The Subtle Art of Sports Talking: An Introduction

If you’re lucky, you’ve been to a ballgame and heard a fan or player yell toward a portly opposing pitcher:

 “Hey, is that your belt? Or the equator? Asking for a friend.”

That will sound crude to some. But to ears attuned to the beauty of The Language of Sports Talking, it is nothing less than music.

Involvement in sports require a verbal dexterity not easy to come by. At its worst, it is nothing more than mindless cursing and childish chiding.

But at its finest, it is a tapestry of wit and timing and charm. And purpose. Don’t forget purpose.

And spontaneity. It might not be spontaneous — you might have been biding your time, thinking of precisely what to say for two innings or three quarters or since last week — but it must seem spontaneous. That’s key.

To be good at it takes years and years of listening, repeating, working on phrasing and timing, understanding situations … and even then, it always requires your utmost attention or you’ll lay the proverbial verbal egg.

On top of that, it’s almost impossible to coach. You either have it, or you don’t. Now and then, at about the same regularity of an inside-the-park grand slam, someone with no real tools will work tremendously hard and bloom into a sports talk master.

Of course, the best are savants; they make sports talk seem easy as falling off a porch.

We’re talking the best of the best.

It starts at recess or Little League with “battah battah battah battah SWING!” Classic, is all that is.

You graduate to the sing-song “We want a pitcher, not a cement mixer!…” or “We want a batter, not a seafood platter!…”

You can carry none of that to high school, of course, much less to college or to the big leagues, not unless you want to get thrown at every single at-bat. But it is a good starting point, a Sports Talking kindergarten when subtle rhythms and nuances are learned, where good verbal habits are formed.

Before you know it, your 10-year-old teammate on the mound throws a seed past a helpless would-be hitter and you scream, “NOW you chunkin’!”

Sounds cool. Inspires your pitcher. Encourages your teammates. And fans think you are really “into the game,” although what you really want is for the game to be over so you can eat a Frito chili-cheese pie and go swimming with the rest of the outfielders at Randy’s house.

I still love a good “NOW you chunkin’!” Precious memories. It is quite possibly the bedrock of the Sports Talking universe.

And that’s just in baseball.

The Language of Sports Talking cannot be fully appreciated, much less taught or learned, in just one puny essay. There are universal phrases, singular-to-a-sport phrases, one-word bombs. There are funny phrases and witty phrases, phrases meant to encourage and phrases meant to destroy.

When in the hands of a seasoned vet, The Language of Sports Talking is a living, breathing part of the game, as much as part of the atmosphere as a backboard, a gutter, a racket, or a first-baseman’s mitt.

Now and then in this space, we’ll explore more. And by the time we’re finished, who knows? You might become fluent. You, too, could be chunkin’.

Better get loose…

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu