leagues descend on Minneapolis for the annual MLB All-Star Game and Home Run Derby. So in honor of this All-American sport, today’s KA Wordcast will focus in on some of the wonderful expressions that have originated from “America’s favorite pastime.”
In this season of KA Wordcast, we’ve been introducing you to important idioms, phrasal verbs, and other common English expressions. And we’ve been showing you how to put the phrases to good use in your own writing and conversation. Baseball has given rise to many, many colorful idiomatic expressions, but for this lesson, we will take a look at only the most common—the ones you are most likely to come across on TV and in movies, in books and magazines, and in everyday conversation: the ones you will want to “show off” to your friends, classmates, and teachers right away.
This lesson is available to download in PDF format. To test your knowledge of today’s phrases before the lesson begins, try taking the quick “pre-test” that is downloadable from our website. Then, after the podcast, you can use the answer sheet to see how well you did and how much you have learned. Remember that reviewing and practicing over and over again is the best way to “build up” your English speaking and writing skills. And that is exactly what these Wordcasts are all about.
As explained in previous Wordcasts, an idiom is a combination of words that has a figurative meaning separate from its literal or real meaning, while a phrasal verb is an idiomatic phrase made up of a verb and another element, such as a preposition, particle, or a combination of both. Now let’s take a look at today’s expressions.
1. IN THE BALLPARK/BALL PARK FIGURE
The average ballpark (baseball field) is quite a large area, usually about 400 feet or more from home plate to center field, so it’s pretty hard to hit the ball out of the ballpark. In everyday parlance, something that is IN THE BALLPARK is within a certain area or range. In other words, it’s a good guess. The phrase can be used to talk about numbers or things (people, too), as in these examples.
Pam: So, how much did you spend on your trip to Japan? A thousand dollars?
Inez. Are you kidding? You’re not even IN THE BALLPARK. It cost us at least four times that much. Tokyo is really expensive!
We offered £250,000 for the house we wanted to buy, but we weren’t even IN THE BALLPARK. The owners wanted half a million.
Atsushi: How old do you think James is? Forty-one? Forty-two?
Ayaka: I’m not sure, but you’re IN THE BALLPARK. A year or two ago, I think he had his fortieth birthday party.
When the quizmaster asked, “What is the capital city of Pakistan?” our team answered, “Tehran.” But we weren’t even IN THE BALLPARK. The answer, of course, is Islamabad.
A BALLPARK FIGURE is usually more specific to numbers. It means an estimate or rough guess that is within a certain range.
The best I can do right now is give you A BALLPARK FIGURE. I can’t say for sure how much your son’s tutoring will cost. It depends on how hard he works and how long it takes.
Toni: Can you give me a BALLPARK FIGURE of how much it will cost to repair the leak in our roof?
Clerk: I can’t do that over the phone, ma’am. I’ll send a repairman out to take a look at it.
I have a BALLPARK FIGURE of how much the flights would cost for the four of us to fly to Honolulu, but I haven’t even looked at hotels yet. The trip’s not within our budget, I’m afraid.
A Claude Monet painting was anticipated to fetch a BALLPARK FIGURE of 28 million pounds at auction last week, but it actually sold for nearly 32 million pounds.
2. STEP UP TO THE PLATE
In baseball, when a player STEPS UP TO THE PLATE, he (or she) comes up to bat and gets ready to hit the ball when the pitcher pitches it, as in these two sample sentences.
When Buddy STEPPED UP TO THE PLATE in the bottom of the ninth inning, his fans stood up and cheered him on.
Blind and visually impaired athletes can now STEP UP TO THE PLATE and play “beep” baseball, which involves padded cylinders equipped with “beeping” speakers placed strategically at first and third base.
More figuratively, when someone STEPS UP TO THE PLATE, he or she accepts a challenge or is prepared to do a particular task.
As none of her classmates had volunteered to be the class rep, Tami decided she would STEP UP TO THE PLATE.
“It’s time you STEPPED UP TO THE PLATE and took on some responsibility,” Mrs. Davis told her daughter. “If you want a car of your own, get a part-time job and save up for it.”
A group of teenagers have pulled together and STEPPED UP TO THE PLATE to raise money for a fellow student diagnosed with a rare allergy that requires immediate, costly treatment.
3. GO TO BAT FOR someone
Sometimes a ball player will come into a game as a pinch-hitter (see # 4 below). He GOES TO BAT FOR another player, maybe because that player is injured or not performing too well. So it should come as no surprise that the idiomatic phrase to GO TO BAT FOR means to help or support.
I owe a lot to my biology teacher Mr. Peters, who WENT TO BAT FOR me by writing a recommendation letter that helped me get into the university of my choice.
Nate: Jennifer is going through a tough time at home. Her mom is ill and her dad’s lost his job. She could really use our support.
