Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Favorite Sports Phrases: Baseball

*This is the first in a four-part series detailing some of my favorite sayings in the sports world. Each entry will have the meaning behind it (for those who don’t know it) as well as a personal anecdote to go with it.

As I was watching the Twins game on TV this weekend (yes, I’m still watching and holding out hope), I noticed just how many slang terms and phrases are used to describe the actions and events taking place. It led me to try and come up with a list of my 10 favorite phrases in the game, so here they are, in no particular order:

“A Great Piece of Hitting”
This is a phrase that is used by the Twins broadcasting team ad nauseam (and the reason for this four-part series). Any time a player works a count, fights off some pitches, or hits the ball the other way, someone in the FSNorth broadcast booth will tell us that it was “a great piece of hitting”. Despite the overuse by those gentlemen, it’s still a great phrase. As a bonus, if you’re hanging out with peers who have a limited knowledge of baseball (not recommended), using this saying at the right time will make you sound more baseball savvy—even if you’re not.

“The Golden Sombrero”
The term given to a player who strikes out four times in one game. The background to this one is the best part about it in my mind. It starts with three strikeouts being referred to, ironically, as a “hat trick”, which was shortened to “the hat”. A sombrero is a giant hat—as is striking out four times. The golden part tells you just how special this accomplishment is. There’s nothing I like better than calling a friend and saying something like “Did you see A Rod got the Sombrero last night.” Classic.

Time for a new hat, Alex

“Pulled the String”
This is a term that describes a slow pitch known as a changeup. The imagery associated with this phrase is what led to it being included on the list. If you’ve ever seen a really good pitcher, who throws a hard fastball, confuse and embarrass a hitter by changing speeds by upwards of 20 mph, then you understand why this saying is so appropriate. There was no one better in recent history at “pulling the string” than Johan Santana. Man, that guy was fun to watch.

“Punch and Judy Hitter”
One of the many nicknames given to scrappy, light hitting players (usually middle infielders) whose only hits seem to be bloop hits and infield singles. Using this phrase to describe a hitter means you probably think very little of their ability at the dish. See: Punto, Nick.

This picture should be next to "Punch and Judy Hitter" in the dictionary

“Taking the Collar”
This refers to a player going hitless in a game. The background to this phrase comes from the belief that if you’re a professional baseball player you should be able to get a hit at least once each game and if you don’t, you choked. That’s where the “collar” comes from—it represents the tightening around the neck. Of course, even the best hitters in the game occasionally go 0-fer, but it’s still a fun saying. I love it when someone on Baseball Tonight tells me “Derek Jeter took the collar tonight”.

“Duck Fart”/“Dying Quail”/“Groundball with Eyes”
All of these phrases are used to describe a weak/lucky hit. The first two are in reference to a soft hit that lands just past the infield. If you can actually picture a quail flying through the air, dying, and then falling to the ground, you have an image of what one of these hits looks like. The third phrase describes a groundball that seems to know where it’s going and can avoid your glove. For me (copyright Randy Jackson), these phrases will forever be immortalized by Kevin “Crash Davis” Costner’s speech in Bull Durham.

He hit the bull...

“Human Rain Delay”
This describes a pitcher or batter that takes too much time in between pitches. Whether it’s the pitcher wandering around the mound after each pitch and taking his time once he’s actually on the mound or a batter who steps out after every pitch to readjust every part of his equipment (Nomar Garciaparra was the worst at this), this player causes the game to come to a standstill. It’s as if the game is in a rain delay and not being played at all—hence the phrase.

“Get Me Over”
This refers to a pitch that is meant to simply get over the plate for a strike so that the batter isn’t walked. Most pitchers throw “get me over” fastballs with runners on and a 3-0 count, though some will throw a “get me over” curveball as well. This has always been a favorite saying of mine for a couple reasons. One, it’s often a recipe for disaster: middle of the order hitters feast on “get me over” fastballs, and there’s nothing cooler than a long home run. Two, the phrase itself makes me smile. It kind of implies that the pitcher is talking to the ball and trying to will it over the plate (which might have actually been the case when Mark Fidrych was pitching).

"Bat Sh*t Crazy" personified

“Throwing Peas”
If a pitcher is “throwing peas”, his ball is moving so fast or cutting so hard that it makes the batter feel like he’s seeing/swinging at peas. This is another phrase that relies on visualization to really understand what is being said. One can imagine just how hard it would be to hit a pea thrown at 90+ mph. Plus, just saying this phrase makes me feel cool—“Man, Verlander was throwing peas last night.” Try it...told ya.

“Uncle Charlie”/“Deuce”/“Hammer”/“Hook”
All of these are nicknames for a curve ball. I just love the fact that one pitch can have so many different names (there are plenty more where this came from). This variety of terms allows you to be repetitive without sounding redundant:
“Zito’s got his hook working tonight.”
“Yeah, his deuce is nasty.”
“Did you see the hammer he threw Tulowitzki?”
“Yeah, that thing fell off the table.”

Well, that’s my list. I know there are a ton of other phrases out there, especially in baseball. Did I leave your favorite off the list? Then post it in the comments section. Coming later this week: basketball phrases.

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