Speaking baseball: Translating diamond dialect to follow the game

By Joy Carrico | Published Saturday, April 8, 2017

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Baseball is an efficient language. For those who speak it fluently, there is an amazing shorthand dialect where much can be said about the sport in few words. For those who do not speak fluent baseball, it’s gobbledygook.

Consider, for example, the following words written by our sports editor, Richard Greene. This appeared in the March 25 edition of the Messenger: “… Trey Penny hit a two-out, full-count, seeing-eye, walk-off single …”

Joy Carrico

Everyone in the newsroom who proofread the story read that part aloud at some point. “A two-out, full-count, seeing-eye, walk-off single.” Some understood it, some were completely baffled by it.

I admit I had to look up what a seeing-eye single was, but other than that, I understood.

And there is a ton of information there.

What is a two-out, full-count, seeing-eye, walk-off single?

Well, it was the bottom of the final inning – probably the ninth, but possibly some extra inning like the 10th, 11th, etc. The score was tied. There were already two outs, and the batter had three balls and two strikes, so this was probably the last pitch of the game, unless the batter fouled the ball. Those were the conditions under which the action happened.

The pitch was thrown, and the batter hit the ball so that it made its way through the infield, avoiding the defensive players like it could see where it was going, allowing the batter to make it to first base.

Because of this single, another on-base runner made it to home plate and scored, thus ending the game in a one-run victory for the home team.

All of that information is contained in five words (nine if you break up the compound words), “two-out, full-count, seeing-eye, walk-off single.” I love that baseball encourages these strings of hyphenated descriptions.

I also love the dominant use of numbers in baseball. Here’s a common example taken from a news story covering the April 5 game between the Yankees and the Rays: “Pineda then allowed two two-out, two-strike hits that drove in three more runs in the second inning, enough for the Yankees to fall, 4-1, to the Rays, who took two of the three in the season-opening series.” There are nine numbers in that sentence.

Like any other language, baseball is difficult to follow when listening to native speakers talk amongst themselves. I find it ponderous to follow the talking head chatter when watching baseball on TV and especially when listening to it on the radio.

I’ve gotten better, but I’m still often overwhelmed by the strings of numbers and letters they spout off, expecting the audience to follow them.

In addition to complicated lingo, their chatter is peppered with statistics, presented as if they hold some significance. But I often fail to see how knowing this information gives me insight into what will happen. They’ll say something like, “The Rangers are two for four on Sunday afternoon away games.”

Um, OK.

What should I glean from this statistical tidbit ( or “stat-bit,” if you will allow me to coin a baseball phrase)? That the Rangers are likely to lose if it’s a Sunday, an afternoon and they’re the visiting team? I somehow doubt that knowing this gives me a leg up on what to expect on this particular Sunday afternoon.

In all fairness, the talking heads must fill airtime with something, and I’m sure they sometimes need to scrape the bottom of the stat-bits barrel to keep the audience from falling asleep.

Much of the game is filled with players walking in and out of the batter’s box, adjusting their gloves, kissing their bats, bouncing the bat off their shoulders while preparing for the pitch, while the pitcher is endlessly adjusting various areas of his body, trying to pick off the runner on first or holding multi-player conferences on the mound where everyone talks into their gloves.

All this quiet drama is entertaining at a live game – at least to me – but it does not translate to riveting television, and certainly not over the radio.

So the announcers must tell us stuff to keep us listening. I don’t think “Odor signals the umpire for a time out, steps out of the batters box, adjusts his right glove, adjusts his left glove, looks intently at his bat, shifts his weight, spits, reenters the batters box, draws lines in the dirt in front of and behind home plate, and now is beginning his ritual movements to prepare for the pitch” would keep the audience engaged. We’d all run screaming.

I guess stat-bits make for better commentary. At least I enjoy getting riled up about the uselessness of the crazy stat-bits they spout.

I admire the language of baseball. I admire the efficiency of its hyphenated descriptions of plays that jam-pack as much info as possible into as few words as possible. I love the dominant use of numbers and letters. I even love the endless chatter about statistics that we’ve all tacitly agreed to pretend mean something.

But what I love most about baseball is that you never run out of things to talk about. No one has ever said, “There’s nothing more to say about baseball.”

Like the game itself, speaking baseball has the potential to be an endless event. There is so much information available about baseball, so many years of baseball history and so very many games in a season that we can continue to babble about the sport forever.

Joy Carrico is a hard-working, top-notch, full-time, left-handed Messenger graphic artist.

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