Lynn: Of course. It’s the least I can do. She WENT TO BAT FOR me last year when I was having trouble.
As President, Barak Obama has traveled all over the world GOING TO BAT FOR American companies to help them open up trade with other countries.
4. PINCH HIT (for someone)
A PINCH-HITTER in baseball is a substitute who “steps up to the plate” or “goes to bat” for another player. When you PINCH HIT for someone in real life, you take that person’s place in a time of need or emergency.
Danielle: Can I put you on the schedule for volunteering an hour a week in the school library?
Heidi: I’m sorry, but I can’t make any big time commitments right now, but I’ll be happy to PINCH HIT if you’re ever stuck.
Thanks for PINCH HITTING for me while I was on vacation. The boys really loved having you as their Scout leader for the week.
Maya expected her neighbor’s teenaged daughter Janie to babysit for the evening, but she’d lined up her sister-in-law to PINCH HIT, just in case.
5. RIGHT OFF THE BAT
The phrase RIGHT OFF THE BAT means right at the beginning or immediately. Imagine a baseball that has just been hit and flies right off the bat. Straightaway, instantly, and at once are near equivalents.
I knew RIGHT OFF THE BAT, as soon as I discovered she was also a Harry Potter fan, that the new girl, Jessica, and I would become good friends.
Chris: What’s the name of that actor who played the part of President Snow in The Hunger Games?
Melina: I know who you’re talking about, but I can’t think of his name RIGHT OFF THE BAT. Let’s look it up on the Web.
RIGHT OFF THE BAT, the committee chairman went on the defensive and refused to listen to any of my suggestions. I have no idea what she has against me.
6. BAT A THOUSAND
BATTING A THOUSAND in baseball is an impossible feat. To BAT A THOUSAND, a player has to hit the ball safely and make it to base every time he comes up to bat. For the record, a player is considered to be doing very well during the season if his average is .300 or above—getting a base hit every three at bats or so. Figuratively speaking, when someone BATS A THOUSAND, he or she has a perfect record or is a huge success at … everything!
Callum is BATTING A THOUSAND these days. Not only did he get the Player of the Year trophy in soccer, but he also received the Most Outstanding Pupil award at school.
Matt was in a bit of a slump in May, but he is BATTING A THOUSAND this month, selling more cars than he has ever before done in a single sales period.
Sometimes, we have to admit we are human and accept that we can’t win at everything, no matter how hard we try. Nobody BATS A THOUSAND all of the time.
7. HAVE TWO STRIKES AGAINST you
Literally, when a baseball player has TWO STRIKES AGAINST him, he is in a vulnerable position because … three strikes and you’re out. In everyday life, to HAVE TWO STRIKES AGAINST you means to be in a vulnerable or disadvantageous position, sometimes through no fault of your own, but often because you have made several errors or bad decisions or choices.
Frank was late to class three times last week, and he didn’t turn in his assignment. That’s TWO STRIKES AGAINST him already. Any more mistakes like that and he could be kicked out of Mr. Barney’s class.
Renee: The cheer squad is having open try-outs this week. Why don’t you give it a go?
Ava: Well, I don’t have any rhythm, and I’m not exactly what you would call “peppy.” That’s TWO STRIKES AGAINST me, so I probably wouldn’t stand a chance.
Brian came from a broken, low-income home and had had to drop out of high school to work. So he had TWO STRIKES AGAINST him when he tried to get into university. But he didn’t give up, and eventually became the first person in his family to get a bachelor’s degree.
8. STRIKE OUT
As mentioned above, in baseball … three strikes and you’re out. When you strike out, you fail to get a hit, or even to hit the ball at all. For a batter, a strike-out is the worst (most frustrating and embarrassing!) way to make an out. To STRIKE OUT in everyday life, then, means to fail completely at something.
“We STRUCK OUT on the house cup again this year, but don’t let that get you down,” the Clarendon House prefect said to the swim team. “We’ll do better next time around.”
Poppy: I heard you STRUCK OUT on your audition for the lead role in the school play.
Rich: I sure did. When I got up on stage, I got really nervous and forgot all my lines. I’ll be lucky if I get any part at all.
Emily: So, did you ask Joanna to the prom?
Chip: I did, and I STRUCK OUT. She told me she already has a date, but I think she was just trying to let me down easy.
9. IN FULL SWING
Our next phrase, IN FULL SWING may have its roots in music or dance, but because a batter must “swing” his bat to hit the ball, it could just as easily be a baseball term (to take a full swing means to swing the bat as hard as you can). An event or an activity that is IN FULL SWING has already started and is well under way.
At around ten-thirty, when the party was just getting IN FULL SWING, Marsha’s mom showed up at the front door and demanded that Marsha leave the party and go home at once.
