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talkin' baseball
basl (baseball as a second language)
by dirk cotton

Some people worry about coming off as a newbie at baseball games. With the conference tournaments this weekend, the Regionals next weekend, the Super Regionals the following weekend and the College World Series in Omaha in mid-June, this is a great time to see some college baseball. Here are some tips to help you pass as a veteran bleacher bum.

First, get the baseball cap I discussed in Accidental Cap Collector and wear it a little before you go to a game. Sweat in it if you can (guys only), so it doesn’t look new at the park.

If you’re a girl, wear your hair in a ponytail pulled through the back of your cap. It’s cute beyond all explanation.

Now, you can get away with not saying much at the park, though I have found that real bleacher bums love it when a newbie asks questions. They’re not perturbed; they jump at the chance to look knowledgeable.

Unless, of course, you ask them to explain a balk, which almost no one can do.

So, asking questions and revealing your lack of knowledge is a totally legit way to go and it can work well for you, especially if you’re an attractive female.

If you’re a guy, it might be better to fake it.

If the batter hits a high, fly ball to the outfield and the outfielder takes a step or two and waits for the easy catch, just nonchalantly say, “Can o’ corn.” I read that the expression came from shopkeepers who would tilt a can of corn on the top shelf with a stick and catch it in their apron when it fell, but people make up crap like that all the time, so who knows.

Any fan worth his salt yells at the umpire. I was at a game with a friend when the opposing pitcher threw a strike and the umpire called it correctly. My buddy yelled, “Come on, Blue! Wipe off your glasses!”

I looked at my buddy and asked, “What? It was waist high and right over the plate.”

He said, “So?”

His point is, you have to rag on the umpires a lot and it doesn’t matter whether you think he is right or not. If it’s a call against your team, it’s a bad call.

And always, always call him “Blue”, not “umpire” or “ump” and certainly not “ref”.

Many umpires wear black. It doesn’t matter. If you want respect from other fans, berate him as “Blue”.

One of my favorite expressions is “Baltimore chop”. That’s what you call a hit that strikes the ground just in front of home plate and bounces over the infielder’s head. Apparently, the Baltimore Orioles used to do that in the 1890’s on purpose, though if you see one today it was probably a mis-hit ball.

If you see one, say, “Baltimore chop!” Knowledgeable fans around you will smile with appreciation for your old-school baseball chops (pun intended).

You can call a home run just about anything you want except a “home run”, which will clearly identify you as a novice. At a minimum, call it a “homer”.

My favorite expressions for home runs are yard ball, dinger, moon shot and tater. Sometimes, you will know as soon as the ball leaves the bat that it will clear the fences. For extra credit, as soon as you know, and before the ball actually clears the fence, say, “that one ain’t coming back”.

All that protective gear the catcher wears is called the “tools of ignorance”. The phrase is attributed to a catcher, so it fits. Instead of saying, “He’s a catcher”, you say, “ He wears the tools of ignorance.”

If the pitcher throws a ball high and inside, close to the batter’s head, it’s called a brush-back, or one of my favorites, “chin music”. A hit that goes over the infielder’s head but not far enough for the outfielder to catch is called a Texas Leaguer, a blooper, or just a “bloop single”.

The pitcher’s mound is called “the hill”, “the bump” or even “the mound”, though never the “pitcher’s mound”. The white rectangle the pitcher touches with one foot is technically “the plate”, though no one calls it that. It’s called the rubber.

Cheese is a fastball and a yakker is a curve, though few people in the park are near enough the action to really distinguish between the two most of the time. You’ll know when the pitcher brings the cheese, and if it’s a big, slow yakker, you may detect that, as well. A batter who is called out on strikes is said to have been “caught looking” because he looked at his third strike instead of swinging at it.

A strikeout is a “K”, because scorekeepers use that letter to record a strikeout. No one knows why, though people have made up several reasons over the years. When a batter strikes out “caught looking”, the “K” is entered backwards in the scorebook, though I know one guy who scores it with a regular “K” and two dots next to it to look like eyes. Get it? Caught looking?

If all else fails and you feel you need to speak, ask, “Who’s on deck?” The next batter waits in the on-deck circle and the batter after him is said to be “in the hole”. If someone answers, just nod as if you knew he was the next batter but wanted to confirm.

This next part is vitally important. If you want to sound like a baseball insider, you have to say these expressions in a confident, knowledgeable way, even if you have no clue what they mean. Especially, if you have no clue what they mean.

It helps to act like you’re talking to yourself by not making eye contact with anyone around you. I guarantee you that if a batter crushes a pitch and you quietly say, “that one ain’t coming back”, you’ll have them asking you to explain the balk rules.

So, next time the opposing pitcher walks to the bump and brings the cheese and your favorite team’s batter is caught looking because he was guessing yakker, grab your baseball cap, find a curse word appropriate for your surroundings, and scream, “C’mon, Blue, are you blind or what?” Then put your cap back on and shake your head in disgust.

Trust me. No one is going to know you grew up playing soccer.


Dirk Cotton is a retired executive of a Fortune 500 Internet company who loves to spend time with his family, fly fish, shoot sporting clays, attend college baseball games, sail, follow the Wildcats, and write. Everything else he does is just for fun. A computer programmer-cum-marketing executive-cum-financial planner who now wants to be a writer, he apparently can't decide what he wants to be when he grows up. He and his family moved to The Southern Part of Heaven in 2005 and couldn't be happier with that decision.

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