David: Where are you, Kim? The meeting is IN FULL SWING, and everyone is waiting for you to make your presentation.
Kym: I’m sorry, but I’m running a little late. I’ll be there in five minutes, I promise.
By 1943, World War II was IN FULL SWING, and many people wondered if they would ever see an end to the tragedies and devastation.
When talking about a project, IN FULL SWING also means moving along very efficiently at a desirable pace.
Restoration of the Odyssey Cinema in St. Albans is IN FULL SWING, with doors set to open in autumn of this year.
Several recovery projects are IN FULL SWING in Calgary, Canada, where flooding in June 2013 damaged much of the city’s public areas.
10. TAKE ONE’S EYE OFF THE BALL/KEEP ONE’S EYE ON THE BALL
A good baseball coach will tell you to never take your eyes off the ball as it comes toward you, because if you do, even for a moment, you might miss it and strike out or fumble it and make an error. The idiomatic phrase to TAKE ONE’S EYE OFF THE BALL means to fail to concentrate or keep one’s focus or attention on the matter at hand. Note that this phrase is often used in the negative.
If Harry hadn’t TAKEN his EYE OFF THE BALL during the spring term, he would have performed much better on his final exams.
I’ve got so many responsibilities at work right now that if I TAKE my EYE OFF THE BALL for even a moment, I’ll fall behind and risk losing my job.
In contrast, to KEEP one’s EYE ON THE BALL means to give your complete attention to what you are doing.
I know you’ve got a lot on your plate right now, Alyssa, but you’ll find a way to get through everything and succeed if you just KEEP your EYE ON THE BALL.
That’s the third accounting error you’ve made this week, Lance. KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE BALL, or I’ll have to put you back in the mailroom.
11. PITCH AN IDEA
Just as a baseball pitcher “pitches” or throws a ball, when you PITCH AN IDEA, you “throw” the idea, suggestion, or proposal out for other people to consider.
I’ll PITCH my IDEA for a new fundraising scheme to the PTA when I’ve ironed out all the details. I want to be totally prepared.
Laurie has completed work on her first screenplay, and she’ll be meeting with several film executives in L.A. to PITCH her IDEA.
Dragon’s Den is a television series in which several entrepreneurs are given the opportunity to PITCH a business IDEA to a panel of five wealthy investors.
12. THROW SOMEONE A CURVE (BALL)
Anyone who has ever played baseball or softball would agree that a “curveball” is the most difficult pitch to hit (though these days the forkball and cutter are taking over for it). So it should be easy to figure out that when you THROW someone A CURVE (BALL), you confuse him or her by doing something tricky or unexpected.
I was in the middle of my speech when a man in the audience stood up and THREW ME A CURVE BALL by asking me to name my sources.
Just when I thought I was going to have another year of perfect attendance, nature THREW me A CURVE BALL, and I ended up having to take a week off from school due to illness.
In the middle of the second act, Logan THREW me A CURVE by ad-libbing some lines, and I completely missed my cue to come on stage.
13. PLAY HARDBALL (WITH someone)
There are two kinds of “baseball”: softball, which is played with a larger, somewhat softer ball, and there’s hardball, which is played with … you got it—a genuine Major League hard ball. Figuratively speaking, then, when you PLAY HARDBALL WITH someone, you are strong and aggressive towards him or her.
My neighbor, who has about twenty-five cats, threatened to sue us because our tree was dropping leaves in his backyard. I told him that we can PLAY HARDBALL, too, and that we would report him to the local council for animal abuse.
According to one political analyst, PLAYING HARDBALL with Russia by placing economic and political sanctions on the country will not resolve the situation in Crimea.
14. COME OUT OF LEFT FIELD
There are a couple of theories as to why we say something’s COME OUT OF LEFT FIELD to describe something that is unexpected or unconventional. One suggests that because the leftfielder is farthest away from first base, he has the longest distance to throw the ball, making it harder to make a sound or accurate throw (though a leftfielder rarely has to throw to first base!). Another somewhat more obscure explanation goes back to when Wrigley Field in Chicago was first built. There was a mental institution just outside the park behind “left field.” So the phrase may have implied that those out in “left field” were of unsound mind and couldn’t be relied to do the expected or conventional. Whatever the origin, to COME OUT OF LEFT FIELD is almost synonymous with to come out of the blue and to come out of nowhere.
Our principal, Mrs. Skelton, looked at me as if my complaint had COME OUT OF LEFT FIELD, even though I was sure she had heard numerous times about my being bullied.
Jeff: Do you want to go out on a date with me sometime? We could go to dinner and a movie or something.
Katrina: That CAME OUT OF LEFT FIELD, Jeff. I’ve always thought you were interested in my friend Holly.
I felt completely unprepared and even unprofessional interpreting for Mr. Takano, whose comments were often irrelevant to the subject at hand and CAME OUT OF LEFT FIELD.
15. GET TO/REACH FIRST BASE
Hitting a ball and getting to first base is an accomplishment for any batter, and it is from this action that we get the phrase to GET TO or REACH FIRST BASE, which means to be successful in the initial phase of an undertaking, plan, or project.
Natalie’s suggestion to implement a more aggressive recycling system within the student hall never GOT TO FIRST BASE.
Tina: What do you think about my proposal? Do you think management will consider it?
Oliver: To be honest, Tina, I don’t think you’ll REACH FIRST BASE with what you’ve shown me. It needs more clarification and a bit more tidying up before anyone will take it seriously.
Doctors at a research institute in Germany were delighted that they had REACHED FIRST BASE in the development of a new diabetes drug.
16. COVER (all) ONE’S (the) BASES
In baseball, when your team is up to bat and the bases are full (or covered), you stand a good chance of scoring quite a few runs. The phrase to COVER (all of) ONE’S BASES is derived from this and means to deal with every aspect of a situation or activity to make sure that you are thoroughly prepared and to guarantee that you will “score” a success.
Keisha: Have I included everything we talked about at the meeting in the minutes?
Hayden: It looks as if you’ve COVERED ALL THE BASES, Keisha. Thank you for taking such thorough notes.
I try to spread my “five-a-day” fruits and vegetables throughout the day, but I start each morning with a fruit smoothie, just to COVER MY BASES.
The prosecution lawyer insisted that the accused undergo psychiatric evaluation to ensure that ALL THEIR BASES WERE COVERED before they continued with the murder trial.
“The evidence suggests that the fire was accidental and not caused by arson,” the fire marshal told the police, “but we have to COVER ALL THE BASES and do a more thorough investigation.”
17. TOUCH BASE WITH
When a player hits the ball and begins his run around the bases, he must touch or step on each base before moving on to the next base. In everyday usage, when you TOUCH BASE WITH someone, you talk to that person briefly, usually to find out what he/she feels or thinks about something.
Miranda: Hi, Bruno. What’s up?
Bruno: I just wanted to TOUCH BASE WITH you about our plans for tomorrow. Do you still want to meet in front of library at 10:00?
Principal Jenkins and I TOUCHED BASE on this matter yesterday, and we both agreed that we should donate the money we raised from the car wash to buy more musical instruments for the school.
His advisors told the prime minister that if he wanted to get his bill through Parliament, he would have to TOUCH BASE WITH the key members of his own party and the opposition.
18. OFF BASE
Literally, when a player is caught OFF BASE, he is called out because his foot wasn’t touching the base. In everyday usage, OFF BASE is used as an adjective to mean wrong, mistaken, or unrealistic. It can also be used as an adverb, usually paired with the verb “caught.”
You’re way OFF BASE if you think kids these days have it easy. I think they are under more pressure to succeed at an earlier age than when we were kids.
That rude comment Vince made about the other team was way OFF BASE. They won the game fair and square, and he’s just going to have to learn to accept defeat.
Dad, could you take a look at my homework for me? I just want to make sure that I’m not OFF BASE before I carry on trying to solve the other equations.
The reporter was CAUGHT OFF BASE when he confused his interviewee’s novel with that of another writer.
19. BE HOME FREE
In baseball, a player who gets safely to home base and scores is “HOME FREE.” To BE HOME FREE means to be certain to succeed at something because you have already accomplished or gone through the most difficult part.
Once you’ve completed and turned in this final assignment, you’ll BE HOME FREE until school starts up again in September.
If we can finish setting up all the backdrops and stage props today, we’ll be HOME FREE for tomorrow’s matinee performance.
When you reach the top of the hill, take a right turn onto Ballard Crescent, and you’ll be HOME FREE. Our house is the only brick house in the cul-de-sac. You can’t miss it.
20. WHOLE NEW BALLGAME
A WHOLE NEW BALLGAME simply means a completely new situation or a new set of circumstances, often one that is difficult or that you know very little about.
“Junior high school is a WHOLE NEW BALLGAME from elementary school,” our teacher Mr. Holiday told us on the last day of school. “It’s bigger, you’ll have more teachers, and the cafeteria lines are much, much longer.”
I thought the summers here in Arizona were hot, but the humidity combined with the heat in Tokyo was a WHOLE NEW BALLGAME.
Ever since I was sixteen, I’d wanted to move out and be more independent. What I didn’t realize at the time was that being responsible for myself was a WHOLE NEW BALL GAME.
Now that you have a good understanding of all the key phrases we have examined today, you can go back and check out your score on the “pre-test” exercise. How did you do?
We’ll be back again next week with lots more useful phrasal verbs for you to study and get to